Friday, June 17, 2005
Like Iraq before it, North Korea is a bit of a lost cause from an American diplomatic perspective. It is worth a non-partisan review of how we got to where we are with North Korea. For 40+ years after the Korean War, we essentially maintained a status quo cease fire between North and South Korea. With South Korea integrated into a global economy and feeling prosperous, the US reached out "bilaterally" to North Korea in good faith in the mid 90's to try to offer it an economic hand of assistance, for which the quid pro quo would be walking away from nuclear weapons development.
Well, we gave the NK's assistance, and they obviously did not abide by their agreement. Today, it is pretty clear they have developed nuclear weapons capability and the means to deliver it. They have certainly tried to demonstrate to the SK's and Japanese that they have the capability.
Now things get thorny. In theory, the Chinese should be able to shut down the NK rubbish without much trouble. It is their neighbor much as Mexico is ours. And of course, the NK's make the SK's and Japanese quite nervous. All of which is to say, the NK basketcase should be a problem which motivates sensible behavior out of the various regional parties which should care. Frankly, the only way NK directly threatens the US is because we have 37,000 troops in the DMZ there. But we also need to support our good friends in the neighborhood, the Japanese and SK's.
One would think that the lesson learned from our good faith effort in 1994 was that appeasing the NK's was a bit of a waste, and they proved themselves to be flagrantly dishonest. Furthermore, since NK weapons development is all about trade (the only thing they can manufacture for money), and we have no interest in seeing that trade thrive, we have to shut it down. And that now means changing the regime which failed to live up to its agreement.
It sort of sounds like Iraq revisited really, with the regional realities changed. Whereas Saddam's failure to comply with the Persian Gulf War ceasefire was ultimately our bilateral problem (that is, that France and Germany don't complicate out lives as much as the Chinese do, and besides the Persian Gulf is strategically vital), NK is more of a direct problem for our friends and rivals, and only an indirect one for us).
I'll be curious to see what people's views are regarding next steps. Ideally, China would decide that the NK regime was bad for China, would do away with it, and replace it with more of a Chinese model. This would really limit US commitments and take tremendous pressure of SK and Japan. But we shouldn't count on it. The only reason China would do that was if they felt it was imminent that Japan would re-arm, threatened by NK nukes. Another possiblility is to keep squeezing the regime until it falls over like Romania did. China of course would be contributing to the squeezing, so it's really a modification of the above.
I can't imagine going to war with the North Koreans. The whole idea seems so silly. It could only happen if North Korea decided to rush the border with SK or lob artillery at our guys there. It's possible because these people are nuts. You would think the Chinese would not be interested in this either, but maybe they'd like to drag us in.
Most Americans forget that we killed a friggin lot of Chinamen during the Korean War. And they are most certainly holding a grudge. Particularly since we have propped up their mortal enemies: Taiwan, SK and Japan. Oh yes, the Chinese regime silently hates us with a passion that goes unreported.
I think China has not only condoned NK's behavior these last 50 years but help foment and inspire it to be a monumental pain in the ass to us and the rest of the region. Certainly China authorized NK's nukes and undoubtedly helped them build them via direct material and labor assistance and certainly design plans. (Why do we never look at that aspect of the NK "problem"? - The fact that it was most certainly the Chinese that enabled them to be armed with nukes. I might add that the Chinese are also responsible for the North Korean's penchant for nuclear proliferation)
But China has reservations about provoking the Americans too much. Why? Because they remember. They remember Americans killing them by the hundreds of thousands and the skill of our Armed Forces.
We also have a lot of recent examples of our capability. Simply put, we have the most battle-hardened armed forces in the world at the moment and we ain't in any mood to take shit.
But I digress.
Back to what I really think will happen. China will continue to let the crazy NK's run weird and wild but ultimately keep a reign on the limits of lunacy. China is not ready for war with Taiwan, Japan nor South Korea. Nor do I think they wish it very much with the Americans and her formidable military might waiting in the wings.
So once again it falls clearly on if the North Koreans go nutso. And that is a very much a calculated risk we take.
But really the key to the North Korean question is very much a China question.
Look it comes down to this: China built NK's nukes. China authorized NK's proliferation of weapons (to include nuclear material I would bet). China runs the show.
But the world press does not recognize this and China gets a huge pass. Look, did anyone doubt that the Soviets ruled Eastern Europe during the Cold War heyday? Well think Soviet China ruling NK. Same deal.
So....we must pressure China. Silently, as we have been doing for 50 years.
