Saturday, August 30, 2003

North Korea (a post for my brother David)

My little brother David wrote to complain that I'm writing too much about North Korea.


ABC News announces that NK is now denying the possibility of further talks:

North Korea angrily dismissed the possibility of further negotiations over its nuclear program on Saturday, one day after the end of landmark six-nation talks where the isolated regime indicated it might be willing to reach a compromise.

"This round of talks was nothing more than empty talks," an unidentified North Korean delegation spokesman told reporters at the airport, reading from a statement as the envoys were leaving Beijing.

"We no longer have interest, or expectations either, for this kind of talks," he said. "We are left with no option."

For the jittery: you have to realize that NK does this shit all the time. The idea is: you'll never know what we're really thinking. NK's position is served by confusion and hesitancy on our part, coupled with the massive threat of an attack against the South. They may reverse their position next week.

Perhaps the best analogy for this whole silly situation is the Mexican standoff. Survival, for NK, means no one pulls the trigger. Heightened tension, which NK must maintain (and, if possible, increase during talks like these), keeps people from pulling away from the standoff and simplifying the dynamic. The situation maintains an equilibrium, albeit a very tense one. Skirmishes, whether they be shots across the DMZ or naval incursions, never erupt into full-scale clashes involving masses of troops, but their frequency is a sign of the tension level.

If survival is NK's goal, and that goal is to be realized through perpetuation of the standoff, then "winning" during negotiations amounts to whatever keeps the status quo; any gains made-- concessions from the US or SK or Japan, for example-- are icing on the cake.

Viewed this way, the US strategy in response needs to involve, in my opinion, some risky behavior on our part-- actions and words that tweak the standoff's stability. US equanimity is in fact a liability in this conflict; NK is counting on us to be our usual boring selves. Bolton's pronouncements must have been deeply discomfiting, along the lines of Uday's and Qusay's belated recognition that the Bush administration is "serious" this time.

Whether or not time is a crucial factor in the near future depends on how the US and its allies (we'll include SK as an "ally" for the moment) view and act on the prospect of appeasing NK. For time to work against NK, we need to be doing all we can to restrict aid, fuel, etc., and this means leaning heavily on China, NK's greatest benefactor-- and South Korea, NK's not-so-occasional sugar daddy. When we promise and then give aid, we simply prolong the problem.

Pulling our troops out of the South might actually provide the distance, physical and emotional, required for a better, clearer dialogue with South Korea, which must come to see the error of its appeasing ways (I sound like a KCNA broadcast, don't I). The South needs to be shaken out of its doe-eyed, incestuous, "one people" attraction for NK, a regime which, if anything, has grown more monstrous over the decades. But as a Korean friend of mine recently affirmed, "We forget quickly," which is what gives us a Hyundai scandal. Appeasement hasn't worked. There's no reason to expect it to work in the future.

Some people have speculated about the usefulness of regime change in Korea. I don't see how a people so indoctrinated in the Kimist ideology can suddenly snap out of their collective delusion in a short amount of time under the seal of a new, non-Kimist (but probably still Stalinist) leadership. Keep in mind that any sudden power vacuum, as was speculated back in 1994 when the Great Leader closed his eyes one final time and entered Sheol, would be filled quickly, and probably by somebody nasty. If Kim the Younger is as paranoid as some claim, then there must be powers in the castle vying for the throne. Regime change or not, the basic situation doesn't-- won't-- change. Well... actually, it might, but we can't place all our bets on that possibility.

The ABC article confirms my suspicions:

In Tokyo, Japan's Defense Agency unveiled plans to seek $1.2 billion for U.S.-designed systems to defend against ballistic missiles. The request is part of a major defense initiative spawned by concern over North Korea's long-range missiles.

The agency's annual budget proposal calls for buying two U.S.-developed weapons systems one sea-based and one land-based to provide a double shield against missiles with a range of up to 600 miles. Delivery could start as early as 2006.

The next step, once a defense deal is reached, will be to add the offensive component. This won't be easy; from what I hear, the Japanese in general are divided on the issue of remilitarization (please write in with details, if you're in the know). But the conservative hawks in Japan are marshalling their arguments, and NK is, maybe inadvertently, sealing its own fate by helping to recreate an offense-capable Japanese military. If the peninsular situation continues to worsen, the hawks won't encounter much opposition to a proposal to remilitarize.

This Yonhap News brief makes South Korea sound clueless:

SEOUL, Aug. 30 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's government and political parties expressed positive views Saturday of the six-nation negotiations on North Korea's nuclear arms program, despite the absence of a joint statement on efforts to resolve the issue.

