Thursday, February 10, 2005

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What's Kim Il Sung's Kim Jong Il's game?

I'm typing this in Princeton, NJ, as I'm giving a talk here today -- so there will not be much blogging for the next 24 hours.

Talk amongst yourselves. Here's a topic for discussion -- why has North Korea decided now is the time to publicly announce that they have nuclear weapons and suspend participation in six-nation non-proliferation talks?

Is it because Kim feels he can widen the diplomatic wedge between the United States and the other members of the talks (Japan, South Korea, China, Russia) -- or is it that Kim fears his regime is tottering on the abyss and the only way he can stay in power is to gin up a new international crisis? These are not mutually exclusive reasons, of course -- but which one is the primary cause?

Be sure to check out NK Zone for more blogging on the Hermit Kingdom. Also worth reading: In Foreign Affairs, Mitchell Reiss and Robert Gallucci rebut Selig Harrison's claim that North Korea doesn't really have a uranium enrichment program (link via Josh Marshall).

UPDATE: Oh, man did that first header date me -- I meant the current leader of the DPRK, Kim Jong il -- not his father, Kim Il Sung, who died in 1994. Apologies to all for the error.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Follow-up post here. Over at NRO, S.T. Karnick offers the following speculation on Kim's motives:

If there is a calculation by which North Korea's action makes sense, the law of Occam's Razor suggests we should apply it. I believe there is such a possibility.

It is unlikely mere coincidence that North Korea made this announcement and pulled out of talks just a few days after the elections in Iraq. In fact, it seems quite plausible that the Kim regime saw the recent comments by Secretary of State Rice as a warning that the United States was going to come after North Korea, and sooner than anyone might think.

The statement by the North Korean foreign ministry said Pyongyang has "manufactured nukes for self-defense to cope with the Bush administration's undisguised policy to isolate and stifle" the nation. Thursday's New York Times reported that Pyongyang's statement "zeroed in on Dr. Rice's testimony last month in her Senate confirmation hearings, where she lumped North Korea with five other dictatorships, calling them 'outposts of tyranny.'"

It seems plausible, then, that Pyongyang came to the conclusion that the United States and a coalition of other nations was about to do something that would ultimately lead to the fall of the Kim regime and a reunification of Korea on terms determined entirely by South Korea and its powerful allies. Today's statement, then, was Pyongyang's way of forestalling such action by raising the stakes radically, in suggesting that any U.S. move to impose its will on North Korea would lead to the use, however inefficient and elementary, of nuclear weapons by Pyongyang.

I think that's a major stretch. As CNN points out today, there have been ample rhetorical opportunities as of late for the administration to target North Korea -- and they haven't used them:

In his inaugural address on January 20, U.S. President George W. Bush did not mention North Korea by name, and he only briefly mentioned the country in his February 2 State of the Union address, saying Washington was "working closely with governments in Asia to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions."

Bush's tone was in stark contrast to his State of the Union address three years before, when he branded North Korea part of an "axis of evil" with Iran and Iraq.

The new, more restrained approach raised hopes for a positive response from North Korea. Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun agreed to push for an early resumption of the six-nation talks.

No, Rice's testimony was a useful rhetorical hook for North Korea's actions, and not the cause.

In the International Herald-Tribune, there is more speculation about this being an example of internal DPRK strife:

[S]ome analysts suggested that North Korea's retreat from the peace process may simply be a reflection of political confusion in Pyongyang.

"I wonder if this is an inability to come back to the table, resulting from divisions in the North Korean leadership over reaching a deal," said Peter Beck, who heads the Seoul office of the International Crisis Group.


posted by Dan on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM


Who the heck is Kim Il Sing?

posted by: praktike on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Maybe it's because Parker & Stone have exposed his dastardly plans.

posted by: john b on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Uh, Kim Il Sung, the president of the DPRK, has actually been dead for a decade. Yes, he's still president.

Kim Jong Il is the name of the despot you're looking for. Kim Jong Il, the "Dear Leader", is the son of Kim Il Sung, the "Great Leader".

posted by: Kimon on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Given his history the answer seems fairly clear... The game he's playing is called "extortion". PRK won't come back to the tabel unless and until he's given the financial incentive to do so, or until it's made clear to him we're not paying him jack....

posted by: Bithead on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

See what happens when you rush a post? Misspellings, typing one word for another, bringing Stalinist dictators back to life. We've all done that -- well, except for the last part -- at one time or another.

Today's announcement does look like wedge-widening to me. The six power setup has North Korea in a corner, so Pyongyang is trying to break it up, or at least extract a healthy bribe as the price of negotiations. The right response is to maintain a steady course while keeping in very close touch with the other governments involved. As far as I know, the North Korean statement today is just a public acknowledgement of something we have believed happened a while ago.

I'd like to believe the London Times' account of how close to the edge the Communist government is. Maybe it's true. I just don't think it would be wise to count on it, based on what I know.

posted by: Zathras on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

If there is one thing history has taught us about the state of a given Communist regime, its that we never have any idea what the heck is going on, and our guesses are likely to be bad.

That being said, KIJ is feeling the heat, and Bush should be credited for ignoring the critics and finding a way to circle the wagons on NK instead of bilateral negotiations (buying them off).
Still, China is and always has been the key to all this. They are conflicted because its a nice pain in our butts which keeps us occupied and away from Taiwan, but the growing refugee problem as well as having a nuke armed lunatic next door is a bad situation. Our response should be to apply even further strength. We should give serious thought to cutting off food aid until NK returns to the table. Hey, its a gift not an obligation right? Keep the heat on, because there are no good solutions to this one but buckling is the least good.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Send money.

Don't forget the money.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Chess. Bush made his move recently during the Inagural and SOTU. Now, Kim Jong Il has made his. Did Iran make it's move yet? My bet? Bush wins. Both regimes will fall within the next four years. All they needed was a little push. And I'm not sure Kim's actually got the nukes either.

posted by: Kelly Hendrick on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Surely it doesn't take a neocon genius to see that George W has given every medium-sized country in the world an incentive to obtain nuclear weapons as fast as reasonably possible? Nukes are the one and only tool which will deter an invasion by W and Co. Expect a lot more announcements about 5 years down the road.

It is possible that the North Korean regime will fall in the next 4 years, but if so it won't be Bush's doing.


posted by: Cranky Observer on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

The North Korean announcement may, indeed, be an exercise in brinkmanship and concession seeking. However, it is hard for me to see how it can be intended to drive a wedge between the U.S. and the PRC and ROK. The latter have consistently downplayed the severity of the North Korean threat, argued that American intelligence claims might be exaggerated, hinted that the real problem was American intransigence, not North Korea etc. etc. Now, with an official announcement of a nuclear capacity, the ROK and the PRC are likely to find it much harder NOT to follow the more hard-line American approach to the problem.

