What North Korea wants

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Why did North Korea launch seven ballistic missiles when the whole world urged it not to? The answer is that the Bush administration has been quietly applying pressure for the past nine months and is getting results. That pressure must be maintained until the regime changes or collapses.

North Korea is a hereditary autocracy kept in power by brute force and a million-man army, which threatens its neighbors, exports missiles, and engages in international criminal activity. Over the years, this has included assassinations in foreign lands, kidnapping Japanese citizens, and smuggling narcotics.

The most direct attack on the U.S. has been the counterfeiting of $100 dollar bills the Treasury Department calls “supernotes,” because they are such high quality facsimiles. This state-sponsored counterfeiting has been going on for years, causing two recent changes in U.S. currency. The Banco Delta Asia in Macau, which reportedly has been laundering phony U.S. banknotes from North Korea, agreed last fall to cooperate with the U.S. Treasury Department by freezing $24 million in North Korean assets and allowing an investigation of North Korea’s accounts.

The Treasury warned banks worldwide they should be careful about doing business with North Korea because of its illegal activities. This produced a serious disruption of North Korean financial transactions. For nine months, North Korean officials have refused to return to the six-party talks until the U.S. lifts its financial restrictions. Pyongyang is hurting, leading the North’s erratic ruler, Kim Jong-il, to order the missile launches in a temper tantrum.

The last of the Stalinist regimes, North Korea is one giant gulag, locking its people in, keeping news of the world out, and oppressing its people to the point of starvation. A series of U.S. administrations failed to find a way either to deal with North Korea or cause its collapse. The Clinton administration sent food and fuel that helped sustain the odious regime. The Bush administration goal is to end it.

The rulers in Pyongyang developed missiles and exported them, withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and last year said they had produced nuclear weapons. Now they have launched a volley of seven ballistic missiles, including a long-range Taepodong-2 that could reach U.S. territory and which reportedly was heading toward Hawaii before landing prematurely in the Sea of Japan.

Yet, China and Russia oppose North Korea’s censure in the United Nations. Post-Soviet Russia sees North Korea as a former Cold War ally and supports it politically, if not economically. China fought a war against the U.S. and United Nations more than 50 years ago to sustain Kim Jong-il’s father in power and keep the U.S. away from China’s border. Since then, China has been North Korea’s lifeline, providing the food, fuel and funds it needs to stay afloat. Less than 500 miles from Beijing, North Korea remains a client state and convenient buffer between communist China and the democracies of South Korea and Japan.

Every government should be concerned about counterfeiting and smuggling, missile launches without warning that endanger fishing boats and airliners, and nuclear weapons in irresponsible hands. But China is not and has done little to pressure Pyongyang. Apparently, it is in Beijing’s interest to maintain a buffer state that makes trouble for China’s two main competitors, the U.S. and Japan.

North Korea wants the U.S. to lift financial restrictions, hold bilateral talks, and provide aid. Many Democrats would do that, endorsing appeasement as the best solution. Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean says North Korea wants food, fuel and recognition, and we should give it to them. If that is not a repeat of Munich, what is?

The North Korean launches show the need for accelerated deployment of U.S. and regional missile defenses. More interceptors and improved radars should be made operational more quickly in Alaska and California. Production of sea-based SM-3 interceptors should be increased, and more Aegis ships equipped with them. PAC-3 interceptors are needed in Japan, and missile defenses should be considered for Hawaii.

The only real solution to North Korea’s brinkmanship is to change the regime. That requires continued financial pressure, sanctions to cut off outside aid, leaning hard on China to cooperate, and strengthening missile defenses.

James Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times and is based in Carlsbad, Calif.

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