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What Americans need to understand about the North Korean threat

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Dec. 12, 2012: This still frame made of video shows a display of the Unha-3 rocket launch at North Korea's space agency's General Launch Command Center on the outskirts of Pyongyang. (AP)

The successful North Korean rocket launch of the Unha-3 was much, much different than any previous rocket or missile test conducted over the years by the Pyongyang Regime. 

For years, right after Iran made news, we could always count on the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Il, to try and grab headlines with the latest test of his most recent version of the Taepodong Missile, which usually failed on the launch pad or broke apart in pieces over the Pacific Ocean. 

This time a very successful launch told us a great deal about the present leadership situation in North Korea, the maturity and capability of their technology, and confirmed once again just how closely North Korea is working with Iran.

With North Korea’s successful long range rocket launch, Kim Jong Un defied United Nation’s sanctions concerning missile tests and thumbed his nose at the international community.

So much for those Western reporters who wondered if Kim Jong Un would be different from his father. They pointed to his “western education,” love of the National Basketball Association, indifference towards politics and a fondness for James Bond movies. 

Wednesday, with North Korea’s successful long range rocket launch, Kim Jong Un defied United Nation’s sanctions concerning missile tests and thumbed his nose at the international community. 

Make no mistake, Kim Jong Un is a “chip off the old block” from his father, the late Kim Jong Il and his grandfather and founder of the North Korean regime, Kim Il Sung.

As the Federation of American Scientists first pointed out years ago, Iran has been in bed with North Korea since the early 1980s and has helped fund North Korea’s missile development. The Unha is an expendable carrier rocket, which uses the same delivery system as the Taepodong-2 long range ballistic missile. The Taepodong-2 is the ballistic missile which has been the subject of North Korea’s various unsuccessful missile launches over the past decade. 

The North Koreans have had a number of programs over the years to try to lessen the weight of the Taepodong-2 and make other improvements, in order to extend its range. By all accounts, the successful launch of the Unha-3 Rocket, was not only a test of the country’s missile launch capabilities in direct violation of UN Security Council resolutions, but also enabled the deployment of a satellite into space. 

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) stated that “Initial indications are that a missile deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit.” Not only did the North Korean satellite obtain orbit, respected Swedish scientists confirmed that the North Korean Kwangmyongsong-3 Earth Observation Satellite is now orbiting the earth, transmitting radio signals on the UHF and X bans and have confirmed its satellite track.

What is equally troubling is the cast of characters and usual suspects who were at the North Korean rocket launch pad in Tongchang-ri. News organizations are reporting that experts from the same Iranian organization that helped develop the Shahab-3 intercontinental ballistic missile were present at the North Korean launch. The Shahab missile is the Iranian version of the Taepodong missile. 

Where do you guess the Iranians acquired this technology? The link between Tehran and Pyongyang is very real. Their cooperation and Iran’s actual help in financing the development of the Taepodong missile system and its earlier versions go back over 25 years ago.

North Korea’s proliferation activities have been known for years. They’ve been providing missile technology to countries like Iran and Syria in exchange for oil and cash. What should concern us even more today is the increased risk of Pyongyang’s nuclear proliferation. 

North Korea has developed enough fissile material for at least six plutonium based nuclear weapons. With Iran constantly aiding various terrorist organizations, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, we see the full reach of North Korea’s technology.

Earlier this week, Iran actually admitted that it is exporting unmanned aerial vehicle technologies to a number of countries, including Venezuela, in our own hemisphere. Where did this technology come from? 

Today, the free world is harshly criticizing North Korea’s actions. Even China has expressed “deep concern” over the launch. Let’s not kid ourselves. China doesn’t have clean hands. In fact, China has been an “enabler” of the North Korean Government and has actually provided some of the missile technology to the North Koreans since the outset.

Aware of the increasing threat from North Korea, President Bush, in his second term, deployed missile interceptors to Ft. Greely, Alaska. The thought was that North Korea with a fully capable intercontinental ballistic missile was still years away. The recent successful launch of the Unha-3 shows that time may be here. 

What should be of equal concern to the Western world are the ongoing efforts of the North Koreans and Iranians to tinker with their missile technology, in order to accommodate a nuclear warhead. Just last week there were reports that Iran now has 170 missiles—some of them armed with biological warheads, in underground silos targeting Israel.

The successful launch of the Unha-3 rocket was much more than just a successful rocket launch. This launch was validation that the North Koreans are much further along in developing their ballistic missile technology, and has done so in close cooperation with the Iranian Islamic regime.

Today a North Korean earth observation satellite is circling the earth and the North Koreans are closer to having a ballistic missile technology, with the capability to reach the United States. This should be a wakeup call for America and the free world.

Van D. Hipp, Jr. is Chairman of American Defense International, Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm specializing in government affairs, business development and public relations. He is the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army and currently serves on Board of Directors of the American Conservative Union and The National Capitol Board of The Salvation Army. Follow him on Twitter @VanHipp.