BTW, I remain somewhat skeptical concerning the veracity of the North Korean claims. Until the DPRK actually tests a nuclear weapon, we can't be sure it actually has the technological capability to make one.

posted by: Kirk Larsen on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]


I have money on there not being a North Korea by the end of June.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Is having a nuke realy protection from the Bushies? Other than as an implement of extortion and leverage against your opponenents' allies; who would actually use one openly against the the Imperial Hegemon? It may have value as a vengence or retaliation wepon AFTER all hope is lost; but as a "first-strike" weapon, what's the point?

As a weapon of "terror", they're effective in small quantities. They really think that the Hegemon would allow anyone to remain alive after a strike on a US target of opportunity?

posted by: Ted B. on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

"Surely it doesn't take a neocon genius to see that George W has given every medium-sized country in the world an incentive to obtain nuclear weapons as fast as reasonably possible? "

And yet NK and Iran have been developing them for years, while Libya abandoned their program after Iraq. Strange... its almost like... nasty regimes do nasty things even without GW Bush provoking them. Naw, couldnt be.

"Nukes are the one and only tool which will deter an invasion by W and Co. Expect a lot more announcements about 5 years down the road."

Wanna bet? Name some countries, lets see which way the winds been blowing lately.

"It is possible that the North Korean regime will fall in the next 4 years, but if so it won't be Bush's doing."

Of course not! Bush wont get credit for anything, ever, from his haters. Just as Reagan still doesnt. Ah coincidence. Just accounts for everything when you dont want to face reality.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Culturally speaking, this is very typical of eastern governments. Wait, delay, and yawn. The more they can postpone, the more time they have to make their own moves (especially since the other five powers are keen on talks).

The same goes for Iran. Giving them financial concessions will only help them, and while you're talking it out nicely, they're getting ready to arm a nuclear warhead.

posted by: Robert Mayer on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Sunf? Are you playing with us now? Or did you fly to Princeton via Beijing and are on like zero sleep in 70 hours?

posted by: Contributor A on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

I'm sure there's a way to blame John Kerry for this.

posted by: praktike on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

His swift boat was probably running plutonium to them in the 60s.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Also, Robert -- isn't it sort of intellectually out of fashion to refer to "eastern governments"? I don't mean non-PC. I mean just kind of intellectually sloppy to assume that everyone between about Sofia and Hokkaido thinks the same way?

Shorthand can be useful, but that kind of compression is a bit much for me.

posted by: Contributor A on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

It looks like the Great Leader has picked up the message from GWBush -- develop nuclear weapons or you will be attacked.

posted by: Judd on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Or is it because Kim's really doesn't know what he's doing ... but ... aw shucks, he's all moved in and everything ...

posted by: Dave Tufte on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

His game is simple and has already been played by Ghadaffy. Security is not an issue since China would never allow the US to invade NK and the nukes themselves are not an issue since China has probably already warned Kim there would be dire consequences if he rocked the boat.

So all that leaves is for Kim to ratchet up the tension, getting the right whingers all riled up about the threat he poses and then accede to Bush's demands in exchange for normalized relations like he did for Ghadaffy. Bush will be forced to concede to this lest lil Kim reopen the nuke factory and make him look like he's the one who is endangering the American public by not working the problem out diplomatically.

Bush has painted himself into a corner with his obsession with de-WMDifying the world and every tinpot dictator knows it and is prepared to use that for their own benefit.

posted by: Robert McClelland on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]


Are you crazy? Have you listened to the statements by State? It doesn't look like anybody is getting riled up. And why would DPRK want normalized relations? That doesn't seem to be their game...

posted by: Al Robinson on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

It's simple. Rice. Rice already lost Europe on ending the arms embargo to China. Slipping the announcement in at this moment is a way for the NK regime to advance formal recognition of their nuclear status without militarily escalating the situ. She's green. She has no cred. She's equipped for bureacratic rough and tumble in backoffice politics, not world diplomacy and international deals. And she's just been shaken down.

It was an opportune time for the NK regime to score a technical point in the game to advance thems to complete security against the United States militarily or economically. Their end game is to force the US to accept them as a nuclear power and to economically develop. The problem was that the former progress impeded the later.

So they took the opportunity to press the advantage to gain one more step in that formal recognition of nuclear weaponization, while at a moment that would have been awkward for the US to regress on economic development fronts.

posted by: oldman on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

The DPRK has been asking for formal recognition from the US and a peace treaty for years, at least as far back as the 94 agreed framework with Clinton.

posted by: DC Loser on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Let's not overestimate Beijing's willingness to ty to bully the U.S. on this issue. Ask yourself if Dear Leader is worth the imposition of crippling trade sanctions to the Chinese.

We don't throw that bargaining chip around lightly, but it's always there as a (next-to-the) last resort.

posted by: spongeworthy on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Maybe North Korea's goal is endless negotiations to forestall direction action against it. The US, South Korea, et al, have been perfectly willing to trade real things like food and fuel oil for empty North Korean talk and false promises. Why should North Korea ever abandon that pattern? Perhaps when talks begin leading to tangible results, the North Koreans turn it all over and start over again to keep everything in limbo.

Just because we would like to stabilize the situation doesn't mean Kim Jung Il wants the same. He's just trying to push back the date he ends up like Nicolae Ceacescu.


posted by: Tantor on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

I agree with those who say Iran's Mullahs are done ducks. Although I'm obviously not taking Seymour Hersh's word for just because I want to believe it, I think that generally the Bush administration has these guys figured out.
But I am less sure about NK - it is less directly involved in global terror than Iran (imho, anyway), so lower on their priorities, I think. Then it is also generally the least understandable place on earth!

As for nukes, when they have one we'll know about it because they'll tell us - by testing it (and probably killing their test team in the process:)!)

I tend to believe the Times story, and I would disagree with Mark Beuhner, the first lesson is that these regimes are always a lot closer to collapse than they look.

It is definitely a good race between them and Iran!

posted by: Patrick on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Yesterday, GLENN wrote:

"NORTH KOREA SAYS IT HAS NUKES. Bill Quick blames Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. I guess they deserve some of the blame, but honestly there hasn't been all that much we could do about North Korea, short of nuking them, anyway. The Clinton-Carter deal didn't help, but I don't think it really did a lot of harm, either."

