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Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Biden: N. Korea A Paper Tiger

posted by Tim Saler at Wednesday, July 05, 2006 permalink View blog reactions
From Reuters,

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - North Korea's test-firing of missiles was an act of a "paper tiger" that has miscalculated the world's response and may result in sanctions, the senior Democrat on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on Wednesday.

Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware said he was more concerned about Pyongyang's taking conventional provocative acts that could escalate tensions in north Asia, than about it's ability to hit U.S. territory with a missile.

Asked on CBS' "The Early Show" whether Washington should have destroyed the missiles before launch, Biden said, "I would rather have seen it do exactly what it did, demonstrate to the whole world that it is in fact a paper tiger.

"It does not have the capacity to do any short-term damage to the United States of America or Japan," said Biden, a potential Democratic candidate for president in 2008.

Before I get too far into the actual North Korea business, it's worth pointing out that Reuters is being very generous by saying that Biden is a "potential" candidate for President in 2008. Joe Biden is a candidate for President in 2008.

Okay, so on to the North Korea issue. I disagree with Biden's statement that the North Koreans are incapable of doing any short-term damage to the U.S. and more specifically Japan. Logistically speaking, Japan is a rather small country and isn't altogether easy to hit using ballistic missiles. The North Koreans test-fired a number of SCUD missiles among the seven total that were fired over the past 24-36 hours or so, and SCUDs are notorious for being quite difficult to aim and successfully target.

Read on...

The North Koreans also have, however, the Rodong-1 missile and the Taepo Dong-1 missile, both of which have been successfully test fired as opposed to the long-range Taepo Dong-2 that failed around 42 seconds into flight. My understanding is that both the Rodong-1 and the Taepo Dong-1 can reach Japan, though I may be mistaken. If I am correct, however, I think it is safe to say that North Korea can do short-term harm to Japan if only by firing a few missiles into the country and terrorizing the population.

The purpose of this exercise, the test-firing of missiles by North Korea, is not just to demonstrate their increasing mastery of ballistic missile technology but rather to serve as a warning to other countries in the region and around the world. I have discussed previously at No End But Victory a Nixonian principle of foreign affairs (though certainly it has its roots much farther back in human history than that) by which a leader should make himself appear at least somewhat irrational, somewhat prone to rash decisions that could lead to war. I believed then, and I still believe now, that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran is doing his best to build up that same sort of mystique, if that is the right word for it, around him. I believe North Korea's Kim Jong-Il is doing virtually the same thing.

He wants to appear mentally ready to pre-emptively attack either South Korea, Japan, or now (if the Taepo Dong-2 had been successful) the United States. Collective wisdom seems to say that Kim is clinically insane, something that many in the United States have said about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and ironically many people elsewhere in the world--particularly in Europe--also believe this about our president, George W. Bush. So the mental ability is there for Kim. His neighbors and indeed every major power in the world have very little reason to doubt that he is mentally prepared to launch an attack on a neighboring country.

The missile tests are intended to prove that the North Koreans are technologically ready to make that move. With the failure of the Taepo Dong-2, their attempts fell short of their intended goal, but successfully test-firing six other missiles in the same 24- to 36-hour time frame is a very, very thinly veiled threat. North Korea isn't a child seeking attention; North Korea is a country seeking to frighten its neighbors into providing favorable terms that will deter aggression against North Korea itself and perhaps provide domestic advantages as well.



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Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.