SEOUL – Once again, tension is rising across Asia over North Korea’s missile program. Unlike its previous “surprise” missile launches, North Korea’s government this time notified international agencies in advance that it will launch a “satellite” sometime between April 4 and 8. The question for the world now is not whether the North Korean regime will launch its missile, but what happens afterward.
The United States, Japan, and South Korea have already publicly condemned the launch as a “provocative act” and a violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718, adopted in October 2006, five days after North Korea conducted a nuclear weapons test.
But, instead of hot rhetoric, what is needed now is a cool-headed assessment of the military implications of the missile launch. If Japan, the US, and others attempt to intercept or counter the missile, military tension – even possible combat – is likely to ensue. How to prevent unnecessary military measures and countermeasures is the most immediate concern for the region’s governments. Above all, the ongoing six-party talks (China, the US, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and North Korea) that have sought to bring North Korea’s nuclear program to an end must not become a casualty of the missile launch.
In dealing with North Korea, two fundamental issues must be addressed. First, although governments are justified in criticizing North Korea for its foolhardy, counterproductive, and self-destructive behavior over many years, including numerous inhuman acts perpetrated against its own people and others, North Korea is not solely to blame for its “missile tantrum.”