I disagree with Glenn: failing to be ineffective is NOT benign; it is incompetence or malfeasance. Carter and Clinton and Albright and Perry and Cohen and Berger were as effective in dealing with North Korea as they were with Saddam and Al Qaeda and Somalia and the Sudan and Rwanda. And with Arafat! WHICH IS TO SAY THAT THEY WERE UTTER, TOTAL AND COMPLETE FAILURES. Failures whose net effect on our national security and foreign policy was BAD.

ALSO YESTERDAY: The BELMONT CLUB has an interesting short post on this. It reminded me of a BASIC TRUTH: any tyrant willing to kill his own people (and put them in concentration camps and starve them and abuse them of all their inalienable rights) WILL OF COURSE LIE; therefore, these kinds of tyrants are essentially UNTRUSTWORTHY.

That's why TREATIES with tryants like Kim are worth NOTHING. Only Leftwing boobs like Carter and Clinton think they mean something.

China is the tactical answer to the current problem; (they need to foment regime change or invade). To get them to do that, we need to ramp up the pressure on them. I think we can do that by encouraging north Koreans to start major domestic upheavals and mass demonstrations, and by attempting massive illegal immigration to China. This would turn the heat up on the Chinese and on Kim - without directly involving us or the south Koreans or Japan; therefore it gives the north Koreans no pretext for an attack.

KIM wants US aid and US promise we won't attack THEM, and that we recognize their independence from south Korea.

WE MUSTN'T GIVE INTO BLACKMAIL; it will only encourage more from all quarters.

posted by: reliapundit on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

The last crisis came during the run up on Iraq. This one comes at the very beginning of the run up on Iran.

Guess that "axis of evil" comment wasn't just clever rhetoric.

posted by: Iblis on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

I think you guys are all making a mistake by supposing rationality in a case where there is no evidence to support it. The gentleman in question is quite obviously mad. We suppose that we can predict behavior based upon what we know of ourselves and the other rational people around us. This just isn't the case here.

To sum up: The guys is bonkers. Who knows what he is up to.

posted by: Scott on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

I think you guys are all making a mistake by supposing rationality in a case where there is no evidence to support it. The gentleman in question is quite obviously mad. We suppose that we can predict behavior based upon what we know of ourselves and the other rational people around us. This just isn't the case here.

To sum up: The guys is bonkers. Who knows what he is up to.

Suspended Reality

posted by: Scott on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

oops, sorry for the double post

posted by: Scott on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Yeah, Kim is trying to steal a march as Bush's second Administration is getting its sea legs going. The problem for Kim is that he doesn't succeed unless he is able to cajole us into two-party talks that freeze out the South Koreans and the Chinese. Bush and Rice are foursquare against such a move, as it would simply legitimize Kim's nuclear arsenal (such as it is-what it probably is is a couple of 15K warheads that can't be loaded on anything deliverable).

The strategic situation hasn't changed. Time is not on Kim's side. If we stay where we are, or tighten the screws a bit, we win. He's embarrassed the Chinese, that's for sure.

posted by: Section9 on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Ditto Scott. For good reason, we don't trust Kim. However, Kim also doesn't trust us. Paranoia is a prerequisite to becoming a totalitarian dictator. We can give him all kinds of economic goodies and security guarantees, but I doubt we can convince him that it's not all some nefarious plot. Therefore, at most, he'll pretend to give his nuclear weapons program.

posted by: Dave Milovich on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

I agree that the key is China. Aside from speculating about the DPRK, we could also speculate about China--how much do they know about DPRK's capabilities--I bet they knew more than we did.

It's time to push the Chinese, and HARD. I agree economic sanctions won't work, but there are several other pressure points that would get the Chinese's attention.

Basically, all we have to say to the Chinese is, "There is no worse regime to have nukes in Asia. Therefore, if you don't stop the North Koreans, we see no reason why Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan shouldn't have them either."

I read a report report that Dick Cheney said this to the Chinese when he went there. Now it's time to say it in public.

The pro-stasis foreign policy establishment would be horrified by this rhetorical brinksmanship; they instead will urge that we place Japan, and the ROK under our "nuclear umbrella". Except that they already are. Note they don't include Taiwan, though that's the one most likely to persuade the Chinese that we're not screwing around here.

Seriously. I can't imagine a worse country getting nukes than DPRK. There isn't a more crazy leader in the whole world, and we ALREADY KNOW they will proliferate those weapons to anyone with a large enough checkbook, because they ALREADY HAVE. My proposal isn't "brinksmanship", it's a statement of fact: truly, if DPRK have nukes, everyone else in the region may as well have them too.

posted by: Jeff Bennion on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Past experience suggests it's an extortion attempt to get more food & money to prop up the teetering hermit kingdom.

Either that, or he interpreted Bush's inauguration comment that the U.S. isn't a chosen nation to mean (1) Bush is losing confidence, and now is a great time to push back; or (2) Bush is saying to the Norks, "God may love his North Korean children, but it's a matter of free will as to whether I kick your ass or not, so I'm not waiting for God's phone call on this one..."

posted by: Al Maviva on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

We agree on Kim's madness. I propose some rational options for Americans to take NOW as follows:

1) Move all American troops off of the DMZ and TOTALLY OUT of "tripwire" status.

2) Move some of them 100 miles or more south of Seoul and move from 1/2 to 2/3 of our troops out of South Korea entirely. (Maybe keep 10,000 to 12,000 or so).

3) Let the South Koreans pay for all of their own defense.

4) Immediately work to remove all US and international loans, credits, grants, if any, from North Korea.

5) Pressure China to orchestrate Kim's internal removal from the scene.

5) If China cooperates in removing Kim, wonderful! If they do not, we can remind China that their access to US markets can be removed if we choose. That would result in them stomping on the Korean madman because of their own self-interest.

posted by: leaddog2 on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

No, the Great Hairdo doesn't have nuclear weapons. He said has some of that "new, clear" hairspray in from Seoul, and he wants Condi to come show him how she keeps her hair looking so FABulous.

posted by: -Ed. on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

The first few posters had it right. Norh Korea is an economic basket case. They can't open up and supply cheap labor because the regime will collapse if exposed to light and air, they can't feed themselves, they have nowhere to borrow because they have stiffed everybody.

The only option left is extortion. Please give us oil, food, and money to stop us from producing and selling nukes.But just as with Arafat, the Bush administration has refused to deal. NoKo is on the verge of collapse. Normalization now is the absolutely worst course.

posted by: pilsener on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Nukes are the one and only tool which will deter an invasion by W and Co. Expect a lot more announcements about 5 years down the road.

