Targeting Hawaii From North Korea
July 12, 2006
I’ve been following events on the Korean Peninsula with great interest since visiting South Korea last July on an East-West Center fellowship, so North Korea’s missile launches last week prompted a few observations.
* According to a Japanese newspaper account, the one long-range missile launched, a Taepodong-2, was aimed in the direction of Hawaii. Having reported after my trip that Hawaii (4,600 miles from North Korea) is well within the range of N.K. missiles (up to 9,300 miles), I was shocked that national news reports last week mentioned Alaska, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, even Phoenix for cryin’ out loud, as potential targets, without mentioning Hawaii. Huh? Much of the U.S. Pacific Fleet is based at Pearl Harbor, and every other branch of the military is represented here. And RIMPAC happened to be going on last week. You bet Hawaii is a potential target. It’s of limited solace that the Taepodong-2 donged out after just 42 seconds in the air.
* The timing on the Fourth of July was pure Kim Jung-Il. The communists love symbolism anyway, and he’s a master. The N.K. launches took our successful space shuttle launch earlier in the day, as well as Independence Day celebrations, right off the cable news channels. Kim needs attention, and playing brinksmanship always gets it. In Pyongjang, he and his juvenile cronies must have been giggling in their Courvoisier.
* Calls for a pre-emptive strike against the North are idiotic. As I reported last summer, Kim has rockets and missiles - capable of carrying chemical, biological, conventional and possibly nuclear warheads - lined up along the DMZ aimed at Seoul, a city of 11 million people, just 30 miles away. If we attack the North, Kim kills Seoul, heartbeat of the world’s 11th biggest economy. My military sources here and in Korea estimate that if a shooting war started, a minimum 300,000 people would die in the first day. That’s one we don’t want to start.
* Don’t count on China or Russia clamping down on Kim’s antics. While nobody wants a destabilized Korean Peninsula - China especially fears thousands of starving refugees from the North flooding across its border - those two powers don’t mind at all that the U.S. has to worry about N.K. and divert attention and resources to the region. Also, after both China and Russia urged Kim not to fire his missiles, he effectively thumbed his nose at them too.
* Like a bride stood up at the altar, people in South Korea felt jilted by the launches. Which explains why they announced on Friday they’re cutting food aid to the North. The desire in the South for reunification with the North - as expressed in their Sunshine Policy of engaging the North - is government policy born in the hearts of Koreans who passionately yearn to live in a unified nation again. (Although, like the Chinese, the South fears a sudden collapse of Kim’s regime and thousands of refugees flooding across their border.) Preparation for the 6-Party Talks was the big news in South Korea a year ago, but the talks came and went, and absolutely nothing of substance was accomplished. Perhaps now they’ve learned in Seoul that Kim can never be trusted, and that logic, reason and good intentions mean little in dealing with him.
* The 32,500 U.S. military personnel in South Korea continue to act as a deterrent to a ground attack from the North. While Kim is said to have a million-man army, his ability to resupply them for any length of time is highly suspect.
* U.S. air power remains the greatest deterrent against the North’s potential aggression. Military sources here and in Korea say Kim gets “one shot” - if he fires just one missile at targets in South Korea, Japan or the U.S., he and his regime are dead from massive air strikes. He understands that - we think - and likes the perks of being considered a living god.
* So we ought to be at an old-fashioned standoff, mutually deterred. But a threat remains in the eccentric, unpredictable Kim, who seems to love more than anything else in the world jerking the U.S. around. Backed into a corner, there’s no telling what he might try. That’s why we in Hawaii, as well as in West Coast cities, should hope that the U.S. continues to perfect its missile defense systems.
(By the way, the three-part series I wrote following my visit to South Korea is posted at http://www.midweek.com under Editor’ Desk, and remains quite relevant, if I do say so myself.)
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