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North Korean Missile Testing

Aired July 5, 2006 - 18:00:00   ET


ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN HOST: With six-party talks stalled, North Korea ups the ante with the test launch of seven missiles. They all landed in the sea but leave behind a wake of controversy and a flood of concern from Asian countries and the United States.
Hello and welcome to INSIGHT. I'm Rosemary Church.

Well, the world waited and watched as North Korea launched seven test missiles. Now it's North Korea's turn to wait and watch as the world reacts, mostly in shock and condemnation. There has been a flurry of diplomats and officials approaching podiums and microphone stands around the world using words like provocative and unacceptable.

The United Nations Security Council is working on a draft resolution to cut off funding for materials that could be used in North Korea's missile program and in the midst of all of the rhetoric, silence coming from the country that started it all. In this case, it seems actions speak much louder than words.

Atika Shubert begins our program today with a look at the motivation behind those missile launches.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Eight years ago North Korea launched its Taepodong missile, a long-range ballistic missile that flew over Japan. This time, they fired an updated version and several shorter range missiles. All fell harmlessly into the Sea of Japan but sent shockwaves through the region.

Japan issued the strongest statement condemning the tests and filed a protest with North Korea's embassy in Beijing. Japan's chief cabinet secretary said that, "North Korea has launched these missiles despite our and other countries' repeated warnings. This is a serious problem. We protest strongly against North Korea and express our deepest regrets."

In response to the missile tests, Japan suspended service on a ferry with North Korea, the only direct link between the two countries. The government says financial sanctions are likely to follow but such moves may only have a limited impact on North Korea's already isolated economy.

Reaction on the streets of Tokyo was mixed. This man says, "I really feel that something even worse will happen in the near future. I think as in the past world wars, that if we ignore this problem it will eventually explode in our face."

But also some relief that the long-range missile appeared to fail shortly after takeoff. This man says, "I don't know what North Korea was trying to prove. On the contrary, they have just shown the world how limited their technology is."

In the South Korean capital of Seoul, protestors burned the North Korean flag. South Korea's presidential secretary says, "When it comes to inter-Korean relationships, it was unwise and will have a negative effect by turning South Korean sentiments against Pyongyang."

(on camera): But any attempt to pressure North Korea will depend on China, the country's biggest economic partner.

(voice-over): A permanent member of the Security Council, China can veto any U.S. sanctions on North Korea.

Atika Shubert, CNN, Tokyo.


CHURCH: Some experts believe that the long-range missile fired by North Korea, if it had functioned properly, could have reached the shores of the United States. Instead the missile imploded after only about 40 seconds in the air. The White House says it is concerned, although it believes this is a much wider problem than just U.S. and North Korean relations.

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow also says the United States is hoping the United Nations and other countries will act decisively but diplomatically to resolve this incident.


TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: It was anticipated that something like this might happen, so there were ongoing efforts by the United States and its allies, (a) to try to avert this and, (b) to start gaming out some things that would happen.

As I said earlier today, given what happened, I don't think anybody had a specific scenario for seven missile launches on the 4th and 5th of July, but I am wary of trying to get into sort of specific things that the leaders may have discussed. I think right now, as Secretary Rice has said, and also Ambassador Bolton, all parties now are trying to figure out realistically how to make a positive difference through diplomatic means.

CHURCH: Well, some experts say that if the missile tests were not a success militarily, they did indeed achieve some of North Korea's goals, to put it back in the international spotlight and give it more bargaining power at the negotiating table.

Mike Chinoy has more.


MIKE CHINOY, CNN HONG KONG BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): For Kim Jong Il, testing the limits, brinkmanship, is standard operating procedure. This latest missile test fits into that pattern. But as usual with North Korea, there is more speculation than hard fact about Kim's real motives.

One view links the test to the crisis over Iran's nuclear program. Pyongyang has watched as the United States and the European Union have offered concessions to Tehran for simply suspending uranium enrichment. These concessions have included acknowledging Iran's right to a civilian nuclear program and even talk of providing proliferation resistant light water nuclear reactors.

The North, in contrast, has been pressed by the United States to abandon its nuclear ambitions altogether while Washington has been vague on the specifics of any concessions. And the Bush administration shut down a project set up by the Clinton administration that would have given North Korea two light water reactors.

So the test now, as was the case when North Korea tested its first missile eight years ago, could be a way of saying to the United States we can cause trouble if we don't get better terms. But in political terms, the test may backfire.

