Thursday, April 09, 2009

The North Korean Challenge: Missile Crisis, Rivalry against the Sino-Russian Axis, and the Successor

The Iraq Gap has not resolved in the North Korean Crisis. China and Russia are reluctant to impose a binding declaration against this rogue regime. During the Iraq War, the global media bitterly criticized the Bush administration’s unilateralism to advocate UN led peace enforcement. The Obama administration has shown conciliatory attitudes to challengers to the West. Prior to G20 Summit in London, President Barack Obama talked with President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia on nuclear disarmament, and both presidents agreed that there was no Cold War rivalry again between the United States and Russia.

Unlike Iraq, the United States needs Chinese and Russian involvement in North Korea. Any bilateral talk with Pyongyang will be interpreted that the United States recognizes North Korea as an emerging nuclear power. In addition, China and Russia have strong leverages on North Korea since the beginning of the Cold War. In an interview with FOX News, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense K.T. McFarland, who was also a national security staff to Henry Kissinger, says that China is the only power to persuade North Korea because it supplies food and energy to Pyongyang. Quite importantly, she is extremely concerned with nuclear proliferation to Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Egypt, because of arms race in the Middle East. McFarland does not worry so much about North Korean attack to Alaska(”China Key to North Korean Missile Test?”; FOX News; April 3, 2009).

The anti-North Korea alliance consisted of the United States, Japan, and South Korea faces a critical dilemma. While Chinese and Russian involvement is necessary to prevent the Pyongyang autocrat from committing dangerous adventurism, their interference is a hurdle to impose effective pressures on North Korea. As far as the North Korean crisis is concerned, President Obama is tested in the following issues: non-proliferation, global and geopolitical rivalry with illiberal powers of China and Russia, and impacts on the War on Terror.

Although stakeholder governments want to avoid escalation of this crisis, 57% of American voters prefer a military action to destroy missile launching facilities in North Korea (“57% Want Military Response to North Korea Missile Launch”; Rasmussen Report; April 5, 2009). Actually, Israel bombed a French-built nuclear power plant in Iraq during the Iran Iraq War to stop Saddam Hussein’s dangerous ambition. Facing a crisis, American voters favor approaches by George W. Bush 1st term and John McCain over those by Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter. Of course, I believe it preferable to avoid an escalation of crisis. However, the United Nations has not overcome the Iraq Gap. Also, China failed in controlling the rogue dictator in Pyongyang. Therefore, the result of this poll is understandable.

Finally, I would like to mention an article by Nicholas Eberstadt, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He points out that the real problem behind this missile test is the timing when the totalitarian regime is becoming fragile. The rocket was launched just before the annual Supreme People’s Assembly to decide the successor of ailing Kim Jong Il. In conclusion, Eberstadt says “A monolithic regime with a dying monarch is now suddenly exposing unfamiliar cracks to the outside world. This development may prove even more consequential for North Korea's future than Sunday's missile launch.” (“Kim's Crumbling Dynasty”; Wall Street Journal; April 6, 2009)

This crisis is beyond non-proliferation. The tripartite alliance of the United States, Japan, and South Korea, must be well prepared for geopolitical rivalry in the Korean Peninsula, against China and Russia. This is a long lasting test for President Obama.

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