Outside editorial: Missile was a crisis that failed to launch

Posted: Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Regardless of how the missile technology performed, or did not, North Korea's long-range test launch failed to ignite the international crisis that Pyongyang apparently sought.

World leaders expressed concern, but did not overreact.

North Korea is desperate to be taken seriously. Close observers of the totalitarian regime see a replay of a well-used, well-practiced strategy to draw attention and, perhaps, provoke regional powers to craft a hasty political settlement.

President Barack Obama was among those who chose his words carefully. "North Korea has ignored its obligations, rejected calls for restraint and further isolated itself," the president said. Those last words would sting Kim Jong Il the most.

North Korea most likely sought to put pressure on regional players - China, South Korea, Japan and the United States - to respond with political and economic concessions, an expert on Northeast Asia security issues surmised after the long buildup to the launch. Dr. Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, said two other possible motivations were less likely.

One was to use the missile launch as a way to advertise military hardware to other countries. Most improbable of all was a muscular act for domestic consumption, to bolster Kim Jong Il's authority as he prepares the nation for a transfer of power. He is already in complete control.

A greater willingness to engage North Korea diplomatically is a desirable thing. A curious residual effect of the weekend launch, which U.S. military experts pooh-poohed, is the justification it provides Japanese self-defense forces to argue for expansion of their military forces in a dangerous neighborhood.

Regional tensions abound. Note the first stage of the North Korean rocket fell into the Sea of Japan. Or is it the East Sea, as recognized by South Korea?

North Korea cannot be ignored, but it can be dealt with in a purposeful fashion. Pyongyang went for high-velocity provocation and fired a blank.

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