In Washington, it's likely to strengthen the hand of administration hard-liners opposed to any nuclear deal with the North. In Japan, it's likely to cause widespread anxiety and could influence the outcome of the race to succeed Prime Minister Koizumi in a few months, fueling support for a tougher line towards Pyongyang.

In South Korea too the test won't win Kim Jong Il any friends, but it places South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun in a difficult spot. Roh had staked his political future on engaging North Korea. It's hard to imagine him abandoning that position, even after this test. Indeed, some observers may believe Roh may feel compelled to redouble his efforts to deal with Kim's regime. That in turn could cause tension between South Korea and the United States, further weakening a security alliance already under strain because of the two governments' sharply differing approaches to handling North Korea.

And the test may anger China, the North's key backer, possibly prompting Beijing to intensify pressure on Kim Jong Il to return to the six-party talks on the nuclear issue, talks the North has boycotted for almost a year.

But North Korea always goes its own way and the underlying message from the test may be that Kim Jong Il isn't going to bow to pressure from anyone, friend or adversary, and that North Korea, despite its internal problems, remains a power to be reckoned with.

Mike Chinoy, CNN, Hong Kong.


CHURCH: We're going to take a short break now. When we come back, more on North Korea's mysterious leader. Just what exactly does he want from the world community?

Do stay with us.



ANNOUNCER: Boost ignition, and lift off of the Space Shuttle Discovery.

CHURCH (voice-over): On a day when the American public's attention was already cast toward the skies with the Space Shuttle launch and the July 4th fireworks, North Korea launched a surprise of its own. While its long-range Taepodong-2 may have failed shortly after takeoff, all seven test fired missiles certainly got the world's attention. The international community is left wondering what message North Korea is trying to send and what comes next.


Welcome back.

Perhaps to better understand what North Korea was trying to achieve we need to find out more about the man who leads that nation, Kim Jong Il. In the West, he is described variously as a tyrant, a playboy and a hermit, threatening the world with nuclear weapons. Others describe him as shy, sad and underestimated. The leader himself admits his authority comes from his late father, Kim Il Sung.

In this next report, Stan Grant sets out to separate the man from the myth.


STAN GRANT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He is the son of the father, a boy in the image of the man. To some closer observers, Kim Jong Il's has been a life in the shadows.

MICHAEL HARROLD, FMR. KIM SPEECH WRITER: He did keep one step behind his father, so to speak, metaphorically, but probably as well literally. Still, I tended to get the impression though that he's quite a shy man, strangely.

GRANT: Others have been close enough to see beyond the myth of the Dear Leader. South Korean grandmother Park Yong Kil has known the North Korean dictator for more than a decade. A campaigner for North-South reunification, she was invited to Pyongyang when Kim Jong Il succeeded his father in 1994.

She says for all his power, she glimpsed a personal sadness.

PARK YONG KIL, KIM JONG IL'S FRIEND (through translator): I noticed two pictures of his mother on the bookshelf. Kim Jong Il lost his mother young. He always missed his mother and tried to please his father and be a good son. Such a man can't be evil.

GRANT: The truth of Kim Jong Il remains locked away in his hermit kingdom. To North Koreans he was born in a mountain cabin under a bright star and a double rainbow, the heavens announcing the arrival of a, quote, "General who will rule the world."

There is another, though, more earthly tale, the birth of a Yuri Irsenovich Kim in an army camp in the then Soviet Union. The son of a Korean Communist guerrilla, Kim Il Sung, later North Korean president, a man worshipped by his people as a god.

Michael Harrold is one of the few foreigners to work inside the North Korean government. For eight years he translated Kim Il Sung's speeches. It is the father, he says, not the son, from whom all power flows.

HARROLD: At one time I was also language adviser for the English translations of Kim Jong Il's speeches, and he peppers his comments with references to the leader. You know, "The leader told us to do this." So, you know, he's telling people himself that his authority comes from his father. He's not denying that.

GRANT: Still, in the decade since his father's death, Kim Jong Il has nurtured his own colorful personality.

HARROLD: In North Korea, he's portrayed as a kindly person, thoughtful, hard working and always mindful of his people's needs.

GRANT: In the United States he's been branded a tyrant, a man who has built monuments to his father while his people have starved. And almost the foolish caricature of a dictator, a small man in elevator shoes and pompadour hairstyle. A playboy who dabbles in film and theatre, his own propaganda video showing him as director, musical maestro and dance instructor, the man who is now brandishing the threat of nuclear weapons.

Yet friends like Park Yong Kil insist there is nothing to fear.

PARK YONG KIL (through translator): It will be the end of the world if he uses it. Do you think he would do that? He is a very soft person. I don't think such a person would want war. I was never threatened by him.

