Don‘t blame Gen. Macdonald!
As North Korean engineers pumped fuel into a long-range rocket on April 11, the whole world’s attention was drawn to when the reclusive state would carry out the disguised attempt to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Media outlets, Cheong Wa Dae and intelligence agencies churned out speculation that the launch would be carried out in a matter of days as the liquid fuel used by the North was believed to be highly corrosive.
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. John A. Macdonald, assistant chief of staff at the United States Forces Korea (USFK), also joined the guessing game that day as he had a media interview.
He predicted that it would be around noon at April 14, a day before North Korean founder Kim Il-sung’s centennial birthday. One of his aides reiterated that Macdonald, who has access to all military resources and intelligence, had long speculated that the launch would take place on the eve of the centennial birth celebrations.
However, the two-star general was unable to predict the exact date, as well as the timing of the reclusive regime’s launch. It took place at around 7:39 a.m. on April 13.
This once again highlighted the limited capabilities of the USFK and Korea in reading the minds and thoughts of North Korean leaders and in foretelling when and what provocation the rogue nation would carry out next time.
It proved that billions of dollars that Seoul and Washington spend each year to purchase high-tech military equipment and surveillance systems cannot be a cure for all when it comes to defending South Korea.
In fact, the USFK’s inability to predict the North’s next move came to surface when it was disclosed that they also found out about North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s death on Dec. 19 last year, two days after the dictator’s demise upon watching the news on the Stalinist country’s state media.
Of course, it would not have been that easy to forecast the exact time and date of the North’s launch as the decision was believed to have been more on political considerations by top officials.
Kim Sung-kurl, a missile expert at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA), says it would have been practically impossible for anyone to predict the exact time of the rocket launch as all that left after fuelling the rocket was pushing a button.
Kim Tae-woo, former vice president of the KIDA and the current head of the Korean Institute for National Unification, suggested that Macdonald’s prediction was less accurate as he might not have taken full account of the weather variable.
The weather was forecast to be windier and cloudier on April 14 and 15, compared to April 13.
Nevertheless, Macdonald was not completely wrong in his guess, since he forecast that the North would move up the day of the launch if it were struggling to entertain the international media for another three days.