He has been referred to as “the pygmy” by the US president and ridiculed by the West for his eccentric antics. But analysts say Kim Jong-Il is a shrewd tactician who knows how to make the most of North Korea’s international isolation.
One instrument of pressure is the country’s missile arsenal. The Taepodong-2 is thought to have a range of nearly seven thousand kilometres, potentially striking Hawai or Alaska. Even more worrying for the international community is the development of another weapon that could reach the heart of the United States.
More problematic still is the possibility that North Korea already has a nuclear bomb. The government claims it does, but experts have cast doubt on that given the country’s dire economic situation.
An atomic capability would pose a grave threat to Japan, which was rattled when Pyongyang launched
a Taepodong missile over its neighbour in 1998.
Tensions deepened when George W Bush called North Korea part of an axis of evil, and the six-nation diplomatic talks have come to nothing.
Analyst Robert Dujarric says:
“China wants peace in the region to grow economically, and North Korea’s activity is damaging the situation and it is also increasing the likelihood of a stronger US-Japan alliance and a missile defence, which China doesn’t want. On the other hand, from a Chinese point of view the risk is that if you push the North Koreans, North Korea might collapse and that is an outcome China doesn’t want, and for that matter actually neither do Japan or United States or South Korea.”Because of these competing interests, North Korea has been able to play off the participants in the multilateral talks.
With this diplomatic leverage, the absence of international nuclear inspections, and an iron grip on power, Kim Jong-Il – known to his countrymen as “the Dear Leader” – still has much to play for.