Friday, February 11, 2005


North Korea Has The Bomb. . . Now What?

You all have heard the news by now.

My first reaction to North Korea's claim to have nuclear weapons is, "Oh yeah? Prove it." Let's see a test before we overreact. North Korea said back in 2002 they had nuclear weapons, so I don't see how this latest announcement changes all that much.

The bigger news, of course, is that North Korea won't participate in the six-party talks. This could be a ploy, a cry for attention-- or it could be North Korea's "final answer."

The question is, what now for the United States?

The greatest dilemma we face is *not* a nuclear-armed North Korea, but a North Korea that shares its nuclear arms. Unfortunately, there is zero realistic confidence that North Korea wouldn't do such a thing for the right price. They've done it before, as the recent revelations concerning the North Korean-Libyan nuclear connection show.

If I were Iran, or Syria, or any other nation not high up on Uncle Sam's love list, I'd be dialing Pyongyang with my checkbook handy. It's basic geopolitics, a no-brainer. And what's most obvious is most likely.

Good thing we got rid of Saddam before he got the jonez to go shopping, eh?

Another challenge we face is equally worrisome: North Korea is nuts.

International diplomacy requires that nations deal with North Korea with dignity and respect, but let's be honest: Kim Jong Il and the people he surrounds himself are several spices short of kimchi. About the only thing predictable about their nature is their unpredictability.

What's worse is that no one knows who is really in control over there. Recent reports have led to increased speculation that Kim's grip on the regime may be slipping, but as decades of failed Soviet Kremlinology proved, no one can be certain what's really going on in North Korea.

Not an ideal situation when combined with nuclear weapons.

While the six-party talks offered some value, the only real diplomatic lever we have over North Korea involves China. When the North's big neighbor talks, Kim and his cronies are probably likely to listen. America's challenge is that we don't have many carrots or sticks available to persuade China to help. We're not about to sell Taiwan up the river in exchange for North Korea. Aside from that, I can't fathom what we could offer the Chinese.

I'm sure there will be many "experts" out there who will boldly announce that America now has to accept the status quo, that we'll just have to face up to a nuclear North Korea, and craft a deterrence strategy that acknowledges the inevitability of Kim's nuclear arsenal.

However, the status quo is too dangerous because it's so unlikely to remain the status quo. Either North Korea trades its nuclear technology to the highest bidder, or it collapses into chaos at some indeteriminate time. Either resolution renders the United States and its allies *infinitely* less secure.

Personally, I wonder whether it doesn't make sense to confront North Korea on our terms, rather than wait for the inevitable crisis.

Given the nature of our enemy, preemptive military action is unlikely to succeed unless it is overwhelming. Too many targets, too many secrets, and if North Korea does have nuclear weapons, war would be like scraping into a hot toaster with a knife.

The only viable option I can think of is one that America has rarely been able to successfully implement: support for a coup attempt.

Given the police state dynamic, such action is unlikely to succeed. However, finding a way to cut the head off the beast may be the only way to end this without massive bloodshed.

It may be necessary to blackmail China in this regard. I would prepare a nice little diplomatic white paper for them: help us end the North Korean regime, or else America arms Japan and South Korea with their own nuclear deterrent. China wouldn't want that (realistically, neither would America), but such a threat might be the only way to convince China that *they* need to clean up their neighborhood if they want to be respected as a superpower.

Oh well. Brave new world, huh?

All I can think of today was how happy I am that these boys did so much to get us into this mess:

Gee guys, thanks. Thanks for nothing.
Hmmmmm. lets see here:
No bombs = we invade
Claim you have a bomb = we say prove it

Seems like a good strategy as long as they only prove it as a "test." I am sure we can trust KJ Il to only "test" his bomb, right? He seems like a pretty trustworthy guy.

Its such a shame Kennedy, Johnson, Carter & Clinton got us into this mess. God knows Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush & Bush are clearly perfect.

