By Fernando Delage (for Safe Democracy)

Fernando Delage discusses how the North Korean launch of intercontinental missiles (this past July 4th) was an attempt to intimidate the world community. The missile launch shows that the economic sanctions placed upon Kim Jong-Il‘s regime are working, and that the dictator has little to lose in terms of international punishments. Delage explains why North Korea wanted to draw attention with the launch, how the attack has only served to isolate the country more from the international community, and how the Bush Administration has been left with few other options but to continue with multilateral negotiations.

Fernando Delage is a member of the Advisory Council of the journal Foreign Politics in Spain.

WHILE IN THE UNITED STATES JULY 4th was being celebrated as a day of freedom and independence, North Korea was busy rejoicing over the launch of its first intercontinental missiles. Seven missiles were launched in all, in an attempt to provoke yet another wave of panic around the world. The North Korean government continues to believe, as it did in 1993 and 2002, that a dedication to policies of intimidation and coercion can force the world to respond to its demands. It appears that this time, however, they are wrong.

The intercontinental missiles that got tested, Taepodong-2’s, failed miserably. They only lasted about forty seconds in the air before falling back down to earth, revealing clearly the true capabilities of North Korean military. Steve Hadly, national security advisory to President Bush, called the launch a provocation, not a threat.

By testing its missiles North Korea gave a clear message to the world. The economic sanctions currently in place are having their effect on North Korea’s economy, and the country, poor and isolated, has little left to loose. The risk of new punishments designed by the international community was one that the country was willing to run.

The negotiation process with North Korea has been at a standstill since last September. It seems that the world has more important things to deal with such as the nuclear agreement signed between the United States and India (they too refused the nuclear non-proliferation treaty) and talks with Iran.

In 1994 the Clinton Administration ended the first North Korean nuclear crisis by offering to help the country harness nuclear energy for civil use. In exchange North Korea promised to abandon all military aims. Twelve years later, the same negotiations are taking place with the same proposals and the same compromises on the line.

Yet, if the launch was an attempt by North Korea to reopen talks with its neighbors, it may very well have achieved the opposite.

To those who have always been skeptical of resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis with diplomacy, the test launch has given a greatly bolstered position.

In Japan, the tests will provide the government with more voter support to reinforce its alliance with the United States and to begin on the construction of an ambitious (although costly) missile defense system.

South Korea will stop its negotiations, and halt its programs of economic incentives to its neighbor to the North. Yet, the most drastic of all will be the reaction of China.

In the days before the launch, China negotiated desperately with North Korea not to go through with the tests. But North Korea did not listen, and now China is placed in an awkward position. The Chinese government has put its diplomatic prestige on the line in leading the mediation of the North Korean crisis since 2003.

Until now China and Russia have been the only countries to block a resolution on North Korea in the security council of the UN. But North Korea’s recent provocation may change Peking’s attitude.

For President Bush and the United nations, there appear to be few other options to dealing with this problem but multilateral dialogue and diplomacy. But with an embittered China, who knows how the world response may transform in dealing with this never-ending crisis.

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