HARROLD: I think he is underestimated. I also think he is something of a reformer, to be quite honest.

GRANT: But a man grueling with his father still on his shoulder, surrounded by his father's old generals, with a failing economy, a hungry people, and presiding over what the United States has called part of an international axis of evil. So many questions to be asked of the man wrapped up in a myth.

Stan Grant, CNN, Beijing.


CHURCH: So why does North Korea see a need to test fire these particular missiles and what message is it trying to send? To find out more about that and how the world is reacting to these controversial tests, we turn to Aaron Friedberg from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University. He's also a former adviser to U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney.

Thank you, sir, for talking with us.


CHURCH: At this point in time, of course, we can only speculate about what the motivation was for North Korea to test fire these missiles and, indeed, the message it was sending. With your knowledge of the region and indeed the nation, what do you think?

FRIEDBERG: Well, I think it's probably a combination of things. It is in part designed to get our attention, which it clearly has done. I think it's part of a long series of efforts to extort economic and diplomatic benefits from the United States and the rest of the world.

It may also be intended to drive a wedge between us and some of the other parties in the effort to get the North Koreans to abandon their nuclear program, in particular us and the South Koreans and us and the Chinese. So it probably has multiple motives.

CHURCH: It certainly achieved the motivate, as you say, of getting the world's attention. What about those other points, though? Will it achieve forging a wedge between the United States and other nations?

FRIEDBERG: Well, I certainly hope not. I think that depends very much on how everyone else reacts over the next couple of days. I would hope that it would have the opposite effect, that it would tend to bring the South Koreans and the Chinese into closer alignment and Japan also in agreeing that we have to apply some greater pressure to North Korea to persuade them to change course.

CHURCH: We have been watching the U.N. Security Council consultations. They continue in fact. What we've learned so far is that there is this reluctance, isn't there, to apply sanctions, particularly on the part of China and also Russia. What needs to be done on that do you think?

FRIEDBERG: Well, I don't know that formal sanctions are necessarily the best way to go. It may be that it comes to that, but at this point there may be some other things that we could do and could encourage others to do short of actually imposing sanctions.

CHURCH: Like what?

FRIEDBERG: Well, for one thing, both South Korea and China over the last several years have actually increased their economic assistance to North Korea and perhaps at this point they might be persuaded to cut back on some of that rather than going ahead with more.

CHURCH: What about the United States? How should it be responding? We haven't really heard a lot from the United States, have we, really, on this issue? It's been quite surprising.

FRIEDBERG: Well, the secretary of state has said various things about the irresponsible nature of this action, but I think most of what's going on is going on behind closed doors, which is appropriate. I don't think we want to overreact or appear to panic, but I do think we need to be talking, and hope we are, with our friends and allies and negotiating partners in trying to persuade them that this is the moment to go ahead and apply more pressure. We can't allow a country like North Korea to extort benefits from the world or it will just go on doing what it's doing and maybe more.

CHURCH: And you mentioned U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. We've heard from her today and she said she thinks that the six-party talks are really the only way at this stage of resolving this. Are they still viable, though, really, given what we've seen, the stop and start nature of those very talks, they're not working, are they?

FRIEDBERG: Well, they haven't yet achieved the desired result, that's certainly obvious. But I think they are the appropriate mechanism. I don't think that there is really a good alternative for the six-party mechanism and it really is up to the North Koreans. They've been the party dragging their feet, refusing to come back to the table now for getting on a year, and they have to be persuaded to change course.

If it's not going to be the six-party talks, it's probably going to be the U.N. Security Council, and then we are talking about sanctions and other measures.

CHURCH: And North Korea of course has made it clear that it's not so much interested in the six-party talks. It wants face-to-face talks with the United States and the United States has continued to refuse to do that. Is it possibly time to look at that as an option?

FRIEDBERG: Well, I don't think that we've actually refused to talk face to face with the North Koreans. We've sat down at the negotiating table. Our representatives have met with theirs on the margins of the sessions of the six-party talks. So I don't think that really that's the obstacle. I think that some people have pointed to that as if that were critical. My own view is that it's not so important.

The reason that we've insisted on continuing with the six-party mechanism is that we want to make sure that other parties are engaged in this and have a stake in making sure that the North Koreans live up to whatever agreements they make.

We know from past experience that if the North Koreans say that they've agreed to something just with us, they feel very free when it suits them to break whatever agreements they've made. So we want to make sure that others have a stake in making sure the North Koreans live up to what they say they're going to do.

