North Korea's Rocket Was Mostly Homemade

NoKo's better at building rockets than anyone thought.

Jan 21 2013, 8:00pm
Image: AP

You didn't think the North Korean rocket story would go away, would you? Last time we checked in, it looked like North Korea had help from Iran, which was worrisome because Iran has more resources for developing a serious rocket program, and if the pair teamed up, a nuclear ICBM isn't totally out of the question. South Korea identified the Iran connection after fishing a piece of the rocket out of the ocean. But after recovering around 10 pieces of the rocket and analyzing them further, South Korean analysts released a report saying that the rocket was made in North Korea.

That on its own is worrisome as the international community previously thought that sanctions might be able to limit North Korea's ability to import its rocket supplies. But if it's homebrewed, slowing its development of potential ICBMs is a lot harder diplomatically. From the BBC:  

In its report, the South Korean Defence Ministry said: "North Korea is believed to have made a majority of components itself, although it used commercially available products imported from overseas."

The BBC's Lucy Williamson in the South Korean capital, Seoul, says this will be unwelcome news to many countries as they consider what the military applications of such technical ability could be.

Such rockets are technically similar to intercontinental ballistic missiles, which could reach the United States, she adds.

According to Reuters, none of the imported components found by South Korean investigators would have been regulated under the Missile Technology Control Regime, an international set of guidelines for missile technology. In other words, it appears that North Korea is capable of building a lot of the parts key to long-range missiles on its own, which makes the sanctions route less effective. (Of course, there's also the point that North Korea is banned from testing missiles, and that hasn't stopped Pyongyang from launching its rockets.)

And they are indeed long-range; South Korea estimates that current designs can fly 10,000 kilometers, which is enough to reach California. That's a key point, as if Pyongyang's missiles can reach that far, it gives the US a more vested interest in slowing North Korea's rocket development–something that South Korea assuredly would like to see. There's a broader point as well: It appears that North Korea has a higher tech manufacturing capability than previously expected. For a country that has basically made a business out of saber-rattling, that's a big development.