[Viewpoint] Last salute for Kim Jong-il

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[Viewpoint] Last salute for Kim Jong-il

North Korea has fired another rocket salute. The last North Korean long-range missile launch was 11 years ago in August 1998 when the Taepodong-1 or the Kwangmyongsong (Bright Star) “communications satellite” claimed to be named after Kim Jong-il was launched. At that time, it was a blitzkrieg action on the part of North Korea that caught everybody by surprise. It was a salute to Kim Jong-il, who had risen to the highest position, the head of the National Defense Council, with the “Military First” or Seongun policy.

Things were different this time. Through a statement by its space technology committee, North Korean authorities announced in advance that a rocket would be launched.

They argued that they had the right to develop a satellite for peaceful purposes.

What they’re really doing is using the missile card as a way to lure the Obama administration of the United States into direct talks.

Internally, they also intend to turn the launch of the Kwangmyongsong-2 into a symbol of economic prosperity through science and technology at the first session of the 12th Supreme People’s Assembly meeting to be held on April 9 and to shore up the legitimacy of the Kim Jong-il administration, as it starts its third term.

The recent North Korean rocket was meant to send a satellite into space. However, no country would naively accept that it was for peaceful development of space science and technology. In the past, North Korea made the error of exposing its duplicity by suddenly testing a nuclear bomb one day after it had claimed that it had no skills, technology or intention to do so. The Kim Jong-il regime, under its “Military First” policy, has even said that science and technology should first serve a military purpose.

Despite that, the North has the audacity to claim that the rocket launch is not for military purposes but part of its right to develop a space program.

The more it continues to show duplicity in its actions, the deeper the distrust such powerful countries as the United States will hold for North Korea.

However, it appears that China and Russia are giving some leeway to the position of North Korea. But this does not mean they should continue to bear the burden of enduring the repeated military brinkmanship tactics of the Kim Jong-il regime.

From a short-term perspective, North Korea will be able to boast that it has achieved a victory of sorts by enhancing its capacity in international negotiations.

But before long, Pyongyang is bound to realize that it has deepened the dangers to itself.

The more the Kim Jong-il regime acts provocatively, the higher the chances that it will become isolated internationally and weaken its capacity for international nuclear and missile negotiations.

There is a chance that North Korea will succeed in having direct talks with the United States thanks to the rocket launch.

However, it will not be easy for North Korea to reach its anticipated goal at the talks. On the other hand, the United States will work harder on developing interception technology to destroy North Korean nuclear and missile capability while creating grounds for negotiation with the North through direct talks.

Clearly, Japan will join hands with the United States more actively, and South Korea will not be an exception. Ultimately, North Korea could face a situation where it gains zero negotiation capacity by threatening South Korea, the United States and Japan militarily.

In other words, its rocket salute could fizzle out as simple firecrackers.

North Korea has set 2012 as an important turning point for attaining the goal of building an “economically strong country.” However, if external economic support is interrupted by repeated expensive policies like rocket launching, North Korea could face an arduous march once again.

In that case, I wonder how long the North Korean people would be able to make it through solely on pride in being a country that has tried to launch a satellite.

Indeed, the recent launching of a rocket by North Korea could become its last salute for the Kim Jong-il regime.

The writer is a senior researcher at Korea Institute for National Unification. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Chung Young-tae
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