Austin Bay

When it comes to international provocations, North Korea's experienced extortionists have an outline that guides their bellicose dramas.

The starving Stalinists' latest armed tantrum fits the general theatrical scheme of past confrontations -- up to an uncomfortable point.

Elements of the outline are so formulaic they reduce to a bully's checklist. Close the North Korea-South Korea border with an angry huff? Check. Arrest foreigners, preferably journalists, since that guarantees big-league media headlines? Check. Imply the communist regime has or will obtain nuclear weapons? Yes, thuggish hints galore. Brandish ballistic missiles? Indeed, but this time embellish the brandish by touting a launch window (April 4 to April 8), which signals to diplomats that tyrant Kim Jong-Il is confident his Taepodong-2 missile will work.

Aim missiles at Japan? Check again, with a plus. If the missile demonstrates extended-range capabilities, then Kim's warheads could threaten U.S. territory.

Call these selected scenes from a bully's dangerous script. No argument from me: North Korea is a weak bully, an impoverished, economically failed state that is also a jailed state run by a criminal regime involved in international terror, narcotics smuggling, nuclear proliferation, kidnapping and theft, and guilty of starving millions of its own people. North Korea is vulnerable to pressure from China. Likewise, Kim's regime has demonstrated an interest in its own survival.

Both South Korea's "Sunshine Policy" (political and economic opening to the North) and the America's "python strategy" (the six-nation diplomatic process designed to denuclearize North Korea) have attempted to use the Kim regime's economic failure, susceptibility to Chinese pressure and desire to stay alive. With West Germany's expensive absorption of East Germany as an example, South Korea fears a North Korean collapse almost as much as it fears a war.

Though "Sunshine Policy" cash lines Kim's criminal pockets, it also looks to a post-communist North needing infrastructure and skilled workers. These South Korean and U.S. endeavors have had some successes -- the incremental successes of diplomacy.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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