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The Red Scare By: Gregory Gethard
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, July 02, 2009

North Korea is ready to go to war with the world, starting with the United States.

This weekend, editorials in North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper, an arm of North Korea’s state-run media, promised a nuclear “fire shower” if the U.S. were to use its own nuclear weapons in defense of South Korea. In addition, North Korea swore that it would never give up its “nuclear deterrent” but to increase its arsenal.

As North Korea grows more belligerent, tensions between the U.S., its regional allies, and Pyongyang have grown exponentially the past few weeks. The most recent row began in May, when North Korea reportedly test-fired several short-range missiles and an underground nuclear weapon, repeating an earlier test from 2006.

North Korea’s test was widely condemned by the international community. President Barack Obama and other Western leaders came out forcefully but fruitlessly against North Korea’s provocation. North Korea’s most important ally, China, signed onto a UN Security Council resolution passing insufficient sanctions against Pyongyang while opposing its effective enforcement. Senator John McCain rightly called UN resolution “toothless” and criticized China for not doing enough to help reign in Kim Jong-il. The sanctions, for instance, allow North Korea to purchase light weapons and receive “humanitarian financial tranfers. Even if the regime violates these guidelines, China's UN ambassador has vowed, “Under no circumstance should there be the use of force or the threat of use of force.” North Korea was a primary topic at the most recent G-8 summit, but China remains reticent.

Meanwhile, North Korea has continued to defy the international community. On July 17, a U.S. naval destroyer (coincidentally named the USS John McCain, after the senator’s father and grandfather) began to follow a North Korean cargo ship named the Kang Nam 1, a ship widely believed to be ferrying a variety of low-tech weapons to Myanmar.

This high-seas drama could unfold several ways. It is not known if the “aging, rusty” Kang Nam 1 can make it Myanmar without having to refuel. If so, the ship would be forced to head into a port. Singapore, one of the world’s major nautical capitals, could be the likely destination. One of the planks in the recent UN resolution asks ports to not refuel or resupply ships carrying contraband without being searched. This could result in a stand-off.

The USS John McCain could also intercept the ship and request permission to board. If denied, the American ship would then force the Kang Nam into a nearby port. However, the UN resolution does not authorize the use of force. There has also been no indication whether the Obama administration would approve such measures. Complicating matters has been the response from North Korea, which, in yet another threat to the international community, has said that it would consider any interception of the ship as an “act of war.”

Amid the rhetorical threats of war, the Obama administration is trying another tactic: going after North Korea’s finances. The New York Times reported that the administration has appointed a new diplomatic envoy to consider the best way to enforce any sanctions against Kim Jong-il’s regime. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bush administration pursued a similar strategy, freezing assets North Korean held in a bank based in Macau. The Bush team’s efforts to pinch North Korea financially ran into some stumbling blocks: then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had to ask the Treasury Department to unfreeze these funds after North Korean officials threatened to leave the negotiating table in discussions pertaining to its nuclear capabilities.

The menace of North Korea is not limited to Asia’s regional security: the United States may also be a target in the regime’s frenzied plans for global retaliation. According to recent reports, Japanese intelligence officials have said that North Korea plans on firing a long-range mission towards Hawaii, possibly on July 4. The missile in question, a Taepodong-2, has the capability of travelling up to 4,000 miles; the Hawaiian Islands lie 4,500 miles away. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that a series of ground-to-air missiles and a radar system are located nearby in case the situation escalates.

Experts have attributed some of North Korea’s provocations to internal issues within the Hermit Kingdom’s internal power structure. In this account, Kim Jong-il may have suffered a stroke and, as a result, decided to cement his secession plan. Analysts say that Kim Jong-il has selected his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, as his replacement. However, another son, aided by top military officials, may be plotting against this decision.

Whatever the explanation for North Korea’s nuclear brinkmanship, the world has been put on notice that the hard-line communist regime may be just fanatical enough to make good on its increasingly unhinged threats.

Gregory Gethard is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer.

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