Will North Korea’s bluff pay off, then?

NORTH Korea believed it could outsmart the United States in playing the game of who would blink first over the nuclear missile debacle. But by launching its missiles on Wednesday, Pyongyang has only helped the United States consolidate its position in Asia.

By Claude Salhani

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Published: Sat 8 Jul 2006, 9:50 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 5:43 PM

North Korea, the last remaining Stalinist state has a hard time feeding its starving population, yet it does not hesitate to spend billions of dollars to build a nuclear deterrent —and a delivery system it hoped could reach the continental United States.

However, that failed to happen: the six missiles launched Wednesday morning, including a long-range Taepodong-2 ballistic missile which is believed to have a range of up to 6,700 kilometres failed to perform as expected. The long-range missile fell well short of its intended range, crashing into the sea off the Korean peninsula just 42 seconds after being launched.

It was later reported that a seventh missile was launched later in the day after protests from Washington and Tokyo, and as the United Nations Security Council convened to consider what punitive actions to take against North Korea.

White House press Secretary Tony Snow called the North Korean action "a provocation." Legally, the communist nation has all the right to pursue building and firing rockets and missiles. However what this latest move by North Korea does is give the United States the opportunity to increase its military presence in and around the Pacific area.

Following this latest North Korean provocation, Washington will have an easy time convincing Tokyo for the need to deepen military cooperation between the United States and Japan. As some analysts see it, this development could serve to strengthen Japanese-American military cooperation.

The Bush administration will make it a point to stress the dangers associated with this latest North Korean proliferation. It will play up the fact that Pyongyang is now within reach of Alaska, Hawaii and possibly even the west coast of continental United States.

Not that North Korea’s military hardware should represent any real threat to the security of the United States, even if their missile tests turned out positive. Given the tremendous superiority of American armament and technology, and even on the off chance that North Korea would somehow be able to strike as far as Alaska, Hawaii or even the west coast of the United States, there are two major factors that the communist nation may have to take into consideration.

First, assuming that North Korea was able to produce, assemble, aim and fire a missile or two successfully at the United States, a move that would be nothing short of suicidal given what the expected retort to such an act of aggression would be. In the highly unlikely event that a single, just a single North Korean missile were to fall on American territory the immediate and unrestricted response from the Bush administration would be at least tenfold. It would put North Korea in deeper isolation, that is, assuming that there would be enough left standing after the United States is finished pounding the North back into the stone age.

However, North Koreans may be gamblers, they are not suicidal. They only hoped to put pressure on the Bush administration using the missile issue to alleviate pressures placed on them by the United States over their nuclear programme.

While their leader, Kim Jong Il, may well suffer from delusions of grandeur, he cannot ignore America’s dominant nuclear arsenal. Neither can he pretend that the US would hesitate one second before obliterating the north off the face of the map.

The North was hoping to use the missile launch as a means of pressuring the Bush administration into making concessions. However, that may backfire with Washington lining up its allies in the region and using the "North Korean excuse" to consolidate its defence against not only North Korea, but also against China.

A strong US military presence in the Pacific would allow the US to step up security for Taiwan. If the "threat" of North Korea is amplified enough, it would allow the US to beef up US military presence in Guam (a US territory) but also, why not, on the island of Taiwan itself?

In firing off those missiles, including a long-range one supposedly targeting the US and Japan, North Korea expected to deliver a political message to Washington that the regional security can be threatened if the United States does not accept the North’s demands.

One of North Korea’s rare sources of income emanates from selling missile parts and technology for hard cash. The reclusive nation has earned some $1.5 billion annually.

During the missile talks with the United States in 1996-1997, North Korea demanded that Washington pay $3 billion in compensation for economic losses it would suffer from suspending missile exports. In other words, what North Korea is asking from the United States is to be paid off for not producing. Not a bad job if you can get it.

Claude Salhani is International Editor and a political analyst with United Press International in Washington D.C. He may be contacted at Claude@upi.com.

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