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AUGUST 23-30, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 7/8

Let Them Eat Missiles
A silly solution to the North Korean crisis. Hey, nothing else has worked
By DONALD KIRK

The countdown for the North Korean missile launch has mesmerized statesmen, diplomats and journalists as if they were caught in the fiendish glare of an evil monster out of Star Wars. They can see the monster coming but are helpless to do anything about it. Diplomacy is getting nowhere, threats only tempt the monster to strike and attacking the beast in its lair is out of the question.

Clearly, a different approach is in order. Here's one that nobody seems to have considered. It has no better chance of succeeding than anything else, but at least it's something new. Why not tell the North Koreans: fine, if you want to test a missile, go right ahead. In fact, we'll even help you do it. First, we'll give you technical advice--which you might need considering that your last effort fell far short of going into orbit. (For starters, we might help get the onboard radio working so everybody can hear the hymns to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il that you said were wafting from the satellite the first time you fired it.) As you are now probably aware, a neighbor might feel touchy about those things flying over his backyard, even if they're far overhead and nobody sees or hears them. So we'll offer you a test range where you won't disturb anyone, a few thousand miles of clear sky and ocean off one of those little territories to which the Americans still cling in the South Pacific.

    ALSO IN TIME
North Korea: Neighborhood Bully
Pyongyang rattles nerves in the region with its new missile

Trigger-Happy
There's a reason they call it rocket science

Frivolous, perhaps, but at least such an offer would give the diplomats something new to talk about in Geneva, where they've been intermittently boring themselves to distraction with the same old statements for more than a year now. The North Koreans no doubt would see a spy plot in the offer to exchange technology and reject it out of hand, even though the Americans have learned plenty just by watching the North Korean launch pad from satellites. No problem. The U.S. might still congratulate the North Koreans for their knowledge of rocketry. It's not every poor country that can boast of such a technological attainment.

While castigating Pyongyang's efforts to menace the region with its missiles, we should not forget what an achievement it has been just to have advanced to this level. Years ago, everyone was dazzled when South Korea first took on the U.S. and Japan in their own industrial markets. North Koreans, driven by Kim Il Sung's demented vision of invading the South and reuniting the peninsula, suffered far more than did their southern neighbors in the Korean War. Pyongyang and other cities were leveled by American bombing, carried out on a scale equal to the destruction of Tokyo late in World War II. Not surprisingly, the innovative, creative energy of North Korean leaders and scientists, spurred on by their old-time Soviet ally, went into weapons. While the South exports everything from "chips to ships," as the ad slogan goes, the North exports everything from Scuds to Rodong missiles.

Right now, the only ones who seem to appreciate the achievements of the North, besides a few North Korean leaders, are South Koreans. Many of them, especially on college campuses, look with secret admiration on the North for having challenged the world so effectively. If the Japanese are the ones most aggrieved by the North's efforts, some South Koreans believe, so much the better. The program can't be all bad, they say, if it upsets the one-time imperialist foe of all Koreans--still feared as an economic power.

So now is the time, while the North Koreans are bound by the 1994 Geneva agreement not to expand their capability into nuclear bombs, to encourage them to make the transition to peaceful endeavors. Just make sure, we might tell them at Geneva, that your next missile carries a satellite, not a warhead. Oh, and would you mind shooting it straight up and into orbit, not over Hokkaido? The Japanese, understandably, are a little territorial about their air space, and they don't like the idea of one of those things falling short and landing on top of them.

Some time, though, you have to come down to earth. Your country is starving, floods have wiped out much of this year's harvest, and hardly anyone outside the mysterious circle of a privileged elite has the energy to cheer a wild shot in the sky. Go ahead, Pyongyang, fire it off, put it into orbit. But remember, it's at the expense of your own people. They're the ones who suffer from your reckless efforts at advertising your technological prowess for the benefit of those few clients who are still buying. After all the rhetoric from all sides, the cruel reality is not the military threat suggested by a wayward missile but the starving of millions who have to pay the price for such extravagance.

This edition's table of contents

AsiaNow


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