DPRK: Back in the Nuclear Saddle...Again

Reply Sat 30 Aug, 2003 07:28 pm
Well, the North Koreans have kindly given us something to discuss. NYT reports they (DPRK) have thrown up their hands in disgust at the talks and that nobody understands them, or perhaps they do only too well.

In any case, the DPRK contradicted the Chinese statement that all sides agreed to more talks by stating that "it saw no purpose in continuing nuclear talks with the five nations it met in Beijing this week and was left with no choice but to strengthen its nuclear deterrent." NYT 30 August 2003.


Does Kim Jong Il sense weakness in Bush's latest adventure in Iraq and that U.S. forces are strechted to the limit? Contarily, the U.S. administration is making noises about those sanctions viewed as cause for war by the North Koreans. What happens if the DPRK decides to treat the area to a little Nuclear fireworks demonstration?

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Reply Sun 7 Sep, 2003 12:35 pm
The DPRK was, is, and will remain for the foreseeable future, a major danger to world peace. This is one of those areas that we need to remain focused on. The Korean War is not over. The policies of every regional neighbor, the U.S. and the U.N. are, and will remain, impacted by the DPRK. It isn't that the DPRK is in a position to actually destroy, or even seriously injure anyone other than themselves, or Southern Korea. DPRK conventional forces lack the capability to effectively project those forces beyond their immediate neighborhood. Their large fleet of conventional submarines presents some danger to our far eastern fleet, but lacks long-range capability. However, a few missiles lobbed toward Japan, Okinawa, Peking, or the eastern outposts of Russia, could take a large number of lives and spark a very expensive conflict. As time goes on the DPRK capability to effectively launch missiles with continental range and reasonable accuracy increases to near certainty. Even so, the DPRK would be remain unable to launch significant numbers of nuclear warheads to destroy the retaliatory capability of the PRC, Russia, or the United States.

It has been argued that the best, and safest course of action would be to ignore the DPRK military threat, keep negotiations going, and prevent conditions within the DPRK from deteriorating to the point where they act out of desperation.

Conditions within the DPRK have never been good, and several times over the last fifty years famine has threatened to bring down the House of Kim. We (primarily the U.S. and South Korea) stepped in with humanitarian aide in return for the DPRK making negotiated concessions. In each case the DPRK failed to live up to their side of the bargain almost from the moment their promises were made. The humanitarian aide meant to alleviate the suffering of the people was diverted to feed the political elite and the military. Crumbs of our generosity went to famine-bloated children. Kim's secret police make even the STASI look like blind, and guarantee his hold over the State. Whenever the conditions within the DPRK become truly critical the world is faced with a choice: prop up the Kim's, or risk their willingness to embrace Gotterdamerung. Jong-Il isn't stupid, but he is certainly capable of unpredictable and dangerous behavior. Kim Jong-Il is getting old, but his son is ready to step into his shoes when the Beloved Leader joins his father in hell. We don't know much about what kind of leader Jong-Il's son might be, but it is certain that he would be at least as rutheless has his daddy and granddaddy. There is no evidence that the DPRK will wither away in the foreseeable future.

DPRK negotiation tactics have remained unchanged since 1948. They are demanding, unreasonable, rude, and resistant to any compromise whatsoever. They give way only when forced to by the application of credible counter-force. If they concede a point, it is only to shift their intransigence to another. At the first opportunity they will return the conceded point to the table, and in the interim they will covertly continue to pursue what they have publicly discarded and disavowed. They understand and deeply believe that force and the will to use it is the foundation of success. Raw force has maintained the Kim's in power for over half a century, and it has kept their pitiful little country at center stage in the worlds attention. It has worked for them, so there is no reason to suppose that they will suddenly change their tactics. Nothing, beyond buying a little more time is likely to occur by continuing endless negotiation with the DPRK.

Can we ignore the military capability of the DPRK? The threat of a nuclear capable DPRK makes that option distinctly dangerous. Probably the DPRK would not directly attack either the PRC, or the Russians. There is little to gain by striking Russian targets. An attack on the PRC would be suicidal. However, the threat to those two countries is sufficient for blackmail to keep them out of a conflict directed southward. The threat to Japan is much more credible, and might be sufficient to cause Japan to remilitarize. To counter the Korean nuclear threat, Japan might embark upon it's own nuclear program. Does the world need another India/Pakistan nuclear standoff? If open hostilities were to recommence on the Korean Peninsula, the DPRK might choose to utilize it's limited nuclear arsenal against U.S. forces stationed in Japan, and on Okinawa. Both are well within the range capability of the current generation of DPRK missiles. The threat to those governments may make them less hospitable to the presence of U.S. forces on, or near their soil. The DPRK has consistently engaged in every effort to force the U.S. to abandon the peninsula and the South Korean government. Kim, and his government, have as their two highest priorities the survival of the existing regime, and the reunification of the peninsula. Those goals can only be achieved, so they believe, by the forced withdrawal of US/UN forces. To that end they utilize a carrot and stick approach. The carrot is to blunt the anxiety of South Koreans to the threat by propaganda and infiltration of ROK social structures. The U.S. is painted in the most horrid fashion, and every opportunity is taken to discredit U.S. behavior and motives. The "stick" is the DPRK military force and, increasingly the threat of nuclear destruction if DPRK demands are not met. Already the price, to ROK if hostilities were to break out, is enormous. Without the support of American military might the ROK would be unable to resist DPRK aggression for very long. American military might, which is already stretched too thin, depends upon being able to respond in a timely effective manner. We cannot withdraw from Korea without the greatest hazard. Even more disturbing would be if we were forced to withdraw from Japan, or Okinawa. The further we are from Korea the greater the likelihood that the North will force itself onto the South. We cannot ignore the military might of the DPRK.

