Tuesday, June 15, 2010

North Korea's risky bargain for attention from West

Why would North Korea be trying to start a catastrophic war with South Korea and the United States? That must be what Western leaders are wondering after Pyongyang flatly rejected findings of an investigation by five nations that blamed North Korea for the sinking of a South Korean warship in March. "War may break out at any time," North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations told the UN Security Council on Tuesday, after accusing South Korea of "fabricating" the findings, according to Cable News Network (CNN). Of course, there's a simple answer to the question. It wouldn't be, bombastic rhetoric to the contrary. What countries say is not always what they mean, at least not exactly. North Korea had to say something in response to the very public accusations and pressure for economic sanctions by the United States, although outright denial might not have been the best course of action in the face of damning evidence presented to the Security Council, and 46 dead sailors. "If the Security Council releases any documents against us, condemning or pressuring us ... then myself as diplomat, I can do nothing," North Korean Ambassador Sin Son Ho said, according to CNN. "The follow-up measures will be carried out by our military forces." But North Korea's military is no match for South Korea's, and certainly not for United States forces pledged to support Seoul. Any North Korean attack would be a true suicide bombing. So, the threat of war is a hollow one, perhaps designed either distract attention from Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program or to cover for a tragic mistake by North Korea's financially stretched and, obviously, questionably competent military. Maybe North Korea is just posturing to accept emergency food assistance again this winter, only this time as a peace offering instead of as charity. Or, maybe, Pyongyang thinks it can make Western nations forget about financial sanctions that are sure to be adopted to punish North Korea for the sinking of the Cheonan. But Pyongyang would receive a lot more assistance from the West if it stopped all the pretenses and started behaving like a modern country interested in cooperation with the rest of the world.

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