2003 March 17 Monday
Fritz W. Ermarth on Bush Administration North Korea Strategy

Fritz W. Ermarth is Director of National Security Programs at the Nixon Center, argues that North Korea is trying to rush the United States into bilaterial negotiations in order to wring concessions out of the United States before the United States can negotiate a consensus between the relevant powers (e.g. South Korea, China, Japan) over a position to take toward North Korea. Therefore calls demanding the Bush Administration to engage in direct negotiations play into the North Korean strategy.

Paradoxically, North Korea is also playing for time, or rather against it. One might think that time is on the side of the DPRK. But this is not so, except in the longer run and only if we (and others) are passive. As Kim appears to see it, he must try his utmost to extract a critical “win” in terms of political recognition, security assurances, and economic tribute while Washington and half of America’s Army divisions are focused on Iraq and our needed partners are divided by the Iraq issue. After Iraq, Kim’s window of opportunity is likely to be closed by the U.S. military recovery faster than it is opened by his nuclear buildup.

Ermarth argues that the negotiations between the relevant powers take time and that only the negotiation of a united front of major relevant powers toward North Korea has any chance of producing a peaceful resolution of the crisis caused by North Korea's nuclear weapons development program. He isn't arguing that it is certain that a united front can be negotiated or that once the united front is negotiated it is certain to be successful. He's only arguing that a united front of the relevant players is the only possibility for a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

This argument makes sense to me. The unstated assumption of his short essay is that North Korea as a nuclear power constitutes an unacceptable risk to the United States as well as to South Korea and Japan and to other states as well. This assumption with regard to the United States rests on two sources of threat: First, North Korea's development of ICBMs capable of hitting combined with their paranoia could result in their attacking the United States. Second, the regime has shown a willingness to sell all manner of weapons and weapons technology and can be expected to be willing to sell nuclear weapons technology, enriched radioactive material, and even nuclear weapons.

The only other possible peaceful resolution to the crisis would be an internal overthrow of the North Korean regime. That is a low probability event because the regime still maintains a very powerful system of repression and has greatly limited the knowledge that North Koreans have of the outside world. Even if, as I've repeatedly advocated, a major covert operation was made to smuggle books and radios into North Korea to break the North Korean regime's information monopoly the fall of the North Korean regime as a result of internal opposition could take many years. Still, its all the more reason to get started now with a major effort to reach the North Korean people with information about the rest of the world.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 March 17 10:22 AM  Politics Grand Strategy


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