Does Kim Jong-Il sense an opportunity to advance his goals in the present situation? Believe it. The DPRK has always been sensitive to every weakness and exploited every opportunity to advance their two primary goals. The Shrub, and the character of the American People, will be tested. Kim will sail as close to the reefs of destruction as he can in an attempt to force the world to permit him to pursue his policies short of open hostilities. He could easily misjudge, as others have done in the past. We are stretched thin, but if we remain steady the chance of open hostilities will not appreciably increase in the near term future. Kim will stretch out the crisis as long as possible. He knows that we, and the world, lose interest quickly. We get tired and begin to have second thoughts. The threat grows in our imagination until we will acquiesce to almost anything just to remove the irritant. Kim counts on that as his best chance of winning his points.

I don't think that the U.S. will initiate open hostilities, at least not anytime in the next two years. We are going into an election year, not a good time to be sending the boys abroad again. The loose ends in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the other problems associated with Southwest Asia still claim too much of our attention. Military cutbacks over the last decade have severely limited the flexibility of our forces. If the DPRK were to initiate hostilities, Shrub would be the political beneficiary, and that argues against any intentional attack or overt nuclear demonstrations by the North. In the meantime, Kim will continue to develop his delivery systems and construction of more warheads. If the Democrats try use the Korean situation, I think it will backfire on them. All that argues for the status quo to remain in place for the next 24 months, or so.
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Reply Sun 7 Sep, 2003 03:26 pm
Asherman, good to see you back and thanks for the info.

I personally have been trying to get some threads going on this situation for the better part of 9 months, mostly for my own education. Seems less people have an opinion on the DPRK/ROK thing than the Iraq situation.

This problem on the Korean peninsula always seems less news worthy. Other problems come up and always seem to push it out of public attention. The intractability of both the U.S. and DPRK negotiating stances seems to have created this problem. As you have pointed out one can easily diffuse the crisis by giving in to the N. Koreans, a la a Clintonesque bargaining strategy. However, the present U.S. administration is loath to step onto that slippery slope and thus the impasse.

Some may point to the U.S. being too "hardnosed" in its position here but I see no other realistic alternative. Ideally we might convince the PRC to stop its shipments of food and fuel to the N. Koreans. This could put a large amount of pressure on Kim and perhaps create a better bargaining position for those opposed to the DPRK's threats in the region. The Chinese, of course, can not help but see this as leading to a potential disaster by further increasing Illegal North Korean immigration across the river aggravating an already sticky situation along their border with North Korea.

You mentioned the North's two priorities. I was wondering what it would take to eliminate what is the main bone of contention here by moving towards re-unification.

Might it be possible to start talks in this vein? My thoughts are that if we could start some meaningful engagements (Trade or Educational programs where the citizens of both could interact) between the North and South we might open a crack in Kim's closed society that would be subject to further erosion with time. At the risk of sounding like a bleeding heart my intent would be to expose the N. Koreans to a "better world" thereby providing our own carrot to the North. Perhaps the addictive nature of western technology might act corrosively upon the DPRK's present dynasty. Of course the flip side would be the question of what the DPRK would want in return. Since they would perceive they have something we want when we move towards this situation we then must be prepared to give up something valuable to them.

I propose the above peacenik solution because those that might entertain thoughts of a similarity between Iraqi/Republican Guard and the DPRK military forces are comparing apples and oranges. We do not want to engage N. Korean forces in a conventional military operation.

The reason I find this so critical a situation is this: A perceived defeat in either a diplomatic or militaristic struggle against the DPRK means a serious degradation of U.S. influence in the orient. If we cannot handle this satisfactorily how are we to handle the PRC in 15-20 years when it is economically a much more powerful force in the region? Implicit in the economic power of a nation is that of its military.

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Reply Sun 7 Sep, 2003 05:25 pm
To the DPRK reunification means the capitulation of ROK to the North. The Kim government would be the only government permitted, and the wealth of the South would be redistributed. That means that the ruling elite in the North would get the lion's share of the plunder, and the perhaps six million South Koreans would perish.

It is the mirage of a peaceful reunification that DPRK sells to South Korean youth, and the liberal estabilishment. Older Koreans are less easily hoodwinked, and most ROK political power still resides in the middle/upper classes that tend to be older and more conservative. Election of a more liberal government was a concern, but you will notice that as the DPRK pressed home its threats regarding nuclear arsenals, that the ROK government has regained some of its senses.

If we are tough with the DPRK, it is because that is the only negotiating tactics that they understand and will respond to. Ultimately, force will probably have to be used to resolve the problem.
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Reply Tue 9 Sep, 2003 08:04 am
James Morrison wrote:
Does Kim Jong Il sense weakness in Bush's latest adventure in Iraq and that U.S. forces are strechted to the limit?

Well, maybe the U.S. Army has not yet proven its ability to suppress guerilla attackers, but the ability to bomb DRPK into the Stone Age has been proven, and this is what Kim has to take into consideration. There may be no need in invading DPRK with the ground troops. When the governmental army and police are destroyed from the air, including their nuclear facilities, the people being starved by the regime may take law in their hands, bring to Lynch the Communist Party functionaries and to form the provisional authority that will take a decision regarding reunification with the S. Korea on the terms of the latter. Such a scenario seems quite realistic, and I hope it will be hinted to Kim about possibility of its realization.
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