North Korea interprets U.S. missile test as a war threat
September 18, 2006
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On September 2, the Pyongyang region issued a statement accusing the U.S. of “increasing tensions on the Korean Peninsula and threatening war against our country.” It went on that, America’s actions would force North Korea to strengthen its own self-defensive deterrent, a euphemism often employed by the North Korean government to refer to its nuclear weapons program.
The U.S. has since reinforced its security forces in the Eastern Asian theatre, especially its interceptor missile defenses. On September 1, the U.S. tested an interceptor missile over the Pacific Ocean, destroying a mock warhead launched from a separate location.
This $85 million test incited Pyongyang’s furious accusation, calling the test a “reckless move to start war.” The test coincided with an annual 10-day military exercise by joint U.S. and South Korean forces, which according to the BBC always draws strong rebuke from Pyongyang.
Robert Duncan, Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science, said that North Korea’s president, Kim Jong Il, is doing what any political leader would do. “The economic situation in North Korea is really bad, starvation is rampant, so Kim Jong Il is attempting to turn people’s attention elsewhere. When a leader is hard-pressed at home, they accuse outsiders. Its all bluster and propaganda. Unless he has a death wish.”
Regional tensions have been high in Eastern Asia since Pyongyang test fired seven missiles on July 4. One of the tests was of the Taepodong II, an intercontinental ballistic missile with the potential to hit the Western US. However, this test failed and the Taepodong II fell into the Sea of Japan 40 seconds after liftoff.
There have been fears that North Korea will conduct more missile tests later this month and possibly an underground nuclear weapons test. In 2002, Pyongyang admitted to possession of a nuclear program and is believed to have at least four such weapons.
In mid-August, a U.S. intelligence agency reported suspicious activity around a known North Korean test site. Last week, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service warned that Pyongyang could test a nuclear weapon at anytime.
According to the Jerusalem Post, American officials have asked “all the members of the international community, including China, to state very clearly to North Korea that [a nuclear weapons test] would be a very provocative act and it would only add to and deepen their isolation.”
China may be the international community’s only hope of negotiating with North Korea.
“China has enormous influence over North Korea, they link Pyongyang to the outside world,” said Ben Lancaster, senior East Asian History major. “Beijing is in a position to give them what they need to survive. If they listen to anyone, it’ll be China.”
China had sponsored North Korea in six-party talks aimed at their nuclear disarmament. However, the talks have been stalled since November due to Pyongyang’s anger over U.S.-imposed sanctions in response to alleged drug trafficking and money laundering.
There have been no moves indicating a return to the stalled talks despite China’s expressions of frustration with its long-time ally. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill has stated that Pyongyang has backed themselves into a corner. There are now plans to hold the talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear program without Pyongyang’s involvement.
“The DPRK (North Korea) launched missiles for no apparent reason,” U.S Hill said. “They put themselves in a difficult position and I don’t think they should look for others to get them out of positions that they have put themselves in.