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by Richard Alan Leach

Will N Korea Missile Tests Lead to New Talks?

(PNS) -- North Korea's test launch on July 4 and 5 of seven Nodong ballistic missiles (including one long-range Taepodong-2 missile) is likely to result in new efforts at diplomatic engagement. Unfortunately, the Bush administration is adept only at applying what is usually described as "diplomatic pressure." As a result, the Bush strategy will likely remain unchanged: leaving direct diplomacy to the five regional members of the stalled six-party talks, while merely continuing to warn North Korea of the dire consequences of further provocations.

This latest aggravation by the despised rogue state provides the opportunity to review the sharp limitations of U.S. media coverage. The "unpredictability" of the wily Kim Jong-il is a media staple, yet it was quite predictable that he would worry about possible U.S. plans for regime change. Nor did being labeled part of an "axis of evil" do much to assuage the North's longstanding fears. Yet the U.S. media would have us forget that a threatening new environment was inaugurated by the Bush administration in September 2002, with a major doctrinal shift announced by the National Security Strategy: a more aggressive policy of pre-emption against merely suspected or potential adversaries.

When Washington says "trust us," the media largely complies. In a characteristic report from the Associated Press printed in the July 3 New York Times, we learn that "North Korea vowed on Monday [July 3rd] to respond with an 'annihilating' nuclear strike if its atomic facilities were attacked pre-emptively by the United States. The warning was a stepping up of the North's customary anti-U.S. vitriol, in which it often accuses Washington of plotting an attack." Apparently, rogue nations designated part of an evil "axis" should simply trust any informal, occasional reassurances from a U.S. official forswearing any intention to attack, even as Washington remains unwilling to provide the "paranoid" North with a formal security guarantee and refuses to declare "no first use" of nuclear weapons.

In a statement from the Oval Office on July 6, 2006, President Bush remarked that the North Koreans have only managed "to isolate themselves further" with their decision to launch. This echoes a statement made during the previous crisis in 2002, when former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer averred that "any steps toward beginning reprocessing would be yet another provocative action that would further isolate North Korea from the international community," which the United States claims to represent. Yet it is difficult to imagine how the North could be "further isolated," given that the goal of the Bush administration is to hasten the implosion of the regime. While Washington waits either for Pyongyang to unilaterally disarm or for the regime to implode it is not only Pyongyang that wants to see an end to U.S. stonewalling tactics: so do the other five frustrated members of the six-party talks.

This chronic inability of the U.S. media to place itself in the shoes of rogues placed on the wrong end of the guns typically prompts the media to dismiss North Korea's fears. Media describe the "unpredictable" rogue as "paranoid," despite the fact that the Korean War never officially ended: an armistice is not a peace treaty, and securing the latter remains a major goal for North Korea, which was leveled by U.S. bombing during the Korean War and was under threat from U.S. nuclear weapons based in South Korea until the end of the Cold War.

Clearly, the Bush administration prefers what the media describes as a "tougher, more muscular" approach. On Feb. 1, 2003, Bush conceded the point, saying that, in his view, "the doctrine of containment doesn't hold any water." (Eric Schmitt and David E. Sanger, "Admiral Seeks Deterrent Force in Korea Crisis," New York Times.) Note the unintended irony of the title. We need a deterrent against rogues with illegitimate "nuclear ambitions," even as our nuclear ambitions continue to be limitless.

All such hostile words and actions by North Korea are depicted as a provocation or threat, and proof of their inherent evil; no actions we take can be construed as threat to them, nor is it possible that our actions might incite them to acquire nuclear weapons for their own deterrence. When in 2002 the North Koreans acknowledged that they had a uranium enrichment program, the commentary was uniform: patronizing condemnation of the miscreant rogue, depicted then as now as an obstreperous schoolchild, "a punk who needs a slap." (Jack Cafferty, CNN, July 4.) The imperial frame of reference is hard to miss.

The previous crisis in 2002 concerned the North's treachery in acknowledging that it began reprocessing uranium in violation of an agreement that the North regards as having been violated by Washington, given the latter's stonewalling on implementation of its own obligations under the Agreed Framework -- an interpretation that has considerable merit when investigated by any impartial observer. Of course, this interpretation is consistently elided by the U.S. media, which prefers to focus only on North Korean sins, as summarized by Washington press releases, hysterical TV pundits and cruise missile columnists. Given the narrow, power-worshipping slant of the mainstream coverage, one would almost think that one were living in Pyongyang. <

Richard Alan Leach is a professor of English who taught most recently at Pohang University in South Korea; he just returned to Victoria, British Columbia. He writes on Asian and English literatures, East Asian politics and defense and security issues

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Albion Monitor   July 6, 2006   (

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