Wed, Apr 15, 2009 - Page 9 News List

North Korea fired because it knew it could do so with impunity

For reasons political or technical, Pyongyang was able to break international law without receiving as much as a slap on the wrist from the US and its allies

By Richard Halloran

Once again, North Koreans led by Kim Jong-il have defied the international community and, as they have for much of the last 40 years, will evidently get away with it as the US, Japan, and South Korea have done little but talk and shake their fingers at the “Dear Leader.”

Last weekend, North Korea fired a rocket over Japan into the Pacific Ocean. For a North Korea that cannot feed itself, whose archaic industry is limping, whose trade is anemic except for imports from China, whose people suffer from endemic diseases and which goes dark for lack of electricity when the sun goes down, this was a spectacular achievement.

Kim went to the launch site on the east coast to watch the liftoff, then had himself reelected by acclamation. Midweek, Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said, 100,000 people jammed a plaza in Pyongyang to celebrate.

“The DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] succeeded in launching the satellite despite the enemies’ unprecedented political and military pressure,” KCNA said.

Before the missile launch, US President Barack Obama and leaders of other powerful countries warned North Korea not to proceed with the launch. Afterward, Obama said that North Korea “must be punished,” a position that was echoed in Tokyo, Seoul, Western Europe and at the UN.

By the weekend, however, little but nattering was seeping out of the UN, the White House and foreign ministries around the globe.

Moreover, the Obama administration imposed through the Pentagon a news blackout despite having erected an elaborate system of missile tracking radars, computers and communications in Japan, the Aleutians, Alaska, Hawaii, and California, US and Japanese warships at sea, and satellites above the Pacific Ocean. That cost the taxpayers? US$56 billion over the past seven years.

Colorado-based Northern Command, which is responsible for the defense of the US homeland, published a terse press release with few details, concluding: “This is all of the information that will be provided … pertaining to the launch.”

In contrast, after a missile defense test in December, the Pentagon produced Lieutenant General Patrick O’Reilly, Director of the Missile Defense Agency, to open a press briefing.

“What I would like to do is go over exactly what happened this afternoon,” he had said back then. The Army general proceeded to do just that.

In North Korea’s case, rather than inform the public the Pentagon is paid to defend, it withheld information and ostensibly did so for one or both of the following reasons:

First, the Obama administration, having decided there would be no response or retaliation for the defiant missile test, calculated that it would be best to divert public attention by ignoring it.

Second, something went wrong in tracking the North Korean missile in this first realistic test of missile defense; other tests have been staged. Rather than admit failure, the Pentagon deployed a smokescreen.

The North Korean missile test was but the latest act of a rogue state. In 1968, North Korea seized the US intelligence ship Pueblo in international waters; 36 hours later, North Korean commandos attempted to kill South Korean President Park Chung-hee. The following year, North Korea shot down a US EC-121 electronic surveillance plane, killing 31 Americans.

Since then, the North Koreans have mounted assassinations, abductions, bombings and illicit drug operations, all without drawing an effective response from the US, Japan, or South Korea. In the 1980s, Pyongyang began developing nuclear arms, which led to the Six-Party talks in 2003. The US, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia have sought, unsuccessfully, to dissuade Kim from pursuing his nuclear ambitions. In 2006, North Korea detonated a nuclear device. The-Six Party Talks are stalled and the launch suggests they will recede further into the horizon.

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