Monday, October 09, 2006
The North Korean Test
My thoughts on the aftermath of the test are published at National Interest online; one point I made in that piece:
"The challenge is whether this development will galvanize the major powers and the international community to take action. The initial reaction seems positive. China and Japan—whose relationship has been acrimonious as of late—discovered a new-found sense of common purpose in denouncing the action. Beijing may want to reconsider whether it wants to continue to provide food and fuel to a regime that uses that assistance to free up resources to continue work on its nuclear program. The test may also shatter some of the illusions of the South Korean political elite about the efficacy of the “Sunshine policy.” There is a strong possibility that, because of Pyongyang’s reputation for smuggling, China and even Russia may be more inclined to take part in the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), or at least work more closely to be able to quarantine North Korea."
Sijin Cheng from the Eurasia Group shares that assessment, predicting that "Beijing will adopt harsher unilateral sanctions and endorse multilateral measures to punish and rein in Pyongyang."
China holds the key here--and this again points out why the U.S.-China relationship needs to remain grounded.
While the North Korean test came in defiance of a statement by the president of the United Nations Security Council last Friday which warned that a nuclear test “would represent a clear threat to international peace and security,” the fact that Kim Jong-Il has set off a bomb is not itself significant. The dictator had long boasted that he had nuclear weapons and, consequently, was already treated by the international community as a de facto nuclear power. While diplomats fussed over the legal niceties of the status of North Korea’s nuclear program—as if things had not already gone far beyond what could be considered easily recoverable—military commanders have long had to plan with the assumption that the line had been crossed.
What is significant is that now we know it for sure and our intelligence agencies are undoubtedly able to better gauge the quality and strength of his armaments—and thus the threat which North Korea actually poses to us. And, I would submit, most significantly, the explosion destroyed the strategic ambiguity that had been the Kim family dictatorship’s principal stock of trade (alongside more tangible “goods” like weapons, drugs, and counterfeit U.S. dollars) for the past two decades, allowing the regime to extort billions in aid by threatening to cross the nuclear threshold while simultaneously allowing its appeasers abroad cover from the opprobrium of kowtowing to its flagrant violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty: after all, they insisted, there was no definitive proof that the line had actually been crossed. (Rather ironically word of the apparently successful test comes on the very day when one of those apologists, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, whose pathetic record of excuse-making for North Korea was reviewed by my colleague Professor Michael I. Krauss and me in an op-ed just last Friday, was scheduled to be formally anointed by the Security Council as the next UN Secretary-General.)
Heard you on Justice Talking on NPR this weekend. I think a real problem is the extent to which there is a certain pessimism about the likely spread of nuclear weapons and instead of seeing proliferation as a problem it becomes who is your friend/who is your enemy. I don't see any real strong multilateral effort to promote denuclearization of either North Korea or Iran.
Russia bears watching too. Recently, it has been using every opportunity to position itself against the US, and North Korea's increasing isolation may be no exception. It may not support the Kim regime outright, but it could give economic support (in exchange for more cheap labor, to also counter Chinese incursions?) that supplant some of the assistance that China and South Korea may withdraw.
Russia is back to seeing the US as a bigger threat to its interests. Iran, North Korea are no threats to Russian interests and US supports anti-Russian governments on its borders, so why should they lose sleep? So I agree, Moscow is more likely to continue quiet support even while publicly pledging to support ending North Korea's nuclear program.