WHEN it comes to sabre rattling, the leader of North Korea is in a class of his own. Kim Jong-il is so incensed by fresh United Nations sanctions against his Stalinist regime, because of its nuclear ambitions, that he seems more determined than ever to embark on a military campaign against the West, America in particular. Should anyone doubt that one of the poorest nations on earth would be daft enough to take on the most powerful, be assured that it would. For that we have the measured opinion of American military strategists, who are taking very seriously the threats emanating from Pyongyang.

In fact, they have gone as far as to reinforce the defences of Hawaii in the face of North Korea’s belligerence. The Pacific archipelago is within range of the Taepo-dong 2 long-range ballistic missile, and reports in the Japanese media suggest that Kim Jong-il is preparing to help the Americans celebrate the Fourth of July by launching a rocket in the direction of Hawaii.

Although North Korea has detonated an underground nuclear bomb, I doubt its development programme has reached the stage where it could launch atomic warheads at enemies, real or imagined, although a Taepo-dong-2 would do significant damage were it to hit its intended target. Among his usual bellicose rhetoric, Kim Jong-il has threatened to unleash nuclear war on East Asia. I wish someone would send him footage of what happened in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. He might then hesitate over threatening to nuke anyone. Think of the Japanese and Pearl Harbour, which, incidentally, is in the same archipelago that North Korea is threatening to bomb. If you want to know what will happen tomorrow, look what happened yesterday.

Defence chiefs at the Pentagon are confident that they have in place all the necessary defences to protect Hawaii. These include sophisticated radar tracking equipment and a high altitude ground-to-air missile interception system. However, if North Korea proceeds with its threat, how will Barack Obama react? It’s all well and good being seen as a peace-promoting alternative to the war drums technique of the Bush administration, but the Yanks don’t take kindly to being bombed and it isn’t difficult to imagine the outcome.

Besides being among the poorest, North Korea is also one of the most heavily militarised nations on earth, if television newsreels are anything to go by. While the majority of its ordinary citizens suffer restricted food supplies and the worst Third World living standards, whatever money there is, rumoured to come from multi-million dollar insurance scams, goes on armaments and funding its leader’s lifestyle. Triggering an atomic Armageddon probably wouldn’t unduly worry Kim Jong-il, directing operations from the safety of a heavily fortified bunker, deep underground.

However, it’s not all bad news. Should the manure hit the fan over Hawaii, and World War Three break out, the onset of a nuclear winter, with mushroom clouds obliterating the sun, should put an end to the very real threat of global warming for the next century or two. Perhaps that’s what Kim Jong-il has in mind. He’s not really a warmonger, more a deep-thinking conservationist.