So, lemme get this straight - countries will be deterring an invasion by the Chimpler by announcing they have nukes after he leaves office?

posted by: R C Dean on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

How are we materially worse off than we were last week? How has NK gained any advantage (unless we wobble and pay them off)? Theyve walked away from the table, but they werent negotiating in good faith anyway. Whats the difference? This is a mistake, diplomatically it makes it easier or the US to prod the international community, because hey, its KIJ that isnt playing nice this time. I tend towards Leaddogs solutions, use this time to tighten down the pressure, and the simplest way is cutting off food shipments and bucking up the allies (and China).

posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

I say it is no coincidence that Iran and North Korea are making nuclear noises at the same time. It is almost as if they were working in concert to do bad things - like an Axis of Evil or something.

They are trying to take heat off of Syria.

posted by: blaster on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Time is on our side. Unfortunately, a lot more people are going to starve in the interim.
China has the problem. As starvation grows worse, more NKs will try and escape and they also face the problem noted above of allies getting nukes as a result of the nut's nuke statements. They have to decide how to enact regime change, not us. In fact, what they should do is enable a overthrow (one where they can predict the outcome). If they let things continue to fester and a change occurs without their "guidance" they run the risk of losing a communist ally, no?

We should wait this out.

posted by: jag on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

(For those unfamiliar with the acronyms, the PRC is the Peoples'
Republic of China, the Chinese communists; the DPRK is the Democratic
Peoples' Republic of Korea, or North Korea; and the ROK is the
Republic of Korea, or South Korea.)

It seems to me that what we're doing is giving the PRC a little time
to ponder the situation and react... If the DPRK officially is
acknowleged as a nuclear state, Japan (as the country the DPRK tends
to shoot missiles over, and the most hated country in easy reach)
could go nuclear as soon as they have the political will to do so,
which if this is taken seriously could be very soon. The PRC would
not be happy with a nuclear Japan. If Japan goes nuclear, the ROK and
Taiwan would most likely do it as well, as fast as they could. Any
one of these would be bad for the PRC (the ROK being least
troublesome) but all would mean that the PRC's dream of Asian hegemony
would never come to pass, because a nuclear Taiwan, Japan and ROK will
never be compliant to PRC demands, even if they somehow manage to get
the US to leave the region. If you are sitting in Beijing looking at
this, the DPRK threatening to get nuclear weapons gives you diplomatic
power because many countries around the world believe you have at
least some influence in Pyongyang, so they will give you concessions
for your assistance with the DPRK (although I believe the idea of PRC
influence on basic policy matters as opposed to tactical political
maneuvering is basically nil; regime survival trumps all other
considerations in Pyongyang). A DPRK with nuclear weapons becomes a
problem that could blow your entire long-term strategy out of the
water, and remove your influence; after all, if they have the weapons
you are no longer in a "power" position to help prevent it. I think
our reaction so far, to sit back and wait, is the right thing to do.
The way to solve this (if there is one) is to make the countries in
the region get off their asses and finally deal with the cancerous
hole in their midst. This will only happen when the DPRK becomes a
bigger threat to their own (I particularly mean the PRC here)
interests than we are, and right now they are positioning themselves
right into that precarious position. We'll have to see how this plays
out. Personally, I won't believe they have a weapon until they do a
test. Saddam was bluffing in an attempt to ensure regime survival by
appearing too difficult to attack (the hunkered down porcupine
strategy). We went and got him anyway, but he never claimed to have a
nuke; right now the DPRK is trying to up that ante, and Iran is
half-assing at the same strategy.

That's my two cents.

posted by: Cletus on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

The Chinese are the ones on the hotseat in this situation, not the US. They are caught between two very unappealing scenarios---1)NK collapses in a heap and is occupied by SK troops with US assistance; or 2)Nk fights and is decimated by the SK modern army with US assistance, while China tries to decide what to do.

If China intervenes, their outmoded equipment would suffer a fate similar to an Arab army against the US or Isreal. If they stand by helpless, their impotence is on display for all to see. Neither choice is appetizing.

My prediction: Sometime soon, Kim will be overcome with the "communist flu", if he hasn't caught it already, and the NK's will appeal to their Chinese allies for assistance. Behind the scenes, the US and China will have agreed that China can ocupy NK for a certain period, then there will be a referendum on reunification, and both the US and China will withdraw all forces.

Everybody looks good, there is a peaceful resolution, and China maintains its essential economic relations with the US. It gains a neutral, very powerful economic partner in the reunified Korea, which will need enormous amounts of raw materials for rebuiling the north.

The choices are very clear, and the win-win is infinitely preferable to the lose-lose.

posted by: veryretired on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

He's ronery.

I don't think it's any too tough to figure out. Rallying against the external enemy with a show of force is good internal politics, which so far as any of us can see into that black box, they seem to need. Blackmail of the outside world seems to be one of their main sources of revenue, so if they could in the process get some money from outside, that would help keep the supporters in line. And since Bush won't play with them like Clinton would, they have to raise the stakes in order to get bought off like in the old days. Nothing very mysterious, I think.

posted by: Mike G on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

1. Taiwan Nukes - not going to happen. This is one of the "red lines" the PRC has publicly announced for its invasion of Taiwan. If any inkling of this going down gets near Beijing, my money will be that either Uncle Sam will get Taiwan to shut down that program or failing that, China will get its invasion under way in a matter of weeks or months.

2. I agree Beijing don't want this trouble right now. They have a very profitable relationship with the ROKs and the North keeps tweaking them over this and trying to come between the two. As for the PLA being an obsolete army, all I have to say is that you have to keep very close attention to its modernization plans, especially in its Navy and missile forces. It's not the PLA that existed five years ago.

posted by: DC Loser on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

The game he is playing is 'dead man walking'. Of the six nations 'discussing' matters, who would oppose the assasination of Kim? The only matter to be decided is reconstruction, reunification, and the roles that China and S. Korea get to play. The Chinese already have the apparatus(a person in place) to end him.
The discussion going on right now isn't about how to deal with Kim, it's about dealing with a dirt poor country when he's dead.

posted by: mark on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Veryretired, interesting scenarios, I agree that is a likely outcome. But then we come back to the nuclear problem. Is it in our interest to see DPRK crumble if the risks of its nukes disapearing is real?
I've been trying to spur this meme, because i think its critically important to consider: Once a regime gains nuclear weapons, does it's overthrow become intolerably dangerous to us? Do we really want to see NK collapse into a pile of dust? This is the same reason we need to prevent the Mullahs from gaining nukes, only moreso. A successful democratic revolution against Islamo-fascist theocrats has a huge danger of seeing nuclear weapons passed into the wrong hands in the chaos. So how do we deal with that?

posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Let's think post-DPRK scenario for a moment. Suppose the ROK takes over the entire kit and kaboodle, what do you suppose will become of the DPRK's weapons programs? My money will be that they won't end but will get sponsorship from the ROK military. The South Koreans are every bit as chauvinistic as the North and live in a tough neighborhood. With the old enemy gone in the North, they'll need the missiles and nukes to deal with the Japanese and the Chinese. Issues like Japanese colonial history and Korean territorial claims on China (Mt. Paektu for starters) will ensure that the South keeps its options open.

posted by: DC Loser on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

I think all the agreement on Kim's madness is irrelevant since the fact that he may be mad does not make him stupid or any less dangerous.