I was being somewhat sarcastic with my "test it" remark. The question is whether or not it makes any real difference whether North Korea *says* they have nuclear weapons, or whether or not they *prove* they have nuclear weapons. I was denigrating the crisis nature of this latest announcement by pointing out that, absent an actual test, we're still at the same point we were two years ago: we *think* they have nukes, but we can't be sure. And, even if they have nukes, we can't be sure they'd work, or what yield they are, or how big they are (i.e., can they be delivered by missile, or require a truck or ship, etc.). These are all key pieces of information necessary when planning what military options we have, if any.

In practice, it probably doesn't matter at the end of the day as I assume the Pentagon must be planning North Korea as a worst-case scenario; it's too risky to assume otherwise. However, personally, I'd rather have Kim actively test a weapon, as it would give our intel folks more information in characterizing the threat.

As for Clinton & Carter: 1995. We had a chance to deal with the problem then, or after then. Instead, we practiced "deterrence through ignorance." Was avoiding war then a good idea? Of course it was-- if we can resolve the situation peacefully today. But if we find ourselves in a shooting war today, we could pay the price for allowing North Korea to develop nuclear weapons when we had the chance to stop them.

That responsibility (and blame) is squarely on President Clinton's shoulders, and that of his chief negotiator at the time, Jimmy Carter. No politics involved here, just a statement of unavoidable fact.
The responsibility IS NOT squarly on the shoulders of Clinton. NK's nuke capabilities really came to fruition in the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations. Where were they? Preoccupied I assume. They could have put the kibash on everything before it came to a head.

What did Clinton do? He tried to something which is more than his predecessors can say. He at least got them to freeze (albeit temporarily) the nuke program and began dismantling their infrastructure. Diplomacy made way for antagonism when Bush II took over. W's administration clearly thought that proking them with public accusations would get them to stop. Is that a better tact than diplomacy? What happens when you antagonize a crazy man? That is basically like daring them to do it. And guess what? It happened on Bush's watch. What have we done for the past 3 and 1/2 years to keep this from happening? Rummy said in 2001 that they have enough plutonium to develop several warheads. Bush called them an axis of evil in 2002. What has all of this done to help the problem?

So Clinton f'd everything up, eh? I say Clinton was at least proactive. He at least agreed to work with NK. He didn't turn his back on them. His approach failed ultimately.....most likely due to the lack of continuity between US administrations. But you can not that an alternate approach would have certainly worked. You could say that W's approach to the problem did nothing to solve. You could say that, but you won't. Instead you will find an enemy to blame. Because its always their fault, isn't it?

Two things about the history:

1. Do you remember the Cold War? Before 1989 at least-- but more likely 1991-- North Korea was a direct client state of the Soviet Union. Reagan and Bush Sr. *had no* options to deal with North Korea at that time. Yes, you can complain that in the window of opportunity between the end of the Soviet Union and the beginning of the Clinton Administration we should have done something about North Korea, but if Bush Sr. had a flaw, we all know it was that "vision" thing. Even so, I'm sure the American public in 1992-- during an election year-- would have relished a preemptive strike against North Korea.

2. The 1995 deal was the real turning point. After that point we knew, for sure, 100%, that North Korea not only had an active nuclear weapons program, but we then knew how advanced it was. But instead of solving the problem before it became unsolvable, the Clinton Administration negotiated a plan that ultimately did one thing: kick the can down the road. Now, there can be value in delay, i.e. buying time to prepare a solution, but for five years after that the Clinton Administration did nothing more to permanently address the problem. Hell, all they sent Maddy Albright to go dance a jig with Kim Jong Il.

Would it make you happy if I also criticize Bush Jr. for his inaction upon entering office? Would it make you mad if I say that ultimately it didn't matter by then?

It's as if you're defending Brett Favre for throwing three interceptions in the 2nd Quarter and blaming Ahman Green for fumbling the ball with two minutes to go in the game, down by 21.

By the time Bush Jr. entered office then U.S. intelligence already suspected that North Korea had multiple nuclear weapons, and by October 2002 the North admitted they had a nuclear weapons program. Today, they say they actually have working weapons.

The decision point was in 1995-96, not 1992 nor 2002. We failed the test. Many of us knew then we had failed the test. This isn't second-guessing, Monday morning quarterbacking-- Clinton's deal was bad then, and is worse now.

As for you, you will find an failure to defend. Because its never their fault, is it?
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