Rogue states' rogue missiles Proliferation: North Korea shoots over Japan to intimidate Asia and advertise its wares.

September 07, 1998

THE MISSILE that North Korea shot over Japan advertised that starving country's steady improvement in weapons. Lunatic as the regime of Kim Jong Il often appears, its dependence on food aid from the democracies and nuclear reactors as a bribe to avoid developing weapons-grade fuel do not guarantee good behavior.

The country that is perpetually threatening to disintegrate just demonstrated its new capability to inflict severe damage to targets more than 1,000 miles away, that is, in Russia, China, South Korea and Japan. By demonstrating mastery of a two-stage rocket, it shows itself on the way to missiles that could hit the continental United States.

This is hardly reassuring. North Korea, which said it suspended nuclear weapons development in 1994 in return for U.S. aid, is thought to possess a few nuclear warheads. It reportedly has dug a complex of tunnels in mountains for secure and secret production of more. But it has another reason for improving its missiles.

They are the only product North Korea makes that customers want. It has sold simpler missiles to Iran, Syria and Pakistan.

Its rogue development of intermediate-range missiles coincides with Iraq's stubborn game of thwarting weapons inspections, with Sudan's alleged nerve-gas capability that the United States damaged, with nuclear-warhead testing by Pakistan and with military preparedness by Iran.

None of these countries could withstand an exchange of sophisticated weapons with the United States. But each may soon be able to inflict damage on the continental United States, and use that threat to deter U.S. intimidation.

U.S. diplomacy has tried valiantly over the years to deny such capabilities to rogue regimes. But world support is uncertain at best.

That was the trouble with the monopoly on gunpowder by China, the world's greatest power, a thousand years ago: eventually, everyone caught up.

Pub Date: 9/07/98

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