Monday, November 29, 2010

What Does North Korea Want?

What Does North Korea Want?
By Jed Babbin on 11.29.10 @ 6:23AM

North Korea's shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea is the third such incident since last November. Then, the North Koreans exchanged gunfire with South Korean naval forces resulting in two North Korean deaths. The second was North Korea's sinking of the South Korean destroyer Cheonan in March.

As you read this, the USS George Washington and its battle group are conducting exercises with South Korean forces in the southern Yellow Sea, not too far from Yeonpyeong Island. Both North Korea and China have condemned the exercises. China is pushing for a high-level meeting of the parties to the "Six-Party Talks" -- the U.S., Japan, both Koreas, and Russia -- to ease tensions in the area. But those talks are aimed at North Korea's nuclear program and have nothing to do with their attacks in the southern Yellow Sea.

The Yellow Sea is China's Caribbean: it claims a 200-mile exclusive economic zone that almost reaches Yeonpyeong Island, very near the area in which the naval exercises are taking place. China is North Korea's biggest ally and trading partner. We often say that North Korea is under China's control, and that its aggressive acts couldn't be undertaken without Chinese acquiescence or agreement. But it's not at all clear that China -- which clearly has enormous leverage over the impoverished North Koreans -- has that level of day-to-day control of North Korea's acts.

Calling North Korea impoverished is both a great understatement and a misstatement. My favorite picture of the Korean Peninsula was taken by a U.S. spy satellite on one night in early 2006. It shows South Korea ablaze with lights in every city and town. In the North, only the capital of Pyongyang is lit. The rest of the country is pitch black. Most North Koreans live cold, hungry, and in the dark, but their government lives well.

So far, China is apparently trying to calm the situation. While North Korea's press blares more threats, China's Xinhua News Agency is publishing rather bland stories about the incident and the U.S.-South Korea military exercises.

If North Korea wanted war, it could restart the Korean War in a matter of minutes by attacking with missiles or other forces across the demilitarized zone. If it sought only to provoke South Korea and America, it could mount a smaller attack off its east coast.

But the fact that the three incidents in the last year all took place in the Yellow Sea means that the three attacks are meant to draw China in as well. If the Chinese knew of the incidents before they took place and approved North Korea's actions, the Chinese would be extending their protective military umbrella over North Korea's provocations.

So what does North Korea want? And how should we and South Korea respond to its latest act of murderous aggression?

North Korea has accomplished much of what it wanted. It waited eight months after sinking the Cheonan for a response from South Korea, and didn't see one. By the latest attack, North Korea has already brought about the resignation of South Korea's defense minister and may have destabilized the South Korean government. Massive protests in Seoul by South Korean military veterans have demanded a forceful response, and at least one South Korean general has vowed revenge.

South Korea has already had one prime minister fall this year, and the new P.M., Lee Myung-bak, is perched precariously on his seat. And the effects of the latest attack are being felt in Tokyo. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has ordered his cabinet to remain in Tokyo for the next several days, anticipating a greater crisis.

What to do?

First, the United States should restore North Korea to its proper place as a nation designated as a state sponsor of terrorism. This would effectively interfere with -- and probably interdict -- most financial transactions with North Korea. Given North Korea's proliferation activities -- including construction of the Syrian nuclear plant that Israeli jets destroyed three years ago -- there's more than enough justification for that action.

The Bush administration lifted the designation as an incentive to North Korea in the Six-Party Talks. But those talks -- like the negotiations we've had with North Korea off and on for about fifteen years -- are an abject failure. There is no agreement we've made -- or will ever make -- with North Korea that they will abide by. Every time we receive their blood oaths to stop nuclear development and proliferation, the North Koreans proceed at full speed doing their best to conceal their actions.

Second, we should reject China's call for urgent consultations of the Six Party Talks participants, instead convening a meeting of a core group of the nations that are a party to the Proliferation Security Initiative. The PSI, begun in 2003, is aimed at enforcement of proliferation bans on nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. It proved its worth several times, intercepting -- in one case -- the shipment of nuclear materials to Libya, which precipitated Libya's surrender of its nuclear program to the United States. The PSI began with sixteen nations and has grown to ninety, an impossibly unproductive number. Let's start with a small group of six or seven and call it "PSI-Korea."

The PSI-Korea group should be called together to create and implement a plan of action designed for the sole purpose of preventing any further shipment of nuclear or missile materials from North Korea to any nation or group.

Third, and not last in importance, we should urge a regional alliance with Japan and South Korea to help them defend themselves -- and each other -- against further North Korean aggression. This would be a big step for Japan, but a necessary one because a re-armed Japan -- capable of ballistic missile defense and other measures -- would be a necessary predicate to any such agreement. Were Japan to grow in military strength, North Korea would be more effectively contained.

Will the Obama administration do any of this? Almost certainly not. Which will leave North Korea undeterred. It is probably the most dangerously unpredictable country in the world. And its next act of aggression -- and there will be one -- may result in a South Korean response that will kick off the Second Korean War.

Sixty Years Is Enough
By Doug Bandow on 11.29.10 @ 6:08AM

In recent years South Korea has begun to develop regional ambitions. Seoul is creating a blue-water navy and deploying international peacekeeping troops. The Republic of Korea increasingly sees itself sitting alongside the world's most powerful nations.

