Winning: North Korean Missile Victories

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July 14, 2006: With the end of North Korea's series of missile tests, who won and who lost, given what happened? The answers to this question might be somewhat surprising in one sense, but obvious in another. The seven missile launches, the most critical being the Taepo-Dong 2 missile that failed within a minute of launching, will have consequences.
Winners:
The United States - By launching seven missiles, North Korea has given the United States a lot more freedom in terms of acting decisively than it had earlier. This is largely due to the fact that the untrustworthiness of Kim Jong-Il in any form of negotiation, and the country's provocative behavior, has been made pretty obvious. The failure of the Taepo-Dong 2 missile also shows that the United States still has time to mount pressure on North Korea through various avenues (largely economic, diplomatic, and political arenas) while increasing American missile defenses. Political opposition to missile defense will decline as a result of the attempted launch of the Taepo-Dong 2, which was reportedly aimed at Hawaiian waters.
Japan - If the United States has regained some freedom, Japan has gained a lot, both in the international arena, as well as domestic politics. For the first time since 1945, Japan is facing a credible threat to its home territory. The massive tests by North Korea have reinforces the perception that started to gel after the 1998 test flight ( in which a missile flew over Japan). Japan has traditionally limited its defense spending to one percent of GDP. Like America, Japan sees itself as having time. The Japanese-American alliance will get stronger and closer.
Taiwan - The strengthening American-Japanese alliance will benefit Taiwan. America and Japan have already declared Taiwan to be an area where they have already agreed to pursue the same objectives with Taiwan. The Americans are going to assist Japan with a missile defense system. As a result, Japan is going to owe the United States a favor - and that could redound to Taiwan's benefit if things with China go hot. One of the big-ticket items in the 2001 package of military assistance the United States promised Taiwan was eight modern diesel-electric submarines. America doesn't build modern diesel-electric submarines, but Japan does.
Losers:
North Korea - If Kim Jong-Il was a laughingstock after the 2004 release of the movie " Team America: World Police" and the song "I'm So Lonely", he's definitely become a major laughingstock with the failure of the Taepo-Dong 2. Already, crude jokes featuring a double entendre about Kim Jong-Il are circulating around the internet. Also, there are going to be questions about the quality of North Korean missiles - and that's probably North Korea's biggest - and most legitimate - export product.
South Korea - The nonchalance and neglect of the situation with regards to North Korea is now looking like a bad idea. The anti-American attitudes are going to result in a quicker re-deployment of American forces away from the DMZ.
China - Not quite an obvious loser, but they have lost big-time. China now appears to have no ability or inclination to control North Korea, which is a blow to its diplomatic and political prestige. This is also going to send relations with the U.S. into a bit of a tailspin. But the not-so-obvious penalty is the fact that America and Japan are growing closer. China now faces the prospect of not just facing the Seventh Fleet should the situation with Taiwan degenerate into a war, but the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force as well. China might have an outside chance against one of those maritime forces, but against both, the chances are virtually zero.
Actions and events often have consequences, which often can be far-reaching and in some cases, unexpected. The North Korean tests are one event that will have consequences that ripple beyond the Korean Peninsula. - Harold C. Hutchison (haroldc.hutchison@gmail.com)

 


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