AUGUST, not July, is usually considered to be the “silly season” for media headlines that are not very closely related to reality. But how else are we to explain the excessive and overwrought attention given to North Korea's missile spectacular which ended with six medium-range missiles falling harmlessly into the ocean, hundreds of miles from land, and the much-vaunted Taepodong 2 long-range model failing before it had really got going? Let's be clear. North Korea broke no international law by launching these missiles. The more important point, however, is that it hardly makes sense when a nation which cannot even feed its own people spends vast sums of money on useless military hardware. Why does North Korea's “Dear leader” Kim Jong II persist with nuclear and missile programmes that he will almost certainly never be able to put to any effective use? It is only six years since Kim Jong shook hands for the first time with South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, as well as with President Clinton's Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. So what eclipsed the “Sunshine Policy” of co-existence? Was it perhaps President Bush's notorious “axis of evil” speech which linked North Korea with Iraq and Iran and effectively brought to end dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang. Were this week's missile tests designed only to remind the U.S. and its close allies that North Korea should not be taken for granted? If so, they seemed to have achieved their purpose.


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