Top leaders in South Korea and the United States have all but dismissed
the use of military means to interfere with North Korea's launch of a
long-range rocket, believed to be just days away. Many observers are
now watching to see if Japan will make good on contingency plans to
shoot down the rocket.
About 100 protesters rallied in downtown
Seoul, Monday, shouting slogans against the North Korean government and
its plans for an imminent launch of a long-range rocket.
says it will fire what it calls a communications satellite into space,
within days. A United States scientific institute has released new
satellite images showing the North's rocket standing up on a launch
pad. That is seen as a strong indicator liftoff is on track to proceed
between April 4 and 8, as the North has announced.
Korea, the United States and Japan view the launch as an unacceptable
attempt to advance North Korea's offensive ballistic missile
capability. They say the launch will violate a 2006 United Nations
resolution imposed after Pyongyang tested a nuclear weapon and that it
require some form of response.
However, South Korean President
Lee Myung-bak is rejecting any kind of military response to the
launch. In an interview published Monday by Britain's Financial Times,
Mr. Lee is also quoted as saying he will avoid other "extreme" measures
such as closing down a joint North-South industrial park.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is also downplaying military action. He
says the United States would only attempt to shoot down the rocket in
the unlikely event it appeared to pose a direct threat to U.S.
One of two advanced U.S. warships expected to monitor
the launch from waters between North Korea and Japan departed a South
Korean port, Monday. South Korea and Japan are also believed to be
sending advanced anti-missile destroyers to collect data on the launch.
is the only country that has made explicit public plans to attempt to
shoot down the North Korean rocket. The launch trajectory is expected
to pass directly over northern Japanese territory. Japan's defense
minister ordered the country's self-defense forces last week to prepare
to destroy any part of the rocket that looks like it may pose a threat.
Seung-jae is a consultant to South Korea's Defense Ministry and works
with the Asia Strategy Institute in Seoul. He feels certain Japan will
attempt a shootdown.
"Trying by Japan is very important," Park
said. "Success or not, is a second question. Japan has a right to
shoot [the rocket] down. No other country will argue with that."
says a shootdown attempt - especially a successful one - would boost
the political fortunes of Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, whose
approval ratings have plummeted in recent months.