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October 09, 2006

"First, Don't Panic"
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Rather than pretend to be a North Korea expert, I'll put on my "expert on the experts" hat and summarize/link to some of the better web analysis/commentary on the North Korea situation.

For starters, that sanguine advice from former US Ambassador to Korea Donald Gregg:

First: Don't panic. Kim Jong Il's objective is survival and eventual change in North Korea, not suicide. The diplomatic situation in Northeast Asia will be immensely complicated by the North Korea test, which I think was a huge mistake on their part, but missiles are not about to start flying.

Gregg further posits that we may be seeing the ascendancy of a hard-line faction within North Korea (when someone explains to me what a non-hard line faction looks like in the North Korean context, I'll let you know) and joins James Baker in making the plaint that this Administration doesn't understand that you negotiate with your enemies, not your friends, as Yitzhak Rabin once said.

As for the longer-term implications, a former British diplomat sets out in some detail the case for worry that this test breaks down nuclear inhibitions in "as many as 30" other countries that could become nuclear powers if they so desired.

The specific worry is Asia, most immediately Japan.  Steve Clemons, who was a Japan expert before he became a blogger-about-town, suggests tersely that Japan is "outgrowing its nuclear allergy" and draws some links between John Bolton's behavior and the North Koreans decision to test.  One wants to believe that the North Koreans make their decisions based on more than just what comes out of Bolton's mouth, but you never know.

I learned from this Council on Foreign Relations summary of links that Walter Russell Meade and the CATO Institute agree with Steve that a Japanese move to go nuclear is not unlikely.  CFR also cites a subscription-only piece at Stratfor which says the test may show that China's leverage over North Korea is diminishing.  A CNN report from before the test alleges that this remark by the Chinese PermRep to the UN angered North Korea's military leadership and may have spurred it to move the test forward:

...for bad behavior in this world no one is going to protect them.

The Chinese ambassador said this in response to Bolton referring to his country as North Korea's protector on the Security Council.

So just to sum up, we have a thumbs-down for:

  • The global moral norm that nuclear weapons are bad;
  • The U.S. ability to enforce same;
  • The U.S. ability to deter proliferation;
  • China's influence over its difficult neighbor.

Who gets a thumbs-up out of this?

  • Japanese (and South Korean) hardliners who want to go nuclear;
  • People (and politicians) who are tired of Mark Foley.*

*Based on a highly-unscientific survey, conducted at 9:30 pm, of 10 newspapers serving states with tight Senate races:  six led with North Korea over Foley, two still have Foley over North Korea, and two either carried neither or had them in tiny type well down the page.


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Let's see now--the U.S. calls a country one of our three enemies (every superpower needs enemies), invades and occupies one of the other two, threatens to invade the third with nuclear weapons, reneges on a treaty with the first and then is surprised when that country takes action to defend itself, calling it a threat to world peace endangering "the global system of self-restraint." Restraint by whom? Certainly not by the U.S. Nor by our ally, also a non-restrainer, Pakistan, a non-signatory of the NPT who helped North Korea develop its weapon.

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