Commentary: North Korea - the mouse that wants to roar

The Kansas City StarDecember 29, 2012 

It could have been a scene out of some comic opera — the wire service photo of North Korea’s pudgy boy dictator, strutting ceremoniously, followed by a half-dozen uniformed military officers, all applauding him in unison as they walked.

To describe Kim Jong Un as a buffoon isn’t to say that he’s not dangerous. But, as a practical matter, those at greatest peril are the luckless 24.5 million people whose misfortune it is to suffer and starve under his rule.

The long-distance rocket launched in a test last week — the first to fly successfully after four previous humiliating failures — placed in orbit a relatively small earth-observation satellite, a cargo of no strategic importance.

What gives concern is the evidence of progress toward North Korea’s avowed goal of developing ballistic missiles for military use — vehicles with sufficient range to threaten not only Pyongyang’s neighbors, but able to reach targets as distant as the U.S. mainland.

It is that intention, combined with the regime’s ongoing effort to acquire a nuclear capability, that has made North Korea a pariah, subject to the imposition of increasingly severe international sanctions.

One would hope that, in spite of his youthful impetuousness, Kim understands that even one missile impacting in this country would result in a smoking hole in the map of Asia. But even the perceived threat can have consequences.

The World Health Organization estimates that one-fourth to one-third of the North Korean population exists in a condition of near famine — the result of scarce farmable land, a broken distribution system, and diversion of priceless foodstuffs to the army and other political favorites.

The effects of severe malnourishment bear hardest on the very young, the aged and pregnant women. Last year more than 1 million starvation deaths were reported in the country. And the Obama administration indicated willingness to provide 20,000 tons of food and vitamins monthly for a year to ease the crisis, provided North Korea would agree to suspend enrichment of uranium.

But with the uncertainties that attended the death of the longtime dictator and the succession of his son, the agreement wasn’t finalized. And this latest rocket launch puts U.S. food aid in further question, meaning that, in spite of this year’s improved harvest, the dying could begin again.

If so, it won’t be the fault of the U.S. The blame will belong entirely to a mouse with ambitions to roar.

For more of C.W. Gusewelle, go to gusewelle.kansascity.com.

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