Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Korea: Another Exaggerated Threat

Following U.S. foreign policy in the news is like following a string of bubbles wherein each bubble is a jaw dropping, hair raising, unparalleled class one emergency heretofore unknown in the annals of international incidents and intrigue. For example the latest missile-fest brought to you by Kim Jong-il seems to have fired the imaginations of the news media. For example consider the following headlines.

“World powerless to stop North Korea”

“Russia fears Korea conflict could go nuclear – Ifax”

These are just bit melodramatic it seems to me. I mean shiver-me-timbers. Is the world really powerless to stop North Korea? The article itself thankfully is better than its headline.

North Korea's decision to test the bomb likely had several motivations. Firstly, given that the October 2006 test was widely considered to have fizzled, yielding less than 1 kiloton, Pyongyang needed its own reassurances that it had a fully functioning nuclear weapon. The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) confirmed as much, when it stated, "The test helped satisfactorily settle the scientific and technological problems arising in further increasing the power of nuclear weapons."

In the absence of such confirmation, the regime of Kim Jong-il could not be certain that it had sufficient deterrent to repel any external aggression. In addition, the North also needed to make a credible demonstration of its nuclear arsenal to the major powers in the region that it considers hostile, namely the United States, South Korea and Japan. Just to reinforce the message, Pyongyang also test-fired several short-range missiles off its east coast, facing Japan. Nonetheless, international observers still doubt that North Korea has the means to attach nuclear warheads to its array of missiles.

The second reason for North Korea's nuclear test was to put the country at the top of the US's international agenda, at a time when the global economic recession and the war in Afghanistan have emerged as its most pressing challenges. Pyongyang had sought to do this with its April 5 Taepodong 2 missile test, but the world's reaction was somewhat muted. As to why the North craves the US's attention, the main reason is to extract economic and diplomatic concessions. Ultimately, there are reasons to believe that Pyongyang seeks a grand bargain with Washington in which it would be granted diplomatic relations and economic assistance while receiving official acceptance of its nuclear status.

However unrealistic that may sound, North Korea has seen how nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan in 1998, initially condemned by the international community, were later overlooked as the West came to see those two countries as too important to ignore. Pakistan became the West's frontline ally in the "war on terror" after September 11, 2001, and received billions of dollars in aid, while India's rising economic power made it unrealistic to marginalize it. Unfortunately for Pyongyang, it has nothing to offer the rest of the world. Thus, its brinkmanship if anything makes it harder for the US to offer North Korea meaningful rewards.

The third reason for the nuclear test - albeit somewhat more speculative - is that Kim Jong-il is seeking to reassert his authority after months of illness since last summer. This may also have been a motivation for the Taepodong 2 test in April. Kim's illness has raised heightened uncertainty about his succession, with most observers anticipating his third son, Kim Jong-un, will eventually succeed him.

However, it is more likely that a military-dominated collective leadership centered around the National Defense Commission (NDC) - the highest decision-making body in North Korea - would fill the vacuum if Kim senior exited the scene. The NDC was expanded to 13 members in early April at the first session of the North's new parliament, and all its members' photos were published in the North's official media, underscoring their rising prominence. In light of this, Pyongyang may well be signaling that there will be no let-up in its hardline policy in the event of a leadership transition.

I see nothing in the above excellent rundown about North Korea plotting to conquer the world like the U.S. is attempting to do at the moment. As for Russia’s claim that the North Korean nuclear test could result in Armageddon that is just a trifle fanciful. As the Asia Times points out you need to be able to attach a warhead to a missile before it is useful as a weapon unless of course the North Koreans cleverly smuggle a nuke into the U.S. hidden in a violin case. But then they might just as well drop it on themselves as explode one here for the results would be the same.

Manuel Garcia, Jr., a former physicist at Lawrence Livermore Nuclear Laboratory, explains.


A yield up to 20 kT is clearly a "success" and indicates the verification of one design of an implosion system (discounting the possibility of a gun-type assembly as in the Hiroshima bomb). I presume, but do not know, that this bomb is an experimental device that is neither compact and light-weight enough, nor ruggedized enough to fit within the payload mass and space limitations of a slim missile body, and to withstand the forces of acceleration required of a ballistic missile nuclear warhead. Any program aimed at that goal will require another test (in perhaps three years?) of a militarized packaging of the "pit" (nuclear core and its surrounding blanket of high explosives) tested today.

True, this is just conjecture as Garcia admits yet it seems like a much more reasonable estimate than “Korea Threat to Entire World.” Garcia ends his article with the following most sensible suggestions.

Unfortunately, urging the DPRK leadership to engage in nuclear disarmament is equivalent to urging it to dissolve; the nature of their brittle power structure could not withstand the corrosive effects of the psychological, cultural and economic forces within world capitalism. They know this, hence the obsessive defensiveness. The most humane policy toward the DPRK would be to leave it alone. Over the long term, if it is neither harassed nor provoked, it will slowly relax many of its fears. Once the apprehensions of the DPRK are reasonably lowered because it is no longer being pressured and hurried to fit into a foreign capitalist agenda, then it is likely the society of the DPRK will evolve into greater harmony with the world consensus on many issues. Such a policy would be one of respecting the integrity of another society, and of non-interference. It is definitely not the policy with the highest expected return on investment (ROI), nor the earliest expected payoff, but it is the policy with the least likelihood of harming the Korean people and their neighbors. One has to imagine the possibility of arriving at nuclear disarmament as the inevitable consequence of the disuse of nuclear weapons: they are no longer maintained and rust away because their owners have moved on to other activities.

Internationally, patient respect will ultimately soften the fearful pride of an otherwise unaggressive state. The real solution to nuclear proliferation is the expansion of social and economic justice within our own nations, because nuclear arms are primarily a symptom of economic class warfare coupled with racism. Let the people of North Korea deal with their economic elite, and let us reform ours; and in that way we can eliminate the nuclear weapons squeezed out of the world's popular collective labor by our various ambitious and parasitic ruling classes.

Remarkably, Garcia is the first person whose writings I have read who actually expresses concern for the safety of the Korean people while most Americans seem overly concerned about their own which seems strange to me as we seem to be the greatest danger the world faces with our constant invasions, interventions, and military occupations.


At May 27, 2009 9:06 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

Garcia sounds like a wise and decent fellow, and not just because he refers to the overclass as parasitic.

At May 28, 2009 5:04 PM, Blogger rob payne said...

Yes he does sound like that. Too bad we don't have anyone like that leading the nation.


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