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A missile test of Pacific Rim patience
An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service


June 19, 2006

Perhaps feeling left out in all the attention being paid to Iran and Iraq, its fellow members of the Axis of Evil, North Korea is threatening to test a long-range ballistic missile theoretically capable of reaching the United States.

A coalition of nations is laboring mightily to see that the test doesn't happen. North Korea lobbed a missile over Japan in 1998 and was so taken aback by the negative reaction of its neighbors that it self-imposed a ban on missile tests that has lasted until now.

As always, North Korea's motives are unclear. "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il has his people in a lather about an imminent U.S. invasion that somehow never materializes and possibly needs to further distract them from their miserable lives. Maybe Kim feels ignored since North Korea walked out on six-nation talks last November.

North Korea may not have thought through a test too carefully because a successful missile launch could upset the balance of power in the region in ways that are not all favorable to Pyongyang.

The Japanese are the angriest about the test, vowing a "harsh" response and a "fierce" protest to the United Nations. Japan's foreign minister said Tokyo would regard it as a military attack if any part of the missile hit his nation. He later scaled that back, but his initial response shows the depth of feeling there. The test could provoke Japan to build its own missile and missile-defense systems and reconsider nuclear weapons.

North Koreans say they are angered by U.S. spy flights, but if they are going to launch missiles in our direction, you can bet that there will be even more spy flights and satellites.

South Koreans may reconsider their goal of a diminished U.S. military presence in their country and engage in an arms buildup of their own. Russia rather reflexively tends to stand up for North Korea, but such a blatantly provocative act might cause it to rethink its support.

Things have been going pretty much China's way in the region, and its policy toward North Korea has tended to be protective of Kim's regime. But China can't really be happy about an act by its little partner in Pyongyang that can only result in a stepped-up American military presence.

North Korea's missile could be carrying a figurative warhead of unintended consequences.


Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Scripps Howard News Service.

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