Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Managing North Korean Nuclrear Threat

(Source: The Nightmare Comes to Pass, The Economist, October 12)

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited the Far East to talk on North Korea’s nuclear bomb test. Prior to this trip, Marcus Noland, Senior Fellow at the Institute for International Economics answered seven questions in an interview with Foreign Policy this autumn. Let’s review the following questions and answers.

Question 1: What do you think the North Koreans hope to accomplish with this week’s test?

Noland says North Korean leaders believe nuclear possession guarantees the survival of their regime. The test is a step toward a nuclear weapons program.

Question 2: What is the significance of the timing?

The followings can be considered: Celebration of 10th anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s elevation to General Secretary of Korean Worker’s Party, Trying to upstage South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon’s selection as UN Secretary General, or Messing up Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to China.

Question 3: Is this an invitation for other countries to develop their nuclear programs?

Noland warns that this test could provoke further nuclear proliferation to the Far East, including Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. In the same autumn issue, Foreign Policy evaluates the potential of nuclear proliferation to them in “The List: The Next Nuclear States.” The article analyses nuclear capability and motive of three countries.

Capability: Twenty-three tons of weapons-usable plutonium and the ability to produce weapons-grade uranium without much trouble. Japan has one of the world’s largest and most advanced civilian nuclear programs.
Motive: North Korea’s great leap may tip Japanese public opinion, and some politicians are calling for the country to debate openly whether it should have nukes.

South Korea
Capability: South Korea probably can’t produce weapons-grade nuclear fuel, despite having an advanced civilian nuclear sector. However, it secretly pursued nukes from the 1970s to as late as 2000. And it could always import technology from elsewhere.
Motive: North Korean military threat is growing seriously. With heightened U.S.-South Korea tension, Seoul has shown increasing interest in developing a defense capability independent of the United States. On the other hand, it may just wait to see whether it can inherit North Korea’s nukes through eventual reunification.

Capability: Until the late 1980s, Taiwan was within a few years of becoming a nuclear-armed state. Due to pressure from the United States and others, Taiwan now has no uranium enrichment capability, and plutonium handling facility. Its weapons-grade remnants are tiny. But its scientific know-how has probably survived.
Motive: Facing increasing military threat posed by China, Taiwan could decide that it needs nukes. Like North Korea, Taiwan can claim an existential threat from a superpower.

Leaders in East Asia must be cautious enough. American policy makers are beginning to see Far Eastern nations critically as they do against Iran and Syria. Readers would understand comments by Japanese foreign minister Taro Aso and Liberal Democratic Party’s policy chief Shoichi Nakagawa are imprudent. They talk of Japan’s nuclear option in public. Nuclear non-proliferation is a global agenda, and it is beyond narrowly scoped national interests. The Economist says as follows.

The spread of weapons of mass destruction is a clear threat to international peace and security. It remains to be seen whether tackling proliferation is something the world's big powers are ready to put ahead of their own rivalries. (See “Going Critical, Defying the World”, October 19)

Question 4: Is it more likely that fissile material would end up in the hands of a state or some organization like al Qaeda?

Noland says this is unlikely. It is difficult to transfer nuclear technology to non-state actors. Fixed location and fixed facilities are necessary, he says. But he does not rule out possible proliferation to terrorist groups.

Question 5: Will China follow through with meaningful sanctions?

Noland points out that China’s position to this issue is ambivalent, because it can use North Korea on the rivalry against the United States and India.

According to “The Nightmare Comes to Pass” in the Economist on October 19th, Professor Yan Xuetong at Tsinghua University says China is reluctant to escalate sanctions. Harder sanctions would lead North Korea to conduct more tests, he argues. Also, he says that China needs North Korea to assure its influence on the Korean Peninsula, and divert America’s attention from the Taiwan Strait. In Professor Yan's view, China's outrage at North Korea's test is similar to that of France and Germany over America's invasion of Iraq in 2003.

It is uncertain whether China impose meanigful sanctions against North Korea. In the same issue, the Economist argues critical points in “Sanctions: History Lessons.”

To be effective, it must be imposed by as many countries as possible. Particularly, China is the key actor. It must be smart, without hurting innocent people. Kim Jong Il does not care bad reputations abroad, and surrounded by yes-men. Therefore, “Increasing their isolation may be dangerous.”

True. Isolation from the world, this makes the North Korean issue more perplexing.

Question 6: If sanctions aren’t the appropriate approach, what should the international community’s response be?

Noland insists on using a “sanction card” to dissuade North Korea from testing another bomb. However, he worries that the North Koreans will eventually miscalculate and cross a red line where the United States acts militarily, whether South Korea likes it or not. Noland warns that appeasement can provoke North Korean adventurism.

Question 7: What’s next for North Korea?

China and South Korea are more concerned with turmoil in North Korea than nuclear threat. However, Noland says North Korea’s goal is to maintain the status quo, while accepted nuclear power status. Are China and South Korea united in dealing with the North?

“The Nightmare Comes to Pass” in the Economist on October 19th presents interesting analysis on Sino-Korean relations. China worries that a united Korea would stimulate nationalism and anti-Chinese sentiment throughout the peninsula. Many Koreans suspect China’s ambition to dominate Korea as a buffer against Japan. Historically, Korea subjected to China. This chasm between China and South Korea needs to be noticed.

Now, I have reviewed seven questions. Since then, North Korea promised to stop further nuclear test. But it is not certain how long the autocrat keeps silent. In any case, he has tested a nuclear weapon. Its impact on Iran cannot be dismissed. Eventually, current regime in North Korea must be thrown away through assisting domestic uprising, I believe.