North Korea’s Foiled Plot Reveals the Importance of Missile Defense

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By Seth M.M. Stodder – Earlier this summer, Panamanian authorities discovered parts of a missile system hidden in a ship traveling from Cuba to North Korea.

The incident underscores two important points about North Korea. First, one of America’s most unpredictable enemies is committed to developing and distributing missile technology. More disturbing still, the totalitarian nation is capable of transporting weapons in the Western hemisphere.


In recent years, the threat of a missile strike from adversarial regimes like North Korea as well as non-state terrorist actors has become more acute. In light of these developments, it’s imperative that the United States and its allies continue to invest in missile defense technologies.

The North Korean government has been working to improve its missile capabilities for decades. The nation began developing tactical artillery rockets in the 1960s and 70s and moved on to short- and medium-range missiles in the 1980s and 90s.

Last December, North Korea successfully launched a satellite into orbit using long-range missile technology known as Taepodong-2. A fully functioning Taepodong-2 missile is capable of reaching the United States. And in April, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s announced that North Korea likely has a nuclear weapon small enough to deliver with a ballistic missile.

What makes North Korea’s missile program even more dangerous is that, for years, the country has supplied ballistic missiles to Iran and other American adversaries. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Pyongyang has made hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years exporting ballistic missiles to such countries as Syria – a country in the midst of a civil war, and that has apparently used chemical weapons – as well as other nations known for supporting terrorists and other enemies of the United States.

The Panama episode is merely the latest example of Pyongyang’s efforts to help anti-American regimes improve their missile capabilities.

For the United States and its allies to remain secure in a world where oppressive regimes and terrorist organizations have greater and greater access to sophisticated ballistic missiles, a strong system of missile defense is an absolute necessity.

In the last three decades, research into missile defense technologies has yielded remarkable results.

Just this year, American military personnel teamed up with Israeli defense forces to successful test cutting-edge interceptors over the Mediterranean Sea. Shortly after that, the U.S. Navy’s shield program intercepted a fast-moving test target over the Pacific Ocean.

Back in the 1980s, when missile defense was first considered by the United States, many skeptics believed that destroying an enemy missile mid-flight was a pipe dream. Today, they’ve been definitively proven wrong. One shield program alone — the Patriot Air Defense Missile System — has completed more than 2,500 successful search and track tests. The Patriot is just one part of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s proven “family of systems.”

As the missiles available to unfriendly regimes and terrorist groups become more advanced, so too must systems for defending against those missiles. It’s for this reason that the Department of Defense is currently looking for new, more effective ways to intercept missiles, whether by making use of unmanned aerial drones or even relying on spaced-based assets that can sense and destroy incoming threats.

Given the major threats on the international scene, investments in these and other technologies for strengthening American missile defense aren’t just prudent — they’re essential.

The United States and its allies must be prepared for the unique security challenges we will face in the coming years. While North Korea’s latest plot may have been foiled, the proliferation of ever more powerful missile systems will continue. We must be prepared.

Seth M.M. Stodder teaches national security law at the University of Southern California Law School and is a partner at Obagi & Stodder LLP.





  1. the north Korean freighter that was boarded and brought back to panama and searched was found to have useless,old vintage military equipment from the '50's.and '60's and tons of raw Cuban cane sugar.the cargo consisted of 2 MIG 21 aircraft, 15 MIG engines, 2 anti aircraft missile batteries and disassembled components of 9 missiles.all described as obsolete cargo in the Cuban manifest. The military equipment pn board were buried under 200,000 bags of raw sugar. The sugar was payment to the north Koreans for repair work and restoration of the MIG's. A barter agreement for pick-up,repair and delivery. this is a threat to us? pathetic.what we need to do is have Dear Leader of North Korea and Dear Leader of America sign a peace treaty and start trading and live in peace.

  2. shaftalley:

    Military hardware of any vintage can be used effectively in the right hands. MiG-21 would be a hard threat to deal with by modern US jets if they use the element of surprise, and on a one-way mission. For example, US Navy continue to simulate the MiG-21 in their mock combat training at TOP GUN school.

  3. what is wrong with you two? cuba and nk are not even 4th class countries.and that woman shot dead was UNARMED. and what !!!! just because you don't stop, you automatically get shot to death???? this is supposed to be America.

  4. shaftalley:

    NK and Cuba are quite capable of deploying partisans (as USSR did against the Nazi's in WWII) to a deadly affect. All it took was a .32 caliber bullet to start WWI. I am happy to be of service to your education, shaftalley. You can thank me anytime.

    • I don't need any public school education. especially from a blood thirsty,war mongering ,clueless neo-con.

      • I understand that you don't know how to debate the merit of a subject when all you do is ad hominem attack the person that engaged your asinine comments. You clearly don't know the difference between a MiG-21 from a Sopwith Camel.

    • Here's something to add,
      Islamic radicals look for a propoganda excuse to target USA' s cities. World Trade Ctr was greedy capitalisim's capital.

      We will be a target, if LGBT's agenda to make Honolulu.HI the western world's marriage paradise of the pacific.
      If so, thank our con-gress persons; hanabata, lazy Maize, B.S. & T.G. as well as LGBT activists like to_tell_the_truth & his friends for this

  5. shaftalley:

    The DC car crazy woman could have been driving a car loaded with explosives. If that were the case, and she did find a way to break through a barrier to the WH and detonate it, you'd be the first one to claim a conspiracy existed on behalf of the cops, because they didn't shoot her to make her vehicle stop.

  6. anyhow, drive carefully while cruising in DC and don't make any wrong turns or you might be executed by some trigger-happy imperial guards. and dennis rodman went back to north korea recently to play some exhibition,that;s what we should be doing! play basketball and make love to those pretty nk girls. Obama-san !! Tear down that DMZ!! sign that peace treaty with that chubby kid and bring our troops home.

  7. Your crazy lady heroine of affection in DC was gas pedal happy, hearing voices in her head, ramming cops and endangering lives of the public, and resisted all attempts to STOP what she was doing. She chose her fate, all by herself.

    You'd do well for yourself if you tried to comprehend the details of that incident, instead knee jerking conspiracy jive all day.

  8. @RD 36 – I saw an eye-witness raw video of the car chase that ledto the shooting.looks to me like the lady panicked,which is an obvious reaction when guns are trained on you. and unfortunately got gunned down as a result. we may never know the whole all of it.the gov't. has a habit of lying,destroying evidence.and the main stream media is a lap-dog for the police state and media corporate sponsors.even if her loved ones sue the DC cops and also FOIA it may not be successful.and if that is a conspiracy,it is what it is.

  9. shaft:

    If you only knew how many cops put their lives on the line and are killed on duty, the police when confronted with a crazy lady driving a 2,000lb missile who refuses to stop when ordered to, the police have to look out for public safety as well as their own. Police are made of flesh and blood like anyone else, and can easily die in a life threatening situation.

    From a police point of view, the lady may have panicked because she didn't want the police to know or foil her plot to detonate her car with explosives she may or may not have.

    You read comic books don't you? The police don't have X-Ray vision like superman does.

  10. " crazy lady driving…" "the DC car crazy woman…" how the hell do you or anyone else know for sure thay she was "crazy" at the time of the incident?? did the cops or the main stream media interview her while they were chasing and shooting at her. you see,that's the problem on relying on official reports.there is no proof that she was hallucinating or mental breakdown during the incident. her family and friends insisted she was fine and normal just before the incident. these DC cops think they are running barricades and checkpoints in Baghdad.

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