National Security Advisor Ra Jong-il said he was optimistic about the future of the dialogue.

Luckily, the US may be taking steps in the right direction by continuing to talk with China:

Beijing, Saturday, August 30, 2003: Describing the just-concluded six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons programme as "beneficial" China and US have decided to pursue dialogue to find a peaceful solution to Korean nuclear issue.

After the end of three-day talks in Beijing, Chinese foreign minister Li Zhaoxing and US Secretary of State Colin Powell said "the two sides shared the view that the talks were beneficial, agreeing that the process should continue to promote a peaceful resolution to the Korean nuclear issue through dialogue," China Daily reported.

But beware: China's preening.

Meanwhile, China's official media today highlighted the country's new role as a mediator to settle regional disputes and security threats.

How much substance will accompany the style is yet to be seen. Keep your colon polyps crossed.

The Korea Herald's analysis of the 6-way talks contains this observation:

But some experts said the talks dashed hopes for a breakthrough by failing to even set a date for their next meeting and produce any joint statement due to the rift between the United States and North Korea on how to resolve their nuclear standoff.

If ABC News' article is to be believed, then there's further reason for hopes to be dashed (or muted).

The Chosun Ilbo has this analysis:

Any expectations about a dramatic breakthrough would have been unreasonable, of course, and part of the purpose was to make introductions and exchange name cards. Even still, you have to call the talks a disappointment. There was no change in the North's game of "threat and blackmail" in the face of the international community as it plays its nuclear card again.

On the first day the North seemed to make some slightly appeasing gestures. Then on the second day it let it be known that it might declare itself nuclear and test the weapons, too. This is the same old self-injuring blackmail when it threatens to threaten that it could test The Bomb, right in the middle of a gathering called to find a peaceful resolution to the problem. It was a reminder of the fact that if future six-way talks are going to be successful, there has to be fundamental changes in the North's attitude.

Korea, the United States and Japan, as well as China and Russia, have to come up with a framework for diplomatic cooperation if they are going to encourage that kind of change in the North's approach. Only when there is progress in its attitude will we get to the guarantees and economic aid it wants.

Agreed: expecting a breakthrough would have been foolish. Applauded: calling a spade a spade and terming NK's rhetoric "threat and blackmail" and "self-injuring." Awkward: "threatens to threaten." Indeed: there have to be fundamental changes in the North's attitude.

The point about diplomatic cooperation is important, and the result of that cooperation cannot be further appeasement. Appeasement must become just as unthinkable an option as war on the peninsula currently is. At the risk of alienating human rights workers and others who decry the human suffering already rampant in NK, I think it will be necessary to clamp down even harder on aid. The US should lean heavily on China and SK, perhaps with Japan at its side, whispering that it's thinking about rearming tomorrow. Russia also needs to be persuaded further over to the US side. Concessions to all these interlocutors are conscionable; concessions to NK are not.

But I completely disagree with the Chosun's final paragraph:

There needs to be some changes in the format as well if these talks are going to get anywhere close to real discussion about the North's nuclear program. Most importantly, there needs to be more room for the United States and the North to connect within the six-way format, since it is the United States that holds the keys to solving the ultimate issue. Raising the level of the representatives might help. It's hard to expect much when from the start there were doubts about the ability of the heads of the U.S. and Northern delegations to speak for their countries.

This very unfairly (but unsurprisingly) places the onus on the US, in defiance of the commonsense reality that China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan are all physically near North Korea and therefore need to be worried about what it can do. NK's fanatical focus on the US allows these countries to absolve themselves of responsibility for their own security. That's not acceptable. The South Korean tendency, however, has been to parrot that it's all up to the US. This legitimizes the North's rhetoric and doesn't exactly cause warm fuzzies in my belly toward SK. The unbending rhetoric from Washington needs to be that all future talks-- all-- will be multilateral, preferably involving this very 6-way group in every case.

I've had occasion to think that SK is turning into a second France. People are beginning to ask the "are they really an ally?" question; labor unions are going nuts with power; health care is questionable; there's a lingering (and very strong) collaborationist/victim mentality, and huge piles of cultural arrogance (think kimchi, not wine and cheese). I don't like where this train of thought is leading me, so maybe I'll stop here.

PERSONAL NOTE: No blogging tomorrow. I'll be at temple, then visiting relatives to celebrate 34 years (in Western age) of buttock-flapping, toe-sucking, thong-sniffing, nose-picking, sheep-humping, navel-digging, larva-eating, corpse-licking, tongue-flicking existence.

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