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What Will North Korea’s Next Move Be?

Posted July. 18, 2006 03:27,   


“It is possible North Korea could respond with a “third choice” rather than another launch of Taepodong-2 missile or even a nuclear test to show it is undeterred.” said a South Korean government official predicting next move of North Korea, which declared it would take strong actions in response to the U.N. Security Council resolution imposing weapons-related sanctions on July 16.

Of course, the possibility of taking a serious move such as nuclear test or the launch of a Taepodong-2 missile cannot still be excluded. North Korean ambassador to the U.N. Pak Gil Yon warned on July 7 saying, “Stronger power and technologies will be revealed if we have second-phase tests done.”

However, if the North dares to go ahead with nuclear tests or another missile launch, U.S. and Japan are highly likely to take military action. Experts say that it is unlikely that North Korea will gamble and put the future of the country at risk at a time when even China agreed to adopt the U.N. resolution.

Accordingly, more observers predict that North Korea could respond with another form of provocation, neither nuclear test, nor missile launch, to show their declaration of bolstering actions is not just words.

The first possible scenario is to fiddle with a nuclear test or missile launch. Instead of pushing ahead with an actual nuclear test or missile launch, it is possible that the North could try to constantly raise tensions by showing preparations for a nuclear test or moving missiles near launching pads.

The second possible scenario is to launch a mid-range Rodong missile targeting Japan. However, North Korea needs to calculate carefully because it could backfire in that it can provoke Japan, which initiated the resolution against North Korea. That brings us the third possible scenario, where the North may launch a short-range surface-to-ship missile with a maximum 160km-range or a Scud missile capable of hitting South Korea. Under this scenario, the North may try to maximize “the effect of crisis” by targeting more southern areas than on July 5.

Some analysts say the North Korean leadership could choose to launch short and mid-range missiles, which makes it hard for others to see signs of the missile launch using mobile launching pads because three weeks are needed for preparation of longer range Taepodong-2 launches, and the North cannot avoid surveillance of U.S. spy satellites in the case of the longer range missiles. Others say that the South needs to prepare for the potential provocation at the NLL in the Yellow Sea. At a time when provocations on land are difficult because of the Gaesong Industrial Complex and the Mt. Geumgang tourism business, another provocation at the NLL in the Yellow Sea might take place following provocations in 1999 and in 2002. Under the scenario, the North might want to give rise to the public opinion in the South against imposing sanctions on the North and wreck cooperation among S. Korea, the U.S., and Japan.

Sang-Ho Yun ysh1005@donga.com