Play­book of­fers hint of what N. Korea wants

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - ERIC TAL­MADGE

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — Threat­en­ing to fire a vol­ley of mis­siles to­ward a ma­jor U.S. mil­i­tary hub may seem like a pretty bad move for a coun­try that is se­ri­ously out­gunned and has an aw­ful lot to lose.

But push­ing the en­ve­lope, or just threat­en­ing to do so, is what North Korea does best.

By an­nounc­ing a plan to send four “Hwa­song-12” in­ter­me­di­ate range mis­siles over Ja­pan and into wa­ters near the Pa­cific is­land of Guam, Py­ongyang has sig­nif­i­cantly upped the ante de­spite threats from U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

So what, ul­ti­mately, is Py­ongyang try­ing to ac­com­plish? A lot of things, ac­tu­ally. FIRST, BUILD UP THE CRED North Korea sees the United States as an ex­is­ten­tial threat.

It knows that if it is go­ing to be taken se­ri­ously, it needs to have a cred­i­ble mil­i­tary de­ter­rent. Its strat­egy for years has been to at­tain that by build­ing long-range mis­siles that can carry nu­clear war­heads to tar­gets on the U.S. main­land. It’s not good enough just to claim to have that ca­pa­bil­ity — it must be demon­strated.

Suc­cess­ful tests pro­vide the data needed to make tech­ni­cal ad­vances and valu­able train­ing for ground troops.

Provoca­tive test­ing or train­ing also is a way of gaug­ing where Washington’s red lines are. That can be used to de­cide when to push more ag­gres­sively or when to ease off. SEC­OND, CLAIM NEW NORM North Korea has said many times it has no in­ten­tion of giv­ing up its nu­clear weapons. It doesn’t want to use them as a bar­gain­ing chip. It wants them as a sta­tus-booster.

Py­ongyang wants to force the U.S. to ac­cept that it is a nu­clear power, as it did with Pak­istan and In­dia, and treat it with com­men­su­rate re­spect. But while there is lit­tle doubt about North Korea’s nu­clear ca­pa­bil­i­ties, the U.S. has not ac­cepted it as a nu­clear power and is not likely to do so any time soon.

Py­ongyang con­tin­ues to push Washington’s but­tons in hopes of chang­ing that at­ti­tude. THIRD, USE THE LEVER­AGE Though Trump is tak­ing a very hard-line ap­proach, at least in his rhetoric, grow­ing con­cerns over Kim Jong Un’s ac­cel­er­ated mis­sile launches have added strength to the camp in the U.S. call­ing for a diplo­matic res­o­lu­tion. That would likely in­volve some “car­rots.” This is Py­ongyang’s po­ten­tial pay­off.

Just forc­ing the U.S. to talk would in it­self be a suc­cess for North Korea. Es­pe­cially if it gives the ap­pear­ance of talks be­tween equals.

Of course, push­ing the en­ve­lope with moves such as the po­ten­tial mis­sile vol­ley to­ward Guam has risks. One or more of the launches could fail. And if a mis­sile ac­tu­ally hit the is­land, the con­se­quences could be cat­a­strophic. But hav­ing merely floated the idea sets a sort of prece­dent the North can use as a new base­line. And if it goes through with the launch and there are no con­se­quences, it can use that, too.


What North Korea wants most is se­cu­rity. It wants as­sur­ances it won’t be at­tacked, or suf­fo­cated by eco­nomic sanc­tions.

It wants a peace treaty for­mally re­plac­ing the armistice that ended the shoot­ing war phase of the 195053 Korean War. Get­ting any of those things would re­quire a sea change in re­la­tions with not only Washington, but also Bei­jing, Seoul, Tokyo and pos­si­bly Moscow.

The good news is that North Korea isn’t likely to get what it re­ally wants by start­ing an­other war.

But the bad news is that it’s not at all clear the North’s ac­tions will help it achieve its goals. In­deed, they’ve helped cre­ate a risky sit­u­a­tion that could spi­ral into some­thing no­body wants.


In this im­age made from video, pedes­tri­ans walk be­neath por­traits of Kim Il Sung, left, and Kim Jong Il at Kim Il Sung Square in Py­ongyang on Fri­day.

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