Putting pressure on China is the only possible solution as The Chineese are the only ones which have some degree of control on NK due to their position as only providers of aid. Removing troops from the DMZ to reduce their vulnerability should be done at the same time or earlier. Then weight for the NK regime to implode.

posted by: luc on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]


Report: N. Korea Demands Talks With U.S.

"North Korea (news - web sites) has demanded bilateral talks with the United States to defuse the tension created by its announcement that it is a nuclear power, the communist state's U.N. envoy said in a South Korean newspaper Friday"

This is not a sign of strength. We should ignore them and demand a return to six nation talks.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Interesting stuff from Marmot:

posted by: DCLoser on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Can someone please explain why NK is so insistant on bilateral talks with the US? And why the US is so resistant to them? I would think that the opposite should be the case...

posted by: jprime on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

KJI's game, as previously stated by others, is to buy time to survive by throwing a monkey wrench into the "negotiations" and prolonging debate.

The Chinese hold all the cards, and could cause a collapse in the DPRK simply by halting the flow of oil to that country. But the Chinese don't want to adopt 20 million starving and deranged orphans (and they have all the slave laborers they need right now anyway) so they'll allow the charade to continue until it no longer suits their interests to do so.

posted by: capt mike on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Had to respond to DC Loser...

South Korea doesn't need North Korea's technologically inferior nuclear weapons program. If you think South Korea doesn't already have nuclear weapons, you're dreaming. Same goes for Japan, IMHO.

Or if you will, supposing that Roh and Koizumi respectively give the order to put a few nuclear warheads together to the advanced industrial infrastructure of S. Korea and Japan. How long before they have a few mounted on weapon systems? It won't be years. I doubt it would be months.

My personal hypothesis on NK nukes is a little different. I believe NK knew the uranium report was coming out, and was very very concerned about the reaction from the regional powers: S. Korea, Japan, China, and Russia. Americans naturally believe that NK really hates the US; this is not the case. NK really hates JAPAN. NK also understands that the Chinese really frankly couldn't give a flying f*#@ about NK. Issues like human rights, starvation, etc. just aren't at the same level of concern with the Chinese as they are with the U.S. Furthermore, S. Korea, while it continues its slide towards a decadent capitalist fun-land filled with spineless youth chanting "Yankee Go Home", is still nonetheless controlled largely by the older generation who are about as anti-communist and specifically anti-NK as one could be. I do not doubt for a moment that the SK military establishment would like nothing more than to march north right now and kick the living hell out of NK. Those are some tough hombres there, well-trained, and armed with modern weapons.

In this context, NK's demands for a direct one-to-one talks with the U.S. seems to me like a come-hither signal. If the U.S. promises protection and aid to the Kim regime, then it can probably survive long-term without too much worry about its far more hostile neighbors. U.S. would become NK's ambassador, effectively, to the rest of the regional powers.

I sincerely believe that Kim Jong-Il would love to have the relationship with the U.S. that Park Chung-hee (the S. Korean military dictator) had during the 70's. But since he can't be seen as going begging with bowl in hand, (that would lead to a lynching by his military leadership) he's trying the "hard to get" approach, but praying desperately that Big Brother Bush come bail him out of trouble.


posted by: The Sophist on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

The US resists bilateral talks because it freezes China out of the deal. China is the only one that can apply pressure to NK, so what has happened in the past is that the NK will make outrageous 'take it or leave it' demands and the US is left with the choice of either walking away, or going to the Chinese to pressure them. The Chinese then say that we have misunderstood NK and should go back and talk more, its a vicious cycle that went on for most of the 90s. When everyone is at the same table that game doesnt work, China cant pretend it doesnt know whats going on.

NK wants bilateral talks for the same reason, and also because they assume they can weasel concessions out of the US without doing anything in return. This happened a lot in the past, we would give up things just to keep the talks going. That trick doesnt work at multilateral talks because if NK is belligerent and walks away everyone knows who killed the talks. In bilateral talks each side blames the other and you can pick your bad guys.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

China is the key and has always been the key. China would either assist NK if NK were invaded or would simply allow the invasion to proceed which is what makes them the key and why this is unchanged since the first Korean war.

Believing that Nork Nukes prevented an invasion seems like wishful thinking to me; if Il were 5 years away from Nukes we still would not have invaded over the past 5 years because of China (and Chinese Nukes) and the terrible effect the Nork attack on SK would have.

posted by: h0mi on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Section 9 -

"Yeah, Kim is trying to steal a march as Bush's second Administration is getting its sea legs going. "

Which would show that Kim is at least as clueless about Bush as is our domestic political opposition. The strategy to force the collapse of North Korea has been running for three years now. Taking a break for a little dining and dancing hasn't changed that.

Frankly, I'm a little surprised that Bush didn't say "Test one if you have it."

China is in a really crappy corner here. North Korea serves as a buffer between their (China's) least economically vibrant eastern province and the powerhouse of the R.O.K. The Norks have been an avenue for illegal proliferation of Chinese technology and useful surrogates when highrisk espionage/terror work has needed to be done.

And yes, Kim is a whackjob of the very first order.

I don't know if he'll be gone by June; if there is a disastrously wet spring that destroys a major sector of what remains of their agriculture production that may do the trick.

I believe China has to be contemplating supporting some sort of palace coup that removes Kim but allows the continued existence of the buffer. There are more troops north of the Yalu than opposite Taiwan.

I'm waiting for Japan to begin shutting down the expat North Korean communities drug and currency smuggling. It may already be happening but hasn't hit the news yet. I know they've been actually inspecting the scheduled ferry between Japan and North Korea (the name escapes me right now) for the last year or so.

posted by: TmjUtah on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Gradual escalation of official rhetoric that K-J wants to use to get more out of the west, just like all the times before. Of course, his rhetoric just keeps getting stronger as NK continues to deteriorate into the Hardees of nation-states. Minus the monster burgers, fries and anything not made out of grass or people. So basically a Hardees where you can only order chili-dogs. Yeah.

posted by: Eric on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Just throwing out an idea here:

What if the end result is agreement to let China annex North Korea?

