Tuesday, October 10, 2006

North Korean Tomfoolery...and what the US Press isn't reporting

I hate to say I told you so...but it looks like I was right. But before we get to the meat, let's look at the situation.

What is being talked about internationally and on the blogosphere is that the North Korean nuclear test was a dud. In fact, there are really only two possibilities: either they tried to do a test and it failed or they faked it. See here for more info on why it failed.

I'm not going to speculate on that much. What does seem clear is that the "great danger" of a nuclear armed North Korea is, in short, vastly overrated. The North Koreans can't seem to make anything that actually works properly. See the last ballistic missile test. In fact, I think this comment from Arms Control Wonk accurately sums up the current state of risk:

"I close this discourse about operational confidence by noting that the United States has built a missile defense that does not work, to defend against a North Korean missile that does not work, that would carry a nuclear warhead that does not work."


Instead, I want to broaden the discussion that I mentioned the other day: that of motivation. North Korea has always used bluster, threat, and coercion as a means to get concessions on the negotiating table - or in this case, get too the negotiating table.

(Gee, can't think of any other nations that might use that strategy...)

This situation appears to be no different from recent history. As this post from Kevin Drum concurs, it appears that North Korea has become increasingly desperate in its desire for normalized relations with the United States, or, more promptly, a return to the negotiating table.

The Bush administration, however, has unequivocally stated in its tour de force expose of the North Korean motive, that there will be no negotiation at all.


The North Koreans, braggadosiously and quite hilariously, have responded that they, "hope the situation will be resolved before an unfortunate incident of us firing a nuclear missile comes."

As if they could:
a) put their non-functioning nuclear bome on their non-functioning missile, or
b) hit anything more serious than the Sea of Japan.

But in terms of diplomatic banter, that's about as good as it gets.

At any rate, what's the point? Well, I, for one, thing that the Bush administration has not only seriously mishandled this situation from the start, but will also use the current "crisis" as fodder for the mid-term election. Meaning, of course, that the response is likely to be more political than sensical.

This is a mistake.

Clearly the US can't be seen as caving to North Korean demands, but equally clearly, we need to return to the negotiating table and, importantly, we need to begin to rachet down the hostility between the two nations. We're in a position now where we can return to the table with serious options. The North has made it very clear that their pursuit for nuclear arms is more motivated around a desire for normalized relations with the United States, than it is for regional aggression or domination. In fact, a case can be made that North Korea has never pursued regional agression or domination - which sort of cuts down on the whole risk of nuclear warlordism.

But the strange US requirement that North Korea return to the 6-party talks or have no talks at all is gravely erroneous. (Since when has the Bush administration been a propent of internationalism and multilateralism?) It seems to me that any negotiation is better than no negotiation. That doesn't mean that we have to give them one iota of anything. But shouldn't we at least be talking?

At any rate, since we are currently enduring the most politically motivated of presidency's in recent memory, I fully expect this situation to get worse before it gets better. As in, perhaps the next president will be fully aware that a policy of all sticks and no carrots is likely to cause the very thing you desire to stop. Hopefully, nothing more serious than a few more failed North Korean tests will have passed, since it's awfully hard to put the nuclear genie back in the bottle.

But we'll see. Japan's panties are in a tizzle and while they're currently pushing harsh new sanctions (just what more can we add to the current sanction regime anyway?), let's hope that the Japanese don't get fed up and jumpstart their own nuclear program. Because I have little doubt that Japan could have a strong nuclear arsenal in under 5 years. And a nuclear arms race in Northeast Asia is about the least desirable outcome of the current situation.


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