SEOUL, South Korea -- Shortly before we arrived here, the Republic of Korea launched its first Aegis-class destroyer, the King Sejong. A few hours after we landed in this booming metropolis, the North Korean People's Army "test-fired" several Silkworm anti-shipping missiles into the East Sea between North Korea and Japan. Neither event is related to our FOX News "War Stories" team being here to shoot a Korean War documentary, but surely both "launches" are connected.
"In this part of the world, little happens by coincidence. We should have no doubt that the ROK Aegis launch and the North Korean missile 'tests' are directly related," a senior American military officer assigned to U.S. Forces Korea told me. His view is substantiated by press reports here attributed to South Korean and Japanese intelligence sources. According to the media, Pyongyang's missile "tests" were designed to "send a message to the government in Seoul that their expensive new destroyer is vulnerable to attack." But that's not how official Washington is putting it.
The King Sejong, a 7,600-ton KDX-III destroyer, is South Korea's first vessel to be equipped with the vaunted Aegis Combat System -- capable of bringing down ballistic missiles. Until now, the United States has licensed this technology to only a handful of nations -- the United Kingdom, Japan, Spain and Norway. According to unclassified Pentagon data, Aegis-equipped warships are able to track about 1,000 targets and attack 20 of them simultaneously. The Bush administration regards the U.S. and allied Aegis systems to be essential parts of a worldwide anti-missile defense network. The Japanese and South Koreans are both building additional Aegis-equipped vessels at a cost of more than $1 billion per copy.
Given the technological and financial commitments being made by Tokyo and Seoul, the tepid U.S. response to the North Korean threat is inexplicable.
"The short-range missile launches are believed to be part of a routine exercise that North Korea has conducted annually on the east and the west coasts in the past," said a Pentagon statement. And the State Department was even more conciliatory to Pyongyang. "It's something that they have done on several occasions," said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, during an Association of South East Asian Nations meeting in Manila, Philippines.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.