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North Korean brinksmanship out of control?

Updated On: Aug 29, 2006

Is North Korean brinksmanship out of control? Amongst the so-called rogue states in the world, none has dared to take on the US and then criticized China andRussia at the same time. North Korea did just that.

President Kim's criticisms towards his closest allies, China and Russia, were expressed at a meeting in Pyongyang in July 2006 to a group of the North's ambassadors to other countries. The session took place shortly after the UN Security Council adopted a resolution condemning the North's seven-missile test. Mr Kim apparently told the ambassadors to help 'implement' an order to strengthen its so-called deterrent power. It is an intelligence puzzle as to whether this referred to more missile tests or the much-talked about underground nuclear test. North Korea publicly declared that it had nuclear weapons in February 2005.      

However, many questions remain. President Kim’s criticisms were conveyed by senior officials and not uttered by the leader himself. According to these unnamed senior leaders, the North Korean leader was quoted as saying that the country would 'try to resolve all challenges by ourselves.' The absence of Kim and his quotation by senior officials may contribute to speculations as to whether the Dear Leader himself was still in charge of the country, a suspicion raised since the missile tests.

Kim’s utterances may cost him dearly as China has already cut its oil shipments from the Chinese border city of Dandong to the isolated Communist state. China isNorth Korea’s largest supplier of aid. The reduction in oil supplies is said to be significant and a follow-up to recent Beijing-Seoul bilateral agreement to develop a joint position in dealing with Pyongyang.   

Less surprisingly, North Korea kept up its attacks on the USNorth Korea has warned it will take 'all necessary counter-measures' against US financial sanctions, especially referring to the intensification of US scrutiny on Pyongyang-owned bank accounts overseas. The US is said to be targeting ten countries for such accounts, including MongoliaRussiaVietnam and other Southeast Asian countries. US financial pressure on North Korea was said to be responsible for the latter’s decision to carry out the missile tests earlier on. North Korea refuses to return to the negotiating table unless US compromises on its investigations of North Korean counterfeiting and money laundering.

'It is the height of folly for the US to think that it can solve any issue by means of sanctions and pressure,' a North Korean spokesman said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). It also declared: 'Now that the Bush administration is escalating its pressure upon the DPRK through the tightened financial sanctions in a bid to keep itself politically alive, the DPRK is left with no other option but to take all necessary counter-measures to protect its ideology, system, sovereignty and dignity.'

The seriousness of the situation has prompted even sympathetic parties to the six-party talks to prepare for the worst case scenario. "It would pose a serious threat that would shake the international non-proliferation system from its foundation, and North Korea would be further isolated," South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon told journalists. "It would bring about much more serious consequences than its missile test last month," he said.

South Korea has 272 manuals on standby to deal with an underground nuclear test by the North should it materialize. South Korea has also intensified monitoring and intelligence activities as an early warning measure. For longer-term measures, the South Korean defence industry has been developing unmanned bombers aimed at neutralizing North Korea's artillery. The aircraft has capabilities to locate and attack North Korea's heavy artillery that are mostly concealed underground along the border.

North Korean brinksmanship has also prompted Japan to earmark a record 219 billion yen from its 2007 budget (in addition to the 22.7 billion yen already allocated) to accept the US offer of 80 more Patriot interceptor missiles. These are the newest versions of Patriot known as the Advanced Capability-3 missile defense system. Japan’s current existing air defence missile system is evaluated to be too slow to hit North Korean Rodong missile attacks. Most of these missiles will be deployed in Saitama followed by Fukuoka.

To complement this deployment, the same budget will also pay for the upgrade of two more EP-3 electronic surveillance planes (9.4 billion yen) and 1.7 billion yen to develop aircraft-based infrared sensors to detect missiles. Other key components of the budget request will be 24.7 billion yen to jointly develop next-generation ship-based interceptors with the U.S. and 82.8 billion yen to install PAC-3 interceptors at the ASDF's 2nd Air Defense Missile Group in Fukuoka Prefecture.

Meanwhile, Japan’s ally, the United States’ Navy has eight destroyers equipped with the most advanced Aegis missile guidance system at Yokosuka, with most of them upgraded for missile defense duty. Shiloh, its most powerful Aegis cruiser will be deployed in Yokosuka by end of August 2006.

Sources:

N. Korea calls ChinaRussia unreliable (Straits Times, 27 August 2006)

N. Korea warns of 'counter-measures' against US sanctions (Straits Times, 27 August 2006)

Pyongyang scoffs at 'sanctions and pressure' (Straits Times, 27 August 2006)

U.S.offers Japan80 more Patriot missiles (Japan Times, 25 August 2006)

South Korea warns North on nuclear test (Channelnewsasia, 23 August 2006)