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Despite appearances, N. Korea still a security concern

Despite a host of inter-Korean projects, from car races to academic forums, that demonstrate a lessening of tensions on the peninsula, military officials in South Korea are quick to note that North Korea remains a security concern.

This country's Defense Ministry reported last month that North Korea may have stockpiled as much as 5,000 tons of chemical and biological weapons - five times the previous estimate. South Korea has initiated a five-year, $300 million program to counter the threat. US forces in Korea have established four new anti-chemical units in the past two years.

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Military strategists say if North Korea were to attack, it would begin with a barrage of chemical-tipped artillery and missiles. Chemical weapons "are easy to acquire, deploy, and use," notes John Pike, a defense analyst at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington.

William Perry, US special envoy on North Korean affairs, last month expressed the widespread uncertainty about how easy it will be to make peace with North Korea. "The United States should keep its powder dry," Mr. Perry said in a Nov. 29 speech in Washington.

Analysts differ widely on what the future will bring. Some say North Korea will never give up its dream of ruling a unified Korea.

North Korea considers itself the only legitimate government in Korea because its founders fought Japanese colonists in the 1930s and '40s. It claims Koreans who collaborated with the Japanese established South Korea. This history "is not dead and gone. It informs North Korea's actions today," says one Western analyst in Seoul who requested anonymity.

The outside world wants to see openness and reform, so North Korea shows it to them, he says. "Like most governments, North Korea likes to do things for demonstration effect," says the analyst. "They make a pretense of doing things the outside world will jump at and mistakenly recognize as a change in direction."

Others say North Korea's moves to open up are genuine. Early in December President Clinton's half-brother Roger gave a rhythm-and-blues concert in Pyongyang, one of several people-to-people exchanges now taking place with North Korea. "This will expand into more official exchanges," says Rhee Tong Chin at the Kim Dae Jung Peace Foundation in Seoul.

"All these chemical and biological weapons, these are not war-fighting weapons. They're deterrents," adds Rhee, who compares North Korea's self-perception to that of Israel surrounded by hostile Arab states. "But [North Koreans] would never use them for fear of massive retaliation."

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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