Kim Jong-Il is apparently not content with good old-fashioned saber rattling, and instead wants to push the envelope (or the button, as it were) a little further:
North Korea may fire a long-range ballistic missile toward Hawaii in early July, a Japanese news report said Thursday, as Russia and China urged the regime to return to international disarmament talks on its rogue nuclear program.
The missile, believed to be a Taepodong-2 with a range of up to 4,000 miles (6,500 kilometers), would be launched from North Korea’s Dongchang-ni site on the northwestern coast, said the Yomiuri daily, Japan’s top-selling newspaper. It cited an analysis by the Japanese Defense Ministry and intelligence gathered by U.S. reconnaissance satellites.
The missile launch could come between July 4 and 8, the paper said.
While the newspaper speculated the Taepodong-2 could fly over Japan and toward Hawaii, it said the missile would not be able to hit Hawaii’s main islands, which are about 4,500 miles (7,200 kilometers) from the Korean peninsula.
A spokesman for the Japanese Defense Ministry declined to comment on the report. South Korea’s Defense Ministry and the National Intelligence Service — the country’s main spy agency — said they could not confirm it.
If North Korea does carry out such a plan, it would be a most provocative act, bordering on a casus belli. Figuratively speaking, it would not be any different than the child’s game of swinging one’s arms within inches of one’s sibling while declaring “not touching!” In realpolitik terms, it is simply a threat.
Of course, the real question is, what do we do about it?
President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak met in Washington on Tuesday for a landmark summit in which they agreed to build a regional and global “strategic alliance” to persuade North Korea to dismantle all its nuclear weapons. Obama declared North Korea a “grave threat” to the world and pledged that the new U.N. sanctions on the communist regime will be aggressively enforced.
In Seoul, Vice Unification Minister Hong Yang-ho told a forum Thursday that the North’s moves to strengthen its nuclear programs is “a very dangerous thing that can fundamentally change” the regional security environment. He said the South Korean government is bracing for “all possible scenarios” regarding the nuclear standoff.
In a rare move, leaders of Russia and China used their meetings in Moscow on Wednesday to pressure the North to return to the nuclear talks and expressed “serious concerns” about tension on the Korean peninsula.
The joint appeal appeared to be a signal that Moscow and Beijing are growing impatient with Pyongyang’s stubbornness. Northeastern China and Russia’s Far East both border North Korea, and Pyongyang’s unpredictable actions have raised concern in both countries.
After meetings at the Kremlin, Chinese President Hu Jintao joined Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in urging a peaceful resolution of the Korean standoff and the “swiftest renewal” of the now-frozen talks involving their countries as well as North and South Korea, Japan and the United States.
“Russia and China are ready to foster the lowering of tension in Northeast Asia and call for the continuation of efforts by all sides to resolve disagreements through peaceful means, through dialogue and consultations,” their statement said.
Keep in mind, as well, that North Korea need not tip anyone of those missiles with a nuclear warhead (which it does not yet have the capability to do) in order to pose a significant threat. Reportedly, the Stalinist regime is well-equipped with chemical weapons as well:
The independent International Crisis Group think tank, meanwhile, said the North’s massive stockpile of chemical weapons is no less serious a threat to the region than its nuclear arsenal.
It said the North is believed to have between 2,500 and 5,000 tons of chemical weapons, including mustard gas, phosgene, blood agents and sarin. These weapons can be delivered with ballistic missiles and long-range artillery and are “sufficient to inflict massive civilian casualties on South Korea.”
Although the nations involved have been ready to talk sternly about “grave threats” and to urge further negotiations to quell the tensions, Kim Jong-Il is notably unimpressed. Rather than seeking to retard the North Korean leader’s ambitions, everyone seems insistent upon being cautions in order to avoid “provoking” Kim Jong-Il. That is a shrewd plan when dealing with a crazy person, but in the end, a bully is just a bully, whether he’s crazy or not.
Unfortunately, at some point a swift smack on the nose will be necessary if we truly want to back the recalcitrant dictator up a step or two, which admittedly carries its own unfortunate possibilities. Even if that point is not now, or if and when North Korea sends its missiles hurling dangerously close to our sovereign territory, it does seem to be approaching quickly. Given the rather meek approach taken by all nations thus far, one can only hope that Kim’s own machinations do him under before the international community’s hand is forced.