The South Koreans wouldn't like it, but it removes Kim from power, will probably improve the lot of the people in NK somewhat, and effectively end the formal state of war-in-truce that still exists on the peninsula.

Getting the North out from under Beijing would be a project for another day; nothing seems to happen quickly in that part of the world.

But a positive increment would be something worthwhile.

Thoughts, critiques, flames?

posted by: McGehee on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Only surmise, but...

IF one anticipated a significant purge, ala Stalin, one might wish to deter any moves by others against you in an apparently weakened state by declaring possession of nukes.

Also, it might not be Kim who survives any such purge. There have been unprecedented examples of his weakness recently. It may not be he who is calling the shots anymore.

posted by: Thomas Hazlewood on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]


Not annex. Rather the Norks will receive fraternal humanitarian assistance from several hundred thousand Chinese humanitarian aid volunteers.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Cranky says: "Surely it doesn't take a neocon genius to see that George W has given every medium-sized country in the world an incentive to obtain nuclear weapons as fast as reasonably possible? "

This is an incredibly strange idea.

EVERY medium-sized country? Do you truly not understand the difference between Iraq and most other countries on the planet? Nothing strikes you as different between Iraq and, say, Poland or Thailand?

Have you been listening at all for the last four years?!

posted by: Bostonian on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

NK exists only because the Chinese have protected it. There is no doubt that they have people at the highest levels of the NK government who could take over whenever they deem it necessary.

China is not the revolutionary idealogue of the Mao era. The leadership has seen the enormous benefits in wealth and popular support that modernizing and opening to the world's economic system can bring. They aren't going to casually throw that away. These are survivors of the terrible times when millions starved, or were banished arbitrarily to the countryside.

The Chinese know very well how important it is to control any existing nukes that NK may have developed. The US and China are talking about these very things all the time, public declarations notwithstanding.

Opening to the US led world trade system has started to bring enormous benefits to the Chinese people, and the state. Their military improvement program is being financed by the "new" economy, as well as the multitude of other needs to modernize.

Of course, the leadership is wary of contamination, and thinks they can control it. They are wrong. That battle is already over, and slowly but surely they will have to move into the modern world, even if it means all that scary satellite TV and internet access.

This is not a pollyanna view of the situation. There will be any number of problems and disputes. But the enmity between China and the US is an aberration of the Mao era. They are, like the Russians, Indians, and others, natural allies of a US which doesn't threaten them militarily, and offers enormous economic benefits simply for being peaceful trading partners.

Ideology distorts natural relations. The current situation is the working out of decades of needless hostility brought about by a poisonous ideology which has now been thoroughly discredited.

The Chinese are an ancient and very careful people who know a good deal when they have one handed to them. They are not going to throw away a chance to join the rest of the developed world in the hi-tech 21st century.

posted by: veryretired on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

My understanding is that if NK has a series of bilateral talks with each country, it's easier for NK to get what it wants.

In contrast, if everyone is included in the talks at the same time, NK will get less wiggle room.

posted by: Bostonian on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Keep in mind that these are words, not actions. These words are similar to Andropov's saber-, er, missile-rattling back in '81-82 in the face of Reagan's "trashbin of history" rhetoric.

For a totalitarian regime, a rhetorical challenge is especially threatening because it undermines the logic on which all their strategic moves are based, ie the "correlation of forces." By making the challenge a moral one rather than mere great-power skirmishing, Reagan and GWB deprive the totalitarian adversary the chance to respond in kind without substantively changing the military equation. What can Kim do in the face of W's propaganda onsluaght? Assert the bankruptcy of US capitalism? Talk about hunger in America?

The only gesture he knows how to make-- perhaps the only gesture he can make, really-- is to say "Boo."

posted by: thibaud on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

The very infrastructure and technology that North Korea lacked, in spite of ongoing efforts to share with others, the Clinton(D) administration provided, at American taxpayer expense, to the North Koreans for a ‘promise’.

A promise.

A promise from a Stalinist dictatorship that imprisons millions in Auschwitz style camps, starves their own nation, smuggles drugs because of desperation for currency, is waging a cyber-war to secure technology, and is developing missile delivery systems for the nuclear weapons that nobody believes they ever really intended to stop developing.

That’s how stupid the Clinton(D)/Carter(D) plan was, and how condescendingly partisan the defenders of that plan are, to blame those that were honest enough to admit that helping the North Koreans develop nuclear weapons was not going to prevent the North Koreans from developing nuclear weapons!

I got links...

posted by: DANEgerus on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

I don't see what's so mystifying about this. It's blackmail. He's out of cash. The North Koreans have never been self-sufficient. Before we supported their inept government, the Soviet Union did. All this clown wants is the money to keep him in socks until he runs out again. Whenever the US pays him off, all we're doing is playing 'kick the can' and guaranteeing his poor countrymen years more of misery and despair. Read my post.


1) Kim's not going to be dropping any bombs soon. China won't let him. That's not the point, anyway. If he did, everyone in the neighborhood would come down on him like a ton of bricks. All he wants is cash.

2) Given the timing, I'd say he's trying to scare the American public while he thinks he still has some leverage with those who are easily scared. After the Iraqi election, people are starting to wise up. They actually can get rid of despots like him.

3) Sure, we wait. Cut off his air supply util he's gone. And watch: his demands will become even more demented as he gets more desperate. It's a game.

4) Who cares if China annexes them? With the citizens reduced to eating grass and cannibalism, it would be a blessing. Besides, China can do anything they want with North Korea right now, but they're playing their own game. It's to their advantage for the North to try sucking the US dry instead of hitting China up for funds, isn't it?

posted by: moge on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

I feel so, so bad for the people of NK. When the regime crumbles (and it will), we will hear the most heartbreaking stories coming out of that country.

posted by: Bostonian on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

"Rather the Norks will receive fraternal humanitarian assistance from several hundred thousand Chinese humanitarian aid volunteers."

Ah, yes. I trust my use of counterrevolutionary jargon will be overlooked this one time. ;-)

posted by: McGehee on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

China won't annex N. Korea. China will deal N. Korea to the U.S./South Korea/Japan in exchange for Taiwan.

