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October 09, 2006

North Korea Options


I chose the above picture as a reminder of what a nuclear bomb can do. That was a young boy, maybe twelve or thirteen, who was incinerated by "Little Boy" at Hiroshima.

I think it's highly irresponsible for various pundits, mostly on the right, but some on the left, to suggest that we must respond to North Korea's saber rattling with a military attack. It's irresponsible because now that Kim Jong-il has a nuclear arsenal (assuming the tests weren't faked) we can certainly expect that he will use it if attacked.

Two things are clear to me: We must use every effort to avoid war with North Korea, while at the same time we must use whatever means necessary to disarm Kim Jong-il. The little boy in the picture is the reason I believe this.

While I think diplomacy is usually a complete boondoggle, there are options that can be and should be employed before we go charging in with guns blazing where a madman controls nuclear weapons.

The North Korean situation is similar to the Iranian one, but not identical. And as you know, I don't support military action in Iran, yet. Regime change without an invasion is the least ugly of all the options in both theaters. It's probably an easier task against the Iranians, but in neither case do I see any concrete signs that the Bush Administration is doing anything to encourage internal opposition movements. As I've said before, I think that's a big mistake.

In regards to North Korea, it seems to me that we have an advantage that is not available to us against Iran. World opinion, and especially regional opinion, seems pretty united against North Korea. I think the reason China and Russia are willing to play along against Kim Jong-il is that the balance of power equation they are employing in Central Asia does not apply to the Korean Peninsula.

In other words, China and Russia have a strong interest in promoting Iran as a rival to U.S. power in the Middle East. It's the latest incarnation of the "Great Game." But the Asian powers have now realized that promoting North Korea as a balance to American Power in the Far East is a fool's game.

The goal of balance of power politics is to maintain regional stability, and a nuclear armed DPRK upsets the status quo not a good thing for China and Russia. They know that if Japan wanted to, they could easily build their own nuclear arsenal, and each warhead would probably fit in the palm of your hand, work perfectly every time, and get great gas mileage to boot.

So if China and Russia can be persuaded to go along with a strong sanctions regime, combined with a "quarantine" of North Korea, I think that would be a great start. They might be willing to do so.

The next few months will be a major test for Condoleezza Rice. I think her tenure as Secretary of State has been pretty lackluster, but I'm much more impressed with John Bolton. If the State Department can get its act together, maybe they can forge an alliance among the regional powers. I'd like to see Australia join in too. I'm hopeful that a united front could successfully change North Korea's behavior.

Normally, I'm not a fan of sanctions. But this might be one of those rare situations where sanctions have some effect, mainly because of the unanimity of world opinion against North Korea. It reminds me of South Africa. Sanctions arguably helped end apartheid, and while that analogy only goes so far, it is interesting to note that South Africa is the only country to have developed nuclear weapons and then given them up voluntarily.

I favor an internal revolution as the best way to solve the Iranian crisis, but I don't see that idea working in North Korea. I have not heard of any opposition groups in that closed society. I think Kim Jong-il's regime is so repressive that they'd make Tian'anmen Square look like a company picnic.

I believe the best way to defuse the situation is to get China to use its influence against Kim Jong-il himself. China is the only party that can apply pressure against the dictator to get him to step down. We'll probably have to live with a nuclear armed North Korea, but if Kim Jong-il can be replaced with a moderate who won't threaten the whole region, everybody will be able to breathe a lot easier.

The North Korean dictator's latest flagrant defiance of the Security Council should offer enough cover for the Chinese to make Kim Jong-il an offer he can't refuse. China can offer Kim asylum, and they have the power to influence the selection of his successor. North Korea can then remain communist, but perhaps reform themselves along the lines of modern China. Sanctions might even eventually be lifted. Getting rid of Kim Jong-il is the key, and as I see it, China is our best hope to accomplish that end.

More: Fans of Kevin Kim know that he teaches something or other in South Korea (English I think). Here's his inimitable commentary on the scuttlebutt over there.

One student surprised me with her take on Kim Jong Il. "I sort of liked him until today," she said, "But now I hate him." I kept a poker face, but my guts were writhing and my testicles kept popping in and out of my body like turtle heads. My asshole started shrieking ultrasonically; little edible dogs screamed in response and then exploded outside our building (NB: I've decided to name any future canine pet "Yummy"). Liked Kim Jong Il?
By the way, Kevin tends to doubt that Kim Jong-il really has nukes yet. Some Koreans aren't above lying about important stuff. Look at how long Sun lied to Jin about knowing English.

Posted by annika, Oct. 9, 2006 | TrackBack (0)
Rubric: annikapunditry


I'm not sure China can pull that off. If they could, they would have stopped the testing before it happened. As it is, they were given a twenty minute heads-up before the test occurred. Not something you do to a trusted partner.

Secondly, you overlook how the North Koreans can retaliate against the Chinese. They can basically unleash a human wave of refugees on both China and South at any minute. And neither is prepared for something that would make the Cuban fiasco of '78 look like nothing. Castro sent 10,000 to Miami - Kim can send millions.

Third, putting the Koreas firmly in the Chinese column would leave nothing in the way of Chinese hedgemony in Asia but Taiwan. And I think we all know where that leads. Actually, we don't, because President Carter's abrogation of the mutual defense treaty is still unsettled as a matter of law.

Fourth, Chinese hedgemony does nothing to stop what I believe Kim's REAL motivation in the testing was - forcing a nuclear Japan. If that happens, and I think that's inevitable now, all of Asia unites against the Japanese (who they all already detest) and North Korea becomes forgotten by everyone who isn't the United States.

Feel better?

