catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Rocketman

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Yesterday we heard news that North Korea had launched seven missiles into the Sea of Japan. Six of the missiles were reported to be short or medium range missiles, while the sixth was reported to be a two-stage long-range missile that didn’t quite make it and fell short, its second stage failing to launch.

This morning, the radio reports were full of international concern, angst and hand-wringing, as nations and groups of nations expressed outrage and discussed what to do.

I’m much more relaxed about the whole matter. Here’s why.

1. ‘Hey! Over HERE!!’

On 29 April, I wrote:

Keep an eye out for more mischief from the hermit kingdom – with the world’s attention focused on Iran, Kim may seek to maximise his leverage in matters concerning North Korea.

I think I was right in guessing that the North might do something at this time, but I now suspect a different motive for its behaviour. At the time, I thought that the Iranian issue would take up a lot of diplomatic airspace as the parties haggled and bargained, but things actually seem to be going quite well.

We’ve had Ahmadinejad write Pres. Bush a long, odd letter, and discussion of direct talks between the two countries. As well, Iraq appears to be settling down, with a deal made between the Sunnis, the Shia and the Kurds over the country’s government. That the parties are serious about compromise is indicated by the death of Zarqawi: I suspect that his head was the token of goodwill that the Shia demanded of the Sunni tribal leaders.

This must be infuriating for Kim Jong-Il. Iran only has a patchy nuclear programme, and a few missiles, but is getting the full attention of, and offers of help from, the Security Council and Europe. Kim, however, has declared himself to have nukes, and clearly has the means to deliver them to a number of countries. The US may soon have to count itself among them. And yet he is ignored.

So, what do you do to grab bandwidth, when you have no economy, no friends, no international face? Send up the rockets. But make it big this time. After all, the last time you tested a rocket, no-one paid much attention, and nothing changed.

In short: this is a move designed to gain for Kim the world’s attention, and to seem frightening enough that other countries should make offers of help, technology etc. to pacify him.

2. What’s next?

It won’t work. Missiles themselves aren’t frightening. A missile with a warhead is frightening, and a missile with a nuke attached is terrifying. But the former would only create a little bang while bringing the roof down on Kim’s head, while the latter will never get to the launchpad, I believe. If the US ever suspected that Kim were going to attach a nuke to his rockets, they would take out the missile in transit. So Kim is left to play ‘Rocketman’.

Despite all of the noise and movement in diplomatic circles, and at the United Nations, there is little the world can do. They can’t threaten to take things away from Kim or stop inviting him to international functions, because they don’t give him anything of substance or invite him anywhere at the moment. No-one s going to invade, or launch a strike, over this transgression. There’s really not much that anyone can do.

The exception is China. Having control over much of the North’s oil imports, which are sent to Kim via a Chinese pipeline, China could call ‘time’ on the whole game tomorrow. They don’t, possibly because they don’t want a failed state on their southern border.

But they can also profit from Kim’s mania, I think. Having leverage over the North means that, if other countries want to influence Kim’s behaviour, they most often have to come through China. This gives China a bargaining chip, especially in its relations with the US. And, as with every other country, China is happy to grab all the chips that it can. After all, the missiles aren’t likely to be directed at Beijing.

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Written by Admin

July 6, 2006 at 6:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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