Noticing the North

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Noticing the North

United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates indicated yesterday that should North Korea fire a missile in the direction of American territory, the United States is ready to shoot it down if deemed necessary. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who will visit East Asia next week, told reporters in Washington earlier that countries in the region are seriously concerned about the latest development in North Korea.

These recent remarks by American senior government officials are the Obama administration’s first warning messages to Pyongyang. They’re also a plea for patience from all parties related to North Korea issues, and confirmation that the subject is very much on the administration’s radar.

North Korea has been raising so many red flags lately in order to grab the attention of the United States. Pyongyang fears that Washington will otherwise sidestep North Korea issues due to preoccupation with problems such as its battered economy and conflicts in the Middle East. Through its pointed statements, the administration is acknowledging the threat of the North’s missiles.

If North Korea were to indeed launch a missile, security in Northeast Asia would grow tremendously turbulent. The six-party talks will lose momentum, and the international community will intensify its criticism of the North. Pyongyang could even expect to be slapped with more punitive measures. The already-troubled country will be left even more isolated politically and economically, which will further deepen its deprivation

North Korea’s tattered economy and increasing political instability is the outcome of its reclusive attitude that has ignored the fast-changing global economy. Its decades-long brinkmanship is clearly an ill-advised strategy. Then there’s the fact that it has spent massively to develop various weapons, which are aimed only at spooking neighbors to get what it wants. North Korea would be in a far better situation had it used the money spent to develop nuclear weapons and missiles on its economy instead.

As Secretary Clinton said, the United States recognizes the significance of the six-party talks on denuclearizing the North. The talks have been progressing with an aim to solve the North’s security and economic situation altogether, and the framework’s accomplishments thus far must not be ignored. In particular, the Obama administration has expressed an intention to actively engage with the North; Pyongyang has a whole new opportunity to restart its diplomacy. But testing a missile would shatter any new hopes.

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