May 22, 2007

North Korea and Iran keeping the world at bay

11:51 | 21/ 05/ 2007


MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Kislyakov)

Although politics obviously prevail in the ABM issue, let's admit that the anti-missile aspect is being fed from a source that is not likely to be depleted any time soon. At any rate, this is what the United States thinks. During her visit to Russia in the middle of May, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the United States could not ignore the threats emanating from Iran and North Korea.

Indeed, these countries are doing all they can to keep America apprehensive. Let's start with Iran. Critics of the U.S. plan to deploy ABM components in Eastern Europe argue with good reason that Iran is very far from developing intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Meanwhile, Tehran declared early this year that Iran should speed up preparations to launch its first satellite. Needless to say, it cannot be launched without a carrier.

But even if Tehran is bluffing about the advent of a space era in Iran, it is capable of developing a powerful ballistic missile to hit targets in Europe, Russia included. Iran already has one of the biggest missile arsenals in the Middle East. It is not stinting money or manpower to achieve rapid progress of nuclear technologies, either.

Iran has 40 tactical systems based on the Soviet Scud-B and Scud-C missiles. Code-named Shehab-1 and Shehab-2, they have a maximum range of 300 km and 500 km, correspondingly. The launcher is mounted on a Chinese tractor that can travel at a speed of up to 60 km per hour.

On July 15, 2000, Iran successfully tested the Shehab-3, a ballistic medium-range missile. In some estimates, it may cover up to 2,000 km.

This creates a much bigger threat not only to Israel but also to Russia. This range allows the missile to target Russia's Volgograd, Astrakhan and other southern regions with a population of more than 20 million people.

On a par with modernizing its Shehab-3, Iran is developing a Shehab-4 missile with a heavy MIRV that can be nuclear or conventional. American apprehensions about the emergence of a new nuclear missile potential in the region seem to be well-grounded, considering that Tehran keeps talking about its ambition to go nuclear no matter what the world community says.

North Korea's obsession with strategic systems is also a source of serious concern. For the past six months, Pyongyang has kept the world nervous about its nuclear missile ambitions. After North Korea conducted its first nuclear tests in October 2006, it became clear that all it had to do was to build a carrier better than the existing Nodong and Taphodon ballistic missiles.

These expectations were justified on April 25 with the appearance of a new missile at a parade on the 75th anniversary of the Korean People's Army. American intelligence sources claim it is a modified version of the Soviet submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) that was code-named SS-N-6 Serb in official Pentagon and NATO papers.

This is bad news if true. But the North Koreans are seasoned myth-creators - the former Big Brother was a good teacher. It is an open secret today that former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev loved bluffing about Soviet missile systems. When new giant ICBMs were shown during a military parade in Moscow on May 9, 1965, they were described as carriers of nuclear warheads for "orbital bombing" in space.

But Sergei Korolev's global missile project remained on paper. His designers failed to bring the GR-1 even to flight tests. On May 9, they showed mockups rather than combat ICBMs. Later on the West dubbed them SS-10 Scrags.

To the contrary, the SLBM RSM-25 (Serb), developed in the late 1950s by the phenomenal sea-based missile designer Valery Makeyev, was an excellent weapon. In the U.S.S.R. all missiles were test-launched from ground-based pads. With a range of 3,000, this missile could well serve as a model for developing ground-based ICBMs.

Many Russian arms experts believe that no country is likely to develop strategic weapons in the near future. Commenting on the plan to deploy American missile interceptors in Europe, head of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis Alexander Khramchikhin said in late April: "Up to now only the United States, Soviet Union/Russia and China have been capable of developing their own ICBMs. Iran cannot even cope with a medium-range missile. Its technological level does not make it possible to seriously consider the development of ICBMs with nuclear warheads even in the long term."

We'll have to wait and see. If Iran tries an orbital launch and North Korea tests a new ballistic missile in the near future, ABM's military component will become obvious.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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