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Wednesday, September 9, 1998 Published at 09:26 GMT 10:26 UK

Setting store by military might

By Nic Newman

It's people may be starving but there is little chance of North Korea turning swords into ploughshares.

North Korea remains one of the world's most militaristic regimes for whom the manufacture display and export of military hardware remains a symbol of national virility.

[ image:  ]
Much of the country's wealth is spent on the military and North Korea's army outnumbers that of the South by more than two to one.

In September the position of the army was further entrenched when the constitution was officially changed to make the Chairman of the National Defence Commission the highest post in the land.

That position is filled of course by the 'Dear Leader' Kim Jong-il, who is also general secretary of the communist party.

Unfinished business

[ image: Army remains behind Kim Jong-il]
Army remains behind Kim Jong-il
This emphasis on the military is a product of North Korea's history. The North is still officially at war with its southern neighbour and over the years there have been repeated incidents at the Demilitarised Zone which marks the border. But in recent years, it's been the North's nuclear rather than its conventional armoury which has caused most concern.

When the Pyongyang announced that it was withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty in 1993, the immediate fear was that a nuclear capability was being developed for use against the South.

After months of tension a new agreement was reached under which Pyongyang agreed to freeze its nuclear programme, in exchange for two new reactors to be built by the United States, South Korea, Japan and the European Union.

Now that deal has run into trouble, complicated by new concerns about North's pledge to develop, test and export ballistic missiles - its first official admission of a hitherto clandestine trade. Its new Taepo-dong 1 missile is said to have a range of almost 2000 km - putting all of Japan within its sights.

A later version of the missile is said to have twice the range, which would put a country like Bangladesh within its sights.

In recent weeks there have also been reports in the United States suggesting a resumption of nuclear activity. Satellite photographs are said to show thousands of workers digging into a mountainside near Yongbyon, the site of a North Korean nuclear reactor which has been frozen under an agreement with the United States.

Raising the stakes

[ image:  ]
Pyongyang knows full well that advertising its missile programme to the international market in this way will place enormous psychological pressure on Washington, which is agitated about the proliferation of ballistic missile technology to countries such as Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

There is also a clear internal logic behind the latest test. The North Korean leader Kim Jong-il probably calculates that a display of military might will boost his prestige in this 50th anniversary year.

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Inside the Secret State

Land of illusions

Profile: Kim Jong-il

North Korea: a political history

Analysis: Korean missiles threaten region

Setting store by military might

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