2003 January 09 Thursday
North Korea Diplomatic Game and WMD Proliferation

John O'Sullvan looks at the political crisis over North Korea from the standpoint the various players and also examines lessons that the crisis teaches.

Take Iraq first. Iraq can lose because it does not yet possess nuclear weapons and a credible means of delivering them--and it can therefore be attacked and conquered by a greater power. It probably will lose because North Korea has just demonstrated two things:

1. The possession of nuclear weapons can give a small backward nation the power to blackmail the entire world into giving it various forms of foreign aid.

2. Arms control treaties are mere paper unless there is a body with the power to enforce them, or, less securely, unless the states that sign them are trustworthy partners, which in turn means democracies with public opinion to consider.

One error in this article is that O'Sullivan puts China in a list of local US allies for dealing with North Korea. I do not think the Chinese leaders see themselves as such.

Martin Sieff's analysis of China's view of North Korea is much closer to my own. China sees a collapse of the North Korean regime as a threat to the stability of the Chinese regime.

But there are other, even more pressing reasons why China is determined to prop up North Korea. Pyongyang has proved an invaluable buffer to protect Mainland China from the contagion of democracy and a free press in neighboring South Korea and China. And since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre and the collapse of the Soviet Union that started so soon afterward, China's communist leaders have been united in a single fear. They believe that unleashing the same potent freedoms in their country that the last Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, did would lead to the same result -- national disintegration and appalling mass misery.

China's leaders do not fear the North Korean government will attack China with nuclear weapons. At the same time, China sees the survival of the North Korean regime as valuable for maintaining the stability of their own political system. The Chinese leaders greatly fear instability. The incentives in the minds of the Chinese leaders point toward China's resisting US efforts to apply diplomatic pressures or sanctions to North Korea. China is a permanent voting member on the UN Security Council with veto power. The idea of China approving a UN Security Council sanctions resolution against North Korea seems a remote prospect. Not all view it as a remote prospect though. Writing in the Washington Post Jim Hoagland has an essay entitled "Nearing a Nuclear Jungle" where Hoagland calls on the UN Security Council members to recognize their shared interest in controlling nuclear proliferation.

The Security Council could offer Pyongyang nonaggression assurances and economic aid in return for a verifiable halt to its nuclear programs. At the same time, the U.N. body should threaten a global ban on North Korean arms shipments if defiance continues. The United States would be essential, but not alone and exposed, in either approach.

I find Hoagland's hope for UN action to deal with North Korea to be unrealistic for two reasons: First, China is not going to be willing to join in economic sanctions against North Korea and hence the UN Security Council will not be able to take any substantial position to put pressure on the North Korean regime. Second, his hope for a verifiable weapons inspectons system for North Korea flies in the face of our experience with UNSCOM, UNMOVIC, and similar efforts. It is not possible to control weapons proliferation with inspections regimes.

Hoagland makes a great point in his final paragraph when he warns the rest of the world that the Bush Administration could opt to build Fortress America with ICBM defenses and a less involved approach to the rest of the world if the US leaders decide they can't control nuclear proliferation with the help of the UN and major powers. However, by itself Fortress America is not an effective strategy of defense against weapons of mass destruction (WMD) because nuclear weapons can be smuggled in. America could have an incredibly effective defense against ICBMs and still be vulnerable to a nuke smuggled in to a US port in a container in a larger container ship or via any number of other means.

The US is still lacking an effective strategy to use against North Korea. North Korea as a proliferator of WMD technologies and even of complete WMD constitutes a grave threat to US and Western security.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 January 09 01:54 AM  US Foreign Preemption, Deterrence, Containment


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