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Thursday, May 28, 2009

How to deal with a nuclear North Korea

It looks like Lil' Kim and his crazy band of commies are up to their old tricks. North Korea tested two short-range missiles on Tuesday, following the test of a nuclear weapon on Monday. The reclusive communist state has also increased its war-mongering rhetoric directed toward South Korea and reports indicate it has restarted the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, which it agreed to shut down in 2007 in exchange for aid.

None of this should come as much of a surprise, as North Korea has been playing the same game for years. I suppose the international response should not come as a surprise either. Let's see, American officials give the North a stern talking to, Russia and China pretend to be onside with the rest of the international community, the security council drafts a resolution imposing some token sanctions, etc. etc. I think I've seen this episode before.

What should be surprising is if anyone believes the same old response will yield new results. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said there will be consequences for North Korea's actions and urged them to return to the six-party talks. The problem is that the U.S. has very few options left in terms of punishing North Korea. More sanctions could be imposed on the impoverished country, but they already engage in very little international trade and further sanctions would likely hurt their already starving citizens. Moreover, the six-party talks have consistently failed and are unlikely to yield better results in the future.

It's time we faced facts and realized that no state with the word "North" in its name has ever dismantled its nuclear arsenal. Trying to disarm North Korea is no longer a valid foreign policy goal for any of the countries involved in the six-party talks. These countries should focus on ensuring that North Korea does not sell these weapons or transfer nuclear materials or knowledge to any other state or non-state actor. As well, international efforts should focus on nuclear non-proliferation in the region.

Let's be clear, North Korea is unlikely to ever launch a nuclear weapon against another country because they are subject to the same deterrence mechanisms as every other nuclear power. There are three primary concerns about a nuclear armed Korea. First, the possibility they will sell nuclear material to terrorists. Second, that they will sell nuclear technology to other, even crazier countries, such as Syria or Iran. Third, there is a worry this will spark a nuclear arms race in Asia. This is a very real concern, as Japan is already having a national debate about nuclear weapons and both Japan and South Korea have the capacity to build the bomb.

These issues can be dealt with using the same deterrence mechanisms that have successfully prevented the use of nuclear weapons since the end of World War II. The U.S. must make it abundantly clear that both Japan and South Korea fall under its nuclear umbrella. In other words, any nuclear strike against one of those countries will be met with an American second strike. The U.S. should, however, go one step further and promise to turn North Korea into a parking lot if any of its nuclear weapons or nuclear material originating from North Korea is used in an attack anywhere in the world. This will send a strong signal to Pyongyang that nuclear material should not be transferred to any other countries or terrorist organizations. It will also decrease the incentives for other Asian countries to acquire nuclear weapons.

Instead of trying to disarm North Korea, we should learn our lessen from this situation and work to prevent further nuclear proliferation. North Korea has the bomb because the international community consistently failed to act. After getting elected as the American president, Bill Clinton was warned about North Korea's nuclear ambitions. By this time, North Korea had already separated enough plutonium for one to two nuclear weapons, and Clinton was told that if the North Korean nuclear program was not stopped, the country would be producing enough plutonium to produce thirty weapons a year within five year's time. Likewise, when President Bush came to power in 2000, he too was warned that the North Koreans were working on a secret nuclear weapons program. However, the Bush administration did not pay much attention to these warnings either.

The same thing is happening with Iran. Everyone knows they are developing nuclear weapons, but both Bush and Obama have consistently failed to act. Eventually, Iran will develop the bomb and then it will be too late, as trying to forcefully disarm a nuclear state is likely to lead to nuclear war. The Obama administration and the international community should adopt a policy of deterrence in regards to North Korea and one of non-proliferation elsewhere.

Posted by Jesse Kline on May 28, 2009 in International Affairs | Permalink


Communist rebels would be given a foothold in South Korea and NK could support them openly and there would be no serious recourse if NK says "if you bomb us at all we'll nuke X Y Z major cities" you can sake "we'll nuke you back" but that's not a deterrent to madmen who do not value the opinion of the public or their safety, which their elites obviously do not.

Posted by: Pete | 2009-05-28 3:10:42 PM

The North Korean leadership may place little value on the safety of their citizens, but I can assure you they value their own safety. It's the religious nuts, in countries like Iran, who are actively trying to bring about Armageddon that we should be worried about. Deterrence will work for North Korea.

Posted by: Jesse Kline | 2009-05-28 3:23:42 PM

whose business but north korea's is it if they want to build *anything*?