Ultimately I don't think the NK's have their finger on the button so to speak. I think in reality the Chinese actually control the NK arsenal do and the Chinese are not crazy. So I am not worried.
But I do worry about nuclear proliferation. I think the Chinese are wary about proliferation too. But they may let it slip out of their ability to control the situation. That is the problem. That is the dilemma.
500,000 short, underfed, poorly equipped, poorly motivated North Korean soldiers screaming out into the DMZ? Nah that don’t worry me. But a 100 pound dirty nuke going off in Manhattan courtesy of North Korea selling nuclear material to Islamists for cash is what worries me.
Come to think of it, it probably worries the Chinese too.
I think y'all are misreading the situation. We should be encouraging Korean re-unification. That (not Japan) is the goad that will get China off the dime. The last thing that China wants is a re-unified, nuclear-armed (inherited from the North) Korea.
I think this is where you go wrong: "In theory, the Chinese should be able to shut down the NK rubbish without much trouble."
China has control over NK mostly because they control the central oil pipeline into the country. They also provide a good chunk of humanitarian aid. On the surface, they're supposed to be comrade countries, but China views NK as littl more than an irritant.
1) The NK problem is the Kim Jong Il problem - it's a dictatorship and Dear Leader is the sole cause of the country's problems. He must be refomred or removed. The problem is, he has no good alternative to reform to; what else can he/NK do? He also has no wish to be removed. He has 300 concubines for God's sake; what man would want to lose that?
2) Let's say China hastens the regime's collaps shutting down oilflow. China will face pressure to rebuild NK, a task it rightly assesses as far more disagreeable than maintaining the status quo. They face enough domestic issues at home w/o this added burden. At least the current regime is "stable," by which I mean, the Western media aren't allowed in to report the true scope of the horror that the people live in (2 million dead of starvation???). Upon collapse, China would have to attempt to rebuild a country comprised mostly of illiterate,starving, mentally-backwards peasants. And weapons engineers.
3) NK is a good bargaining chip to use against us in China-Taiwan relations.
4) Different Cost/Benefit: We're worried about NK-sourced WMD's ending up here. China has no analogous worry. NK poses a much bigger threat to us as an active regime, but they present a greater burden as a collapsed regime to China.
5) NK is not nuts. Kim well understands that an attack on the US or our troops is suicide. The fear is that we won't be able to trace the weapon to NK w/ a great degree of certainty. Obviously, if Al-Quada detonated a nuke w/ a the note, "w/ love, NK," we would simply attack and destroy the regime w/ little in the way of intl. (or domestic) obstruction. But what if NK has some degree of plausibility in their claim that it wasn't them? What if it takes 6 months before we can conclude that NK is the primary suspected source? Then we're back to all the "illegal war-US deserved this-Evil America" bullshit that surrounds and hinders our Iraq effort.
6) Oh, don't forget NK's second industry, narcotics manufacture and distribution. Along w/ weapons mfg'ing these two really are their only industries.
So what to do? These questions remind me why I'm no longer a liberal: there's no easy answer. Here are my totally non-expert next steps.
1) Work w/ SK towards abandoning their "sunshine policy" bullshit. Most SK citizens are unaware of just how different their NK counterparts are.
(N. Koreans have been shut off from the world for that last 30 years, during which Kim controlled the media and educational system. A man can do a lot to shape a populace in his image in that time. If you learned that the weather was controlled by a machine run by Kim, and you'd never heard any explanations to the contrary, you'd believe it. The explanotory power of the sientific description of weather phenomena isn't intuitive. on its face. And so it goes for a myriad of other wacked out notions that N. Koreans have in their head.)
On the ground, re-unification would come at a huge cost to SK, both economically and socially. S. Koreans are mostly ignorant of this. S. Koreans naturally have a nostalgiac yearning for re-unification because they actually were one country once. But that was a time long ago, and 2 generations under Kim's control (and, for SK, 2 generations under US influence) has created a separate people. Politicians push this popular approach assured that there's little likelihood that it will happen.
2) Have a plan for what to do when the regime collapses because reform - as we would define it - is very unlikely to occur. This means we'll need to work w/ SK, China, and to a lesser extent, Japan and Taiwan. 23 million backwards peasants (remember, 2 million+ dead from starvation: 9%!) is going to be hard to assimilate. Because of our reverse incentives w/ China, we'll need to offer them a good deal of support in this area. SK also, obviously.
My thoughts have now run out... p.s., great blog.