Honestly, if China conditions its shutting down N. Korean nuclear program (and the Kim regime) on our freezing out Taiwan... that would be a tough game indeed.


posted by: The Sophist on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Thats been the game China has been trying to play all along, but we're holding the high cards in that equation. China cant ignore NK because of the refugee situation, and the danger of NK collapsing and joining the South. Taiwan isnt going to do any such thing, so the status quo works in the US favor and we dont have to worry about it much.
China wont annex NK for the simple reason that such a move would cause all the headaches they are trying to rid themselves of. Why would they want an economic basket case on their hands, not to mention the possible resistance the Koreans would put up? Its analagous to the US annexing Mexico to cure our immigration woes. Suddenly instead of 1 million mouths to feed you have 50 million.
The more likely solution for China is malign neglect. Slowly watching NK choke until a more hospitable regime takes control, hopefully still unfriendly to the West. Thats the end we should convince China we are striving for, not an Americanized NK.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

I don't think the US is the actual target of Kim's announcement. I think its actually targeted at the PRC.

I think the internals of the DPRK regime are a mess, and this is an effort to keep PRC at arms length by apparant sabre rattling against the US to draw the world community's attention to the region.

The fact that they would "admit" to having nucs (of course, SH thought he had WMD also) suggests they are so desparate to ensure public attention is focussed on them leads me to believe PRC was on the move against Kim.

posted by: delta dave on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Mark is correct that we do hold all the high cards in the China-NK-Taiwan game... except for one not-so-small thing.

Mass refugee/total societal collapse isn't likely to be a big deal to Beijing for the simple reason that the swarms of humanity are likely to stream south, not north, out of North Korea. The only reason why this isn't happening now is because the DMZ is the most heavily fortified strip of land in the world. Once the NK regime collapses, this will cease to be the barrier that it is today.

South Koreans are not likely to shoot women, children, and the elderly refugees who try to cross the DMZ post-collapse. That goes against our (I'm a Korean-American) character, everything we've been taught since birth -- that we are one people, although the Kim regime is evil. Remove the regime, and the Korean people are one.

This also argues against annexation by China; as a nation with thousands of years of history as a vassal state to the Chinese empire, that touches a very ancient nerve in Koreans.

No... the most likely outcome in the longrun (assuming no nuclear exchange) is that S. Korea will absorb N. Korea as West Germany absorbed East Germany. Because of the economic costs of such absorption, Japan, China, and the U.S. have to step up bigtime in such an event. What's China's stake in THAT game? Why would they be so generous?

I suspect they would demand Taiwan as the price of supporting such a strategy that ultimately benefits Japan and U.S. interests.


posted by: The Sophist on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

"I suspect they would demand Taiwan as the price of supporting such a strategy that ultimately benefits Japan and U.S. interests."

Perhaps, but there is no question in my mind that the price for Taiwan will be democratic reform in mainland China, which has been the unspoken American policy for some time. China becomes increasingly weak as this scenario plays out. Assuming NK is absorbed by the South, Chinese aid will be a minor factor compared to what the West will be expected to contribute. Honestly SK probably has more to contribute at the moment than China could muster in anything besides raw troops. A unified Korea in the short term would be neutral or positive to Chinese interests (as Western resources focused on NK), but in the long term it would be another major strategic blow to Chinese ambitions in Asia. Eventually a crossroads will come where China can join the democratic, westernized world and unify with Taiwan, or they will be forced to seek an aggressive solution as prosperous democratic nations increasingly hem them in, and Taiwan remains independent. Or job is to make that decision a no brainer, by slowly bringing China to the realization that there is only one good answer to that equation.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

In the middle of a negotiation where you aren't getting what you want, one common tactic is to, figuratively, poke the other side in the eye. It can be a high risk gambit that results in disconnection of the discussion, but it can also re-energize stalled discussions.

So, what does Kim want? Bilateral talks with the US wherein he feels confident that he can get himself another deal like 1994 - which might include an influx of cash or equivalents.

I say we wait the bastard out - in a polite and engaging sort of way, of course - and allow him to isolate and undermine himself further.

posted by: too many steves on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Contributor A: While it might be "intellectually out of fashion" to do so (And I'm honestly not concerned), just because the Soviet Union went down, doesn't mean thousands of years of history have. Countries like Japan, China, and Korea are simply known for the waiting game, to buy as much time as possible. This is a cultural attribute of their respective cultures that can't be forgone when figuring out how to put North Korea in its place (the ashheap of history, hopefully).

Al Robinson: I'm not sure if you're speaking to me or not. Your questions don't really make sense if they are.

posted by: Robert Mayer on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

It is ridiculous to blame this on the actions that have been taken against Iraq and Afghanistan. NK has, BY THEIR OWN ADMISSION, been developing these for over a decade.

posted by: Mike on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

I thought it interesting that the first major move after the DPRK's announcement was that Japan started talking about sanctions. I wonder if, however rhetorically useful it might be to talk about the US, Kim's real target wasn't the US but Japan: the Japanese have been getting cranky lately about NK failure to cooperate on the abducted-persons issues. Maybe Kim is hoping the other nations (ROK, for example) will put pressure on Koizumi to back off a bit.

Of course, the counterargument to this scenario is that it assumes massively faulty logic on Kim's part: Koizumi loves being justified on talking tough. The Japanese may not love his going to the Yasukuni shrine or sending SDF forces to Iraq, but they love when he gets bitchy to DPRK.

posted by: Jessica on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Now this is interesting, NKs latest:

"No, we do not ask for bilateral talks," Han replied. "The formality of the dialogue is not essential one. The essential one is the U.S. policy — whether it try to attack us or not. That is the problem, but not the bilateral or multilateral one. We do not care about the formality."
"The North Korean diplomat was also very pessimistic when asked whether his government would engage in talks if the United States showed a more positive attitude.
"We do not expect any further positive measures from the U.S. side," Han told APTN. "We have seen already, fully, and we made already decision."

There are little alarm bells going off in my head right now. Little ones. Things are happening quickly, which in diplomacy means somebody has made a decision. What decision? To cut off diplomacy? Maybe, but footdragging would then be NKs friend. There is a certain logic at work here that is sending chills up my spine, and its the ancient military truism that when you cant stay where you are and you cant retreat, your only option is to attack.
If NK has developed nukes, or decided they cant but wish to bluff, a good little Zhivago would strike _now_, by withdrawing from negotiation, faking an American first strike, and lashing out hoping that their nuke threat against SK and Japan will shield them from a full reprisal. Strike while America is preoccupied, grab a quick advantage, call for a cease fire using the nuclear deterant, and negotiate from a position of strength.
Paranoid? Sure. But even paranoids have enemies.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Can someone please explain why NK is so insistant on bilateral talks with the US? And why the US is so resistant to them? I would think that the opposite should be the case...