Posted by: skippystalin on Oct. 9, 2006

It's awful!!! I don't know, everybody studied history and didn't caught the main idea that the world is built as a spiral!!! Nothing passes without leaving a trace and everything repeates!!!! And in any conflicts and wars only innocent people suffer!!! Is it fair? I see the only thing: the invention of nuclear bomb was a serious mistake!!!

Posted by: irina on Oct. 10, 2006

Annika - I disagree that Kim has an "arsenal" - right now he has one or two at most (remember that we had no more after Nagasaki for quite some time)and Kim currently has no way to deploy them. It is time to stop him now before he learns how to attach one to a missile (no trivial task). That is why military action should be swift and soon.

Posted by: John on Oct. 10, 2006

Thanks for injecting some sanity into the hysteria John. Anni, most of what you've articulated is the status quo. In the Rumsfeld formulation, you don't know, what you don't know.

China doesn't want a nuclear Japan, that's their motivation to act. The Chinese have always had the ability to step on Kim. The solution to this problem will be a Chinese solution.

Kim is a meglomaniac in the Blowfeld mold, probably from watching too many 007 movies. I doubt that he's capable of thinking strategically.

Posted by: Casca on Oct. 10, 2006


I think it is a bit late to be whinning about the inexorable march of invention, need and human dysfunction.

It could be argued that nuclear weapons are the single most important factor responsible for damping any major conflict over the last 50 years. That is not to say the world has been free from war just that the level could have been far worse.

If Iran had a deliverable nuke 5 years ago it might have stopped our criminal invasion of Iraq.

If it were not for the promise of Soviet protection of Cuba, we would have invaded and toppled Castro in the 60's. The Cuban's then could have had McDonalds, mineral extractors, gambling, and massive tourist trade instead of universities, doctors, low infant mortality, world class sports teams, universal medical care, affordable housing and literacy.

So, nu-q-ler (to use our dim witted leaders pronunciation) devices can be a force for good.

Now, Blu, bust a gut telling me about Castro's repressive political strangle hold on the good peeps of Cuba. About how he, like the govt. of US people can haul people off to prison and hold in the dark without charges indefinitely, Or how a noted author and radio personality was told the other day in Texas, not to talk politics while flogging his book, "'cause this is Bush's church." The shirts in America are turning brown, Blu, and you are still pounding the table about Castro. Get over it and get a grip on what's happening here. Why do you continue to be complacent about the sale of your liberties for a pound of false security?

Posted by: strawman on Oct. 10, 2006

I'm not entirely sure that irina isn't a bot. But assuming she isn't:

Strangely enough, in all my years studying history at Berkeley, I didn't caught the main idea that the world is built as a spiral. I want my money back.

Also, I think even Strawman would agree that sometimes non-innocent people suffer in war. The nazis for instance, got what they deserved ultimately.

Posted by: annika on Oct. 10, 2006


I caught that spiral idea once but unhooked it and threw it back.

Yes, non-innocents do suffer and die in war and no war is fought where innocents are not killed as well. And I do know that our forces more than any other try to avoid civilian casualities. As much as I hated the idea that we were attacking Iraq, I watched the opening night(s) and was bouyed by the apparent precision with which we were destroying military infastructure and avoiding the city at large. At that point I hoped that the military would fold and disperse, Saddam would flee and we would succeed in a regime change without terrible destruction and loss of life. But what did I know about the internal issues of Iraq? Nothing. the tragedy is, of course, that Rumnuts knew about as much as I did.

Yes, for the most part the Nazis did get what they deserved (though the Soviet forces did it better), except the ones we (the Soviets as well) thought would do us some good either in our rocketry and fission programs. We also harbored nazis that we thought would be helpful in our upcoming struggle with the Soviets. Talk about moral relativism. Do you know the Tom Lehrer song about Werner von Braun?

Posted by: Strawman on Oct. 10, 2006


I see that you have finally come to accept the Bush doctrine of preemption.

Well, at least you are learning.

Keep it up, Grasshopper.

Posted by: blu on Oct. 10, 2006

I'll compliment Straw's response to Annie. Despite his first post, I actually confused him for a rational liberal for a second there.

Posted by: reagan80 on Oct. 10, 2006

Thanks for the shout-out, as always, A.

By the way, if you don't subscribe to STRATFOR and would like to see the latest from them re: the NK issue, please give me an email and I'll forward you the issues that were forwarded to me.


Posted by: Kevin Kim on Oct. 10, 2006

Ah, I forgot to mention: my position isn't that I doubt NK has nukes; I simply doubt that what exploded was in fact a nuke. (And was there or wasn't there a second nuke test?)



Posted by: Kevin Kim on Oct. 10, 2006

I generally agree with your recap of the situation; you have a well-developed sense of power struggles for someone so (relatively) young.

I would simply note a couple of discussion points;

1. "I think diplomacy is usually a complete boondoggle"

There are many flavors of diplomacy, including overt or covert 'gunboat' diplomacy. There are communications with the nation at question directly (perhaps not in this case), there are communications with heads of state in a)close allies, 2)other friendly allies, 3)passively or loosely aligned nations (e.g. Pakistan), 4) the rest of the nations, and then there is diplomacy as is conducted through public information sources. Expect each of the above messages to be different. Building a coalition is a diplomatic process. I believe I understand what you meant, though that term is normally too broad for brushstroke generalization, IMHO.

2. Kim may have no desire for asylum, regardless of what the Chinese offer (or admonish). Remember that he has been fed a steady diet of propaganda since he was young; he has no sense of reality or how to negotiate beyond threats of destruction in one form or another. He has no power base among his people, and must continually plot despotic ways to wield authority over them. Would make a great dissertation subject for an advanced psych post-grad.

Posted by: will on Oct. 12, 2006

Calling for a military attack dosen't make one happen, it makes the threat a little more credible so diplomacy can work.

Posted by: Dave on Oct. 19, 2006