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Test Is More N. Korean Brinkmanship

Posted July. 06, 2006 03:00,   


Why has North Korea launched missiles when it is obvious that the international community would rebel? The analysis that Pyongyang is resorting to a brinkmanship approach to draw attention from Washington when its request for bilateral direct talks has been denied is predominant.

Why Were the Missiles Launched?-

It seems that its primary goal in pushing ahead with the missile launches, which it has threatened to do so since early May, is to raise the tension level to its highest and send a message for bilateral talks to Washington.

Before that, Joseon Sinbo, an organ of the pro-Pyongyang federation of Korean residents in Japan, and Han Seong-ryol, the North Korean deputy ambassador to the UN, urged Washington to recognize Pyongyang as a negotiating partner late last month, but Washington turned it down immediately and chose a path to pressure Pyongyang more.

It is analyzed that Pyongyang’s missile launches is a way of breaking through this situation and solidifying its internal system.

Kim Yong-su, a political science professor at Sogang University, said, “In a situation when the U.S. and Japan are openly asking for the North’s regime change, Kim Jong Il might have concluded that it has become harder to sustain its regime and that the missile launches are their best defense to solve its problems by making problems.”

Kim Tae-hyo, a political science professor at SungKyunKwan University, said, “There might have occurred internal problems such as a rebellion by an elite class including military authorities within North Korea, if they hadn’t fired the missiles.“

One of the reasons for the missile launches seems to be North Korea’s conclusion that it has nothing to lose while Washington has imposed an economic sanction on it. Even when North Korea launched a Taepodong 1, ICBM (An intercontinental ballistic missile) in 1998, voices on strong sanctions through the UN Security Council ended up with just an establishment of the Chairman’s Statement, due to China’s passiveness.

What Are the Gains and Losses in the Missile Launches?-

The general idea of the international community about the missile launches is that losses are greater than gains. However, Pyongyang’s calculation could be different. It might have thought that its provocation could lead to an external effect, that is, an enhancement of its negotiating power with Washington and an internal effect, solidarity.

The solidarity of its internal system seems viable in the short term. It was likely for Pyongyang to have an extended list of potential customers about missiles, parts, and technology that are being exclusively exported to the Middle East, if a launch of Taepodong 2, ICBM with its longest fire range of 10,200km, succeeded.

But, whatever Pyongyang’s calculation was, it seems that Pyongyang is at a risk of losing everything as the test firing of the Taepodong 2 failed.

For sure, Washington, which thinks that a war on terror and prevention of WMD proliferation are two key pillars in establishing new world order, will put more pressure such as economic sanctions on North Korea, a rogue country to the U.S.

If Japan, an ardent U.S. ally, fully cooperates, Kim Jong Il’s financial resources could be completely blocked.

Normalization of its relationship such as a bilateral negotiation with Washington, one of the ultimate goals Pyongyang is trying to obtain, will be harder to achieve. U.S. Ambassador to Korea Alexander Vershbow said on July 5, “Pyongyang will pay a price for the missile launches. Countries involved in the six-party talks should agree to send a message that Pyongyang’s missile launches will no longer be tolerated, and they should choose another way.”

Leeway of the South Korean government, the only country to continue aiding the North, could be reduced. Russia and China, its traditional allies, didn’t seem to welcome the missile launches.

Pyongyang’s action might have a short-term effect of solidifying its system, but the existence of Kim Jong Il’s regime itself could be threatened if the pressure from the international community is strengthened.

Dong-Yong Min taewon_ha@donga.com mindy@donga.com