Short version: In US/NK negotiations, NK is the US's problem, and it is in the best interest of China to prolong the crisis, not resolve it.

In US/SK/Japan/Russa/China/NK negotiations, NK is everyone's problem, and prolonging the crisis serves no one's interests.

If you understand this, you're two steps ahead of Jimmy Carter.

posted by: rosignol on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

I say we counter negotiate with a salesperson from one of the big wireless telephone companies. Calling plans, picture phone's, in network, out of network, here's a second phone for you great leader! No one can stand up to that, he'll crumble.

posted by: RR on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

It's simple. Rice. Rice already lost Europe on ending the arms embargo to China. Slipping the announcement in at this moment is a way for the NK regime to advance formal recognition of their nuclear status without militarily escalating the situ. She's green. She has no cred. She's equipped for bureacratic rough and tumble in backoffice politics, not world diplomacy and international deals. And she's just been shaken down.


IIRC it took around 48 hours before the first Bush Admin took action in regards to the coup in the Soviet Union back in '91, and that was far more important than NK will ever be. Your conclusion is premature, at the very least.

posted by: rosignol on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

I made this same point on another site, so I hope this doesn’t count as a double post.

It is possible that this open declaration is largely for internal consumption. The biggest threat to a dictator’s power is almost always from the inside. Failure to show strength can be deadly. It is when one’s opponents sense weakness that they are most likely to act. Declaring that his great people’s republic has the technological prowess to produce nuclear weapons, and that parties wishing to engage in multilateral negotiations (including China) can go to hell is a show of strength. This is a message. He is in charge. He calls the shots and sets the terms – he does not have the terms dictated to him.

If Kim has internal enemies who think he is on the ropes he has just given them reason to doubt. Hopefully he has miscalculated, and his “message” will either piss-off the Chinese, or be interpreted very differently by those who oppose him.

posted by: Mike Plaiss on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Kim Jong Il could easily defeat the evil hegemonist plans of the United States and its lackeys to isolate and stifle the Democratic Republic of Korea. Easy. Open his borders. Voila. Evil plan defeated.

posted by: Jabba the Tutt on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Interesting - "toomanysteves" suggests that Kim wants another deal like the one he got in 1994, and "Mike" claims that NK, "by their own admission", has been developing nukes for over a decade. Hmmm . . . The 1994 deal, as I recall, was that NK would shut down a "nuke program" that included tinkering with delivery systems but mainly consisted of a couple of old technology power plant reactors that were producing useful quantities of nuclear bomb-making. This production resulted from NK's practice of recycling nuclear fuel mainly because they couldn't afford to purchase more raw fuel. [NOTE: in old tech reactors, bomb material is an automatic by-product of fuel recycling, a practice that Carter banned in the US and the main reason we have so much nuke waste to dispose of now.]

In exchange for this, the US was to assist with NK's energy needs in the form of supplying coal at a cheap price while building for them two new nuclear power plants that would be far less capable of producing bomb material (improvements on a similar French design used for the Osirak plant in Iraq - the one that Israel took out).

NK did shut down its nuke plants and submit to a heavy IAEA inspection regime what included monitoring devices, cameras, etc. Although the US eventually shipped NK some coal, the Republican-controlled US Congress repeatedly refused to pass the appropriation for the new power plants. Republican leaders who opposed the deal said it constituted "appeasement."

NK held up its end of the deal until around 1997 when it started tinkering again using some of the bomb-making material that it had already produced. Sometime in 1998 or 1999, after the power plant appropriation was defeated again, NK began actively circumventing the IAEA inspection regime. And then, we all know what happened after Bush was elected in 2000.

Yeah, so the implication is that Republican ideologues brought this crisis down on themselves (and us). But there's really no way to know that NK wouldn't have screwed around in any event.

The important point here is that, when calculating the potential motives of the various players involved and the geopolitical implications, it should be taken into consideration that both China and NK have recently signed major energy supply deals with Iran.

posted by: sxwarren on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

TS is right on. Koreans are one. It's something incredible. It explains a lot about the society that surrounds me here in Seoul and that is at the controls of the world's 10th/11th largest economy.

Mark - you're nearly there. With sincere respect, I really enjoy listening to the paranoia of observers of the Korean peninsula. One of my co-workers (American) is very similar. I believe that we have nothing - in terms of catastrophe -to fear. When NK starts(a) verifiable nuclear weapon testing, (b) letting inspectors in who go on to confirm NK;s nuke program progress or (c) genuinely stops wanting direct talks with the US.... then that's when I'll be looking to cash in on my Skypass points and grab a plane out of here.

Kim Jong il can't hit the US even if he wanted to (please don't start quoting stats of NK's long range missiles, we really have no idea) and he isn't going to rain down on Seoul. Why would he ? So he can go out with a bang ? No way. [Read Michael Breen's book on KJI - a great colourful (and very entertaining) view of the Dear Leader. Michael is a leading authority on Korean issues and his accounts come from excellent sources and interviews.] KJI wants to survive, stretch the clock and keep playing the game. And KJI too has been programmed that he'd only be killing his "brothers". He's got an ego and he's not going to suddenly lose his mind because he doesn't get the diplomatic response he wants. He's been at this for too long and - although I admittedly do not know what he has expected each time - I would hazard to guess that he has been on both sides of the diplomatic showdown over the years. Kim Jong il went to Kim Il Sung's sabre rattling classes and passed with flying colours. I also agree with TS that KJI wants to be like PCH and have a tie to the US. This announcement is an invitation to start a dialogue and it's a starting position that the US has to acknowledge - it gives NK a head start to draw the latest line in the sand.

Frankly, my other indirect concern is that this continues to get ratcheted up by observers, politicians and commentators who will continue to debate the chess game but are ignorant to the fact that this part of the world was a closed peninsula with only one race for a very (very)long time and it has lead to a different interpretation of the world and a different way of thinking. It sounds odd, but there is a different logic here. I call it the K-factor. If it continues to escalate, then likely that mainstream media will cover two foci over the next six months: (a) the (potential of) imminent danger posed by N Korea, and (b) the likelihood (and/or feasibility) of an focussed pre-emptive strike by W. I pray that W has learned his lesson from his previous pre-emptive strikes, which I humbly regard as basically and conceptually flawed.

Hey TS - what do you think of the Korean 20/30-somethings that are repeatedly quoted that they don't mind letting N Korea keep its nukes because they think someday when they reunite S Korea stands to benefit ? Amazing. Naive, but amazing.

posted by: Trevor Lewis on 02.10.05 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

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