Mon, May 01, 2017 - Page 7 News List

North Korea’s strategy changing as it rushes to develop missiles

By Foster Klug  /  AP, SEOUL

North Korea observers have long marveled at the ability of a small, impoverished, autocratic nation to go toe-to-toe with the world’s superpowers.

Part of the secret to North Korea’s success has always been the ruling Kim family’s mastery of the art of brinkmanship.

What looks to outsiders like bluster, bombast and recklessness is actually a proven technique that over the years has won North Korea grudging respect from Washington and its allies, and has at times filled its coffers with aid offered by rivals relieved to see animosity on the Korean Peninsula ease.

However, the roles might have reversed, with a new administration in Washington bulldozing its way to the brink before finally backing away.

Korean war jitters made global headlines after US President Donald Trump issued repeated, ambiguous warnings about his willingness to take unilateral action and sent US military vessels to Korean waters.

However, last week, Trump announced a much softer policy that combines diplomacy and economic sanctions and is strikingly similar to what frustrated past US presidents embraced.

North Korea used to employ a comparable method: forcing the world to pay attention by staging nuclear and missile tests, issuing outrageous threats and occasionally lashing out with violence — and then offering negotiations.

For decades, the tiny, Third-World dictatorship sandwiched between rich behemoths played the game remarkably well.

However, some now see North Korea entering a frightening new phase, barreling across what were once considered “red lines” in a dash to build nuclear-armed missiles that can reach the US mainland.

Here is a brief examination of North Korea’s mastery of brinkmanship and what might be coming next:

US BRINKMANSHIP?

Brinkmanship can be defined as the technique of pushing a dangerous policy to the edge of safety before stopping.

Some Korea experts, analyzing what happened in recent weeks on the Korean Peninsula, believe that this time Washington engineered the brinkmanship.

Presumably worried that North Korea would soon conduct its sixth nuclear test, the Trump administration threatened a possible attack, ordered a supercarrier and nuclear-powered submarine to Korea and linked the US bombing of Syria to North Korea.

“They were putting the idea of a surprise military action out there, which is the definition of a dangerous policy on the Korean Peninsula,” John Delury, an Asia expert and professor at Seoul’s Yonsei University, said of the US moves.

Trump seemed to think he could pressure North Korea into giving up its nuclear weapons and, if that failed, would then consider a pre-emptive strike, said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Dongguk University.

North Korea, for its part, was relatively restrained, analysts said.

Yes, North Korea expressed anger, as it does every year, over annual springtime joint military exercises by Seoul and Washington that the North calls preparations for an invasion.

However, its response did not go beyond what happens most years. That included bellicose threats, a [failed] missile test linked to the celebration of the birthday of North Korea’s founder Kim Il-sung and war games during the anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army.

NUCLEAR AND MISSILE TESTS

A big part of North Korea’s past brinkmanship has always involved its weapons program. That might be changing.

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