SCENARIOS – North Korea tensions set to simmer

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Philip Goldberg, the U.S. envoy who coordinates sanctions on North Korea, talks to journalists after a meeting at the Central Bank office in Kuala Lumpur July 6, 2009.

SCENARIOS – North Korea tensions set to simmer

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea raised regional tensions with a defiant ballistic missile launch at the weekend that came as the United States pressed sanctions to punish Pyongyang for its nuclear test in May.

Following are some scenarios at how current tensions may play out:

CONSTANT SIMMER OVER SUMMER

– North Korea launches further military moves seen as provocations by outside world through summer in North Asia.

– More missile launches likely, including ballistic and short-range.

– May try to test U.N. sanctions to halt arms trade imposed after nuclear test by sending cargo ships abroad.

– Good chance North Korea will test fire its long range Taepodong-2 missile, which could hit U.S. territory but has not had a successful test flight. Pyongyang backed itself into corner by saying in its state media it would fire one unless the U.N. apologised for punishing it for an April launch of similar rocket.

– North may try to spark a small-scale skirmish with the South near a disputed sea border.

NUCLEAR TEST

– The North could conduct a third nuclear test, which is needed to help it build a working bomb and thus bring it closer to miniaturising a nuclear weapon to mount as a warhead on a missile. Experts said its first nuclear test in October 2006 was only a partial success because it had a low explosive force, indicating design flaws.

– Each test decreases the North’s already meagre supply of plutonium, thought before the May 25 test to be enough for six to eight weapons.

NUCLEAR ARMS PROGRAMME

– North Korea could resume all operations at its Soviet-era Yongbyon nuclear plant. It has said it is already reprocessing plutonium at the plant that was being taken apart under a disarmament-for-aid deal.

PRESSURE TO INCREASE PUNISHMENTS

– Each move regarded as a provocation makes it more likely that China, the North’s biggest benefactor and trade partner, will be forced into greater cooperation with the sanctions regime. China is the key player for enforcement, analysts said.

– U.S. may move to punish banks thought to be helping the North in illicit activity. The U.S. Treasury brought North Korea’s international finances to a virtual halt in 2005 by cracking down on a Macau bank suspected of aiding the North’s illicit financial activities. Other banks, worried about being snared by U.S. financial authorities, steered clear of the North’s money.

– North Korea’s broken economy, with a yearly GDP estimated at about $17 billion, may buckle under the pressure. Any bad weather that effects farming could also send it into a tailspin.

RATCHETING DOWN PRESSURE

– Analysts said the North may look to return to international disarmament-for-aid talks toward the end of the year due to hit to its finances.

– North Korea firms up succession plans in Asia’s only communist dynasty, removing pressure on leader Kim Jong-il, 67 to increase internal support through military moves.

MAJOR CONFLICT

– Unlikely. Analysts say all-out war would be suicidal for Pyongyang because U.S. and South Korean forces would quickly defeat the North’s ill-equipped, 1.2-million-strong army.

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