This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald.
Some experts have likened North Korea to a petulant child who demands constant attention and acts up when he doesn't get it. The difference is that North Korea has nuclear weapons, a record of erratic behavior and an eccentric leader. When North Korea acts up, attention must be paid.
Ostensibly, North Korea aims to launch an experimental communications satellite this week. That sounds harmless enough, but given the regime's history of deception, other countries can't take such assurances at face value. Experts agree, moreover, that the same technology needed to put a satellite into orbit can be used to fire long-range offensive missiles. Some intelligence sources suspect North Korea may be testing a missile capable of reaching Alaska. Worse, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il reportedly suffered a stroke recently and may be ailing, meaning the country might be in the middle of a succession crisis.
Maybe this is what Vice President Joe Biden meant when he said that President Barack Obama would be tested early on by a crisis overseas. Certainly, North Korea has not been at the top of this administration's foreign policy agenda, but now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been forced to issue a warning to that country, and U.S. military leaders have expressed confidence that they could shoot the missile down if ordered to do so.
It is hard to see what North Korea gains by all this. A provocative act would strengthen hard-liners who want to see the United States take a more aggressive posture against the regime. The unfortunate result would be to imperil gains made by the six-party talks initiated with the support of former President George W. Bush.
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