If as part of that we sit across the table from them, we step out of the room and talk with them in the hall whatever it is, I don't think that's as important as it's being made out to be.

CHURCH: All right, Aaron Friedberg, thank you so much for talking with us. Appreciate it.

FRIEDBERG: Thank you very much.

CHURCH: We're going to take a short break now, but when we return, we'll talk to an expert on just what the world has learned from North Korea's missile test.

Do stay with us.


CHURCH: The United States has tests of its own planned for this summer, the kind that are meant to stop missiles, not launch them. The United States has an $11 billion defense program, but so far it only works about half the time. Some describe the technology as the equivalent of stopping one moving bullet using another.

Welcome back.

Well, North Korea tested a variety of missiles on Wednesday, as we know. To help us sort out the level of the military threat to other countries and the expanse of the North Korean arsenal, we've invited James Auer to join us from Vanderbilt University.

Thank you, sir, for talking with us.


CHURCH: Well, what did we learn from this series of missile tests?

AUER: Well, we learned that North Korea does have some missiles. We learned some of them work. It appears one of them may not have worked, the one that would be possibly most threatening to the United States. But even in that case, we don't know that they have been trying to test merely the first stage of it, and that may have worked. So right now our knowledge is very limited.

CHURCH: So basically we've learned very little. I mean, indeed, almost nothing.

What about this long-range missile? A lot of people have said that if it does work and if it did work -- we know that it only fired for 40 seconds and then fell into the sea. But if it does work, could it really reach United States soil? Is that an exaggeration?

AUER: Not an exaggeration. I still -- even if it did work, I doubt it would be a very big threat to the United States at this point, because they don't have very many of them and their capability to use it reliably and accurately is still very suspect.

CHURCH: What about those other six missiles? What do we think they're capable off?

AUER: Well, those missiles or other missiles that we are quite sure they do have do very much threaten South Korea and Japan, two very close allies of the United States. They would virtually be able to strike any place in South Korea or any place in Japan, quite unfortunately reliably and accurately.

CHURCH: And what would you expect the payload to be?

AUER: That is open to question. They probably have biological or chemical warheads along with conventional ones. And, of course, our intelligence thinks that they do have some amount of nuclear capability as well.

CHURCH: How difficult is it to perfect this sort of missile technology?

AUER: Quite difficult. North Korea is not a wealthy nation, but of course it's an authoritarian dictatorship and, therefore, they probably do put their limited money, a fair amount of it, into trying to develop a kind of missile threat program.

CHURCH: How would you rate their program, with the limited knowledge that we really have on the technology and what you've seen?

AUER: I would say their short-range program is quite good. Their long-range program is still quite a ways off.

CHURCH: And presumably the long-range is the one they really want to put their energy into.

AUER: Well, they probably want us to believe that they have capability against us. Even right now, of course, because they can threaten Japan and South Korea, we have forces stationed in both of those countries, so to that extent they can threaten the United States as well right now.

CHURCH: An interesting thing you said about what was perceived as a failure of that long-range missile, that it only sustained for, what 40 seconds. You don't see that as a failure, do you?

AUER: I'm saying it's possible that they were trying to do further tests on the first stage of the missile and decided to just test that first stage and didn't care about the second or third stages. But, again, that would just be speculation on my part. It could well be that they were trying to fire through its entire range and failed.

CHURCH: The U.S. missile defense program, how viable is that in the event of an attack from North Korea?

AUER: Well, we are a much wealthier nation. We're putting much more money into it. and if I had to choose between the two programs, I would naturally choose ours. Ours isn't perfect yet, but we have a fair amount of capability.

But, really, the bottom line is if North Korea succeeded in attacking South Korea, Japan or the United States, the United States would respond overwhelmingly with capabilities that we have that could seriously damage if not destroy North Korea's war making capability. I don't think even North Korea is stupid enough to do that.

CHURCH: So well beyond any defensive mechanism you see would be an enormous offensive.

AUER: We certainly have proven offensive capability and our defensive capability is getting better and better. Another silver lining that could come out of this, the Japanese who are naturally very concerned, another wealthy nation, a very close ally of the United States as shown last week when their prime minister came here to Tennessee, the Japanese I suspect could react to this missile firing, take it as a provocation and increase their own spending on missile defense. That would be a very good thing in my view.

CHURCH: All right, Professor James Auer, thank you so much for talking with us. Appreciate it.

AUER: My pleasure.

CHURCH: And that's all for this edition of INSIGHT. I'm Rosemary Church. Stay with us.



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