Posted by: negator | 2009-05-28 3:42:26 PM


They are in clear violation of the NPT, which they dropped out of a few years back. They have also violated the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, which they are a signatory to, even though it has not yet entered into force. Moreover, they have violated a multitude of agreements signed with the U.S. and the other nations involved in the six-party talks, as well as UN resolutions banning weapons testing. They have also indicated they will nullify the armistice agreement signed after the Korean war. North Korea's latest actions are in clear violation of international law and it is our business to ensure they are dealt with and that we don't see a nuclear arms race in the region or nuclear armed terrorists.

Posted by: Jesse Kline | 2009-05-28 4:00:36 PM

I can't believe that anyone would defend anyone who was building nuclear weapons - that is just insane. Sounds like an Ontarian to me.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2009-05-28 4:06:26 PM

Jesse Kline, Islam doesn't have an idea of "Armageddon", and certainly the end of the world is not something to be obtained or idealized in Islam. Not to mention that in the Christian meaning, Armageddon is a place, not an event, and the battle at Armageddon is not something humans could instigate directly.

Most religious terror groups have little to do with their religion and a lot to do with politics.

Posted by: Pete | 2009-05-28 4:10:37 PM

It's not any of Canada's business! Neither North Korea or Iran have threatened Canada. Their problems are with the U.S. This just proves the point that Canada should distance itself from America on the international stage. I only care if nuclear missiles can hit Vancouver. What they do to Seoul or Toyko means nothing to me. The Canadian military is only big enough to protect Canada's national sovereignty. The answer in international affairs is for Canada not to align with anyone. We align with no one but will trade with everyone.

Posted by: Eric the Red | 2009-05-28 4:11:38 PM

A stern second strike promise may be the only sort of 'sanction' that could quash the blackmarketeer to the rogue world role that NK seems to be cultivating with its recent moves. http://www.newsy.com/videos/northern_exposure_the_korean_threat

Posted by: HMS Nerd | 2009-05-28 4:16:36 PM

"It's not any of Canada's business!"

Debateable. Through multilateral organizations like the UN, APEC and the Pacific Council, Canada has involved itself in this and other affairs.

"Neither North Korea or Iran have threatened Canada."

The development of nuclear weapons by those countries is considered a threat to world peace. So, yes, there is a threat.

"Their problems are with the U.S."

The UN disagrees.

"This just proves the point that Canada should distance itself from America on the international stage."

How? Canada's arms exports to the US make it that impossible. In fact, Canada has aided US foreign policy for the past sixty years in all its forms. American troops use Canadian bullets.

"I only care if nuclear missiles can hit Vancouver."

North Korea's missiles have the potential to strike anywhere between Alaska and Washington State. Guess what lies in between.

If one hit Toronto, I would not care even in the least. They deserve it.

"What they do to Seoul or Toyko means nothing to me."

What about the humanitarian impact?

"The Canadian military is only big enough to protect Canada's national sovereignty."

This depends on how one defines "national sovereignty". The risk of a NK missile hitting the west coast of North America surely puts that at risk. Canada's military exists for one reason only: overseas expeditions, as in Afghanistan. There is no domestic threat, not even snow in Toronto.

"The answer in international affairs is for Canada not to align with anyone. We align with no one but will trade with everyone."

Unrealistic - how else when will there be any influence if your country has no limits.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2009-05-28 4:20:12 PM

It would be nice if Kim Jong-Il just dropped dead. Why aren't the American satellite lasers working yet?

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-05-28 4:29:17 PM

Terrence: sorry, but "Real Genius" was just a 1985 movie. Someday, maybe.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2009-05-28 7:14:36 PM

One phone call from the White House to the PRC with an ultimatum that if NK doesn't settle down, the US will re-arm Japan and or Taiwan with Nukes and I think things would mysteriously calm down. Although, I wouldn't count on that happening from the current (White House) occupants. The Chicoms would have to know that they were dealing with someone who was prepared to act on his words.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2009-05-28 11:22:12 PM

The "dear leader" is a wild card capable of anything. With any luck he will drop dead soon and his replacement (his son) will have a glimmer of sanity and move into more rational actions. China is the only country that has any control over North Korea. Iran will be attacked by Israel within a year (post this prediction on your fridge and fill your gas tank now) because Israel would never allow Iran to have nukes. Iran is close to having them now. Should be a entertaining year.

Posted by: peterj | 2009-05-29 12:02:25 AM

New signs of NKorea missile preparations
PANMUNJOM, Korea (AP) — Spy satellites have spotted signs that North Korea may be preparing to transport another long-range missile to a test launch site, South Korean officials said Saturday, as the U.S. defense secretary issued his harshest warning to the North since its recent nuclear test.
Since last Monday's nuclear blast, North Korea has test-launched six short-range missiles in a show of force and announced it won't honor a 1953 truce ending fighting in the Korean War.
Sensation nuclear blast-online-video-here:nuclear blast-online-video

Posted by: asdy | 2009-05-30 2:56:20 AM

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