Unfortunately, the ROK government appears to have neglected its most important duty: defending its people. Last March North Korea sank a South Korean warship. Days ago Pyongyang unleashed a deadly artillery barrage against a South Korean island.

On both occasions all the ROK did was fulminate.

Granted, in the first case Seoul cut off what little bilateral trade remained between the two countries and demanded an apology. In the second instance the ROK fired back. It also changed the rules of engagement for the future and planned to bolster its island garrisons. Still, the effect was about the same as just talking. Pyongyang responded predictably, blaming the South and threatening to rain destruction down upon its enemies.

Worse, as ROK President Lee Myung-bak publicly worried lest South Koreans "let our guard down in preparation for another possible North Korean provocation," his nation again hid behind Miss America's skirt. President Barack Obama sent an aircraft carrier strike group to demonstrate "resolve" and professed America's usual determination to stand by its helpless ally -- "shoulder to shoulder," as he put it.

It is a shocking situation.

Not North Korea's misbehavior. The Stalinist dictatorship has morphed into the world's only communist monarchy. Just two men, father and son, have ruled since the so-called Democratic People's Republic of Korea was formed in 1948. Now "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il is attempting to pass power on to his youngest son, "Brilliant Comrade" Kim Jong-un.

The Kim family's crimes are many: starting the Korean War, suppressing political, civil, and religious liberties, establishing a brutal gulag system, starving millions through imposition of an incompetent socialist state, and maintaining a permanent state of war. Firing off some artillery shells and killing four South Koreans is minor compared to the DPRK's other activities.

Slightly more outrageous is China's willingness to abet the North's aggressions. After the latest incident, Beijing did not criticize Pyongyang. Instead, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao called for all sides to show "maximum restraint." That was a bit like urging the Germans, Soviets, and Poles to act responsibly in September 1939 after the Nazis and Communists invaded Poland. Still, while China's conduct is disappointing, it hardly is surprising.

What is truly shocking is the ROK's continuing dependence on America.

The Korean War ended in 1953. Since then the South has won the intra-Korea contest. The ROK raced past the North economically and now has upwards of 40 times the latter's GDP. South Korea has succeeded in hi-tech production, benefits from twice the population, and possesses global diplomatic clout. In fact, Seoul even has stolen away North Korea's allies, trading far more with China and Russia. In contrast to 1950, the latter two countries would not likely back Pyongyang in a fight.

Yet the DPRK possesses a bigger military. Although the North's soldiers are ill-trained and its equipment is antiquated, the Kim government obviously still is capable of striking with deadly effect. Why hasn't the South put its resources to better military effect? Because it doesn't have to.

So long as America offers a security guarantee, maintains a tripwire troop presence on the peninsula, and promises to do whatever is necessary to protect the ROK, the South Koreans have little incentive to take over their own defense. Granted, it's a bit humiliating to constantly beg Washington for aid: it would be a bit like the U.S. going hat-in-hand around the world asking for help to defend against Mexico. Still, better for Seoul to get the gullible Americans to pay its defense bill than to have to cover the cost itself.

Making the ROK's behavior even more outrageous has been Seoul's attempt to buy off Pyongyang while relying on American military support. For nearly a decade the so-called "Sunshine Policy" emphasized aid to and investment in the North. Seoul even effectively bought a summit between the late President Kim Dae-jung and the North's Kim Jong-il. Although the Lee government has cut back on subsidies for the North, Seoul has not closed the Kaesong industrial park, an important source of hard currency for Pyongyang. Nothing changes even as North Korea kills the South's citizens. Should war break out, some of the weapons fired at U.S. soldiers would have been effectively paid for by America's allies in the South.

North Korea's presumed nuclear capabilities add a more dangerous dimension to tensions on the peninsula, but America's troop presence only worsens the problem by conveniently giving the Kim regime 27,500 nuclear hostages within easy reach. Moreover, the best way to get Beijing's attention would be to suggest that Washington might eventually decide to respond to the North's provocations by standing aside if South Korea and Japan want to build corresponding nuclear arsenals. That would give the residents of Beijing's Zhongnanhai an incentive to clamp down on the DPRK.

With Uncle Sam effectively bankrupt, Americans increasingly will have to debate how much they should spend on "defense." The answer should be: as much as is necessary for defense -- of America. But no more for the defense of prosperous and populous allies, such as South Korea.

Today the U.S. protects countries that are well able to protect themselves. The result is not just to further impoverish debt-burdened Americans. It also is to reduce American security. After all, the U.S. would be far more secure if its allies were militarily strong and self-assured. Yet Washington's security guarantees have turned friendly Asians and Europeans into a gaggle of helpless weaklings and wimps. U.S. allies espouse grandiose geopolitical ambitions but under-invest in defense -- and when conflict threatens, scamper to Washington wailing for relief.

This behavior wouldn't matter much if evil had passed away. But as we see in the Korean peninsula, the lion has yet to lie down with the lamb. The era of perpetual peace is not yet here.

Unfortunately, Washington's military commitments may help deter conflict, but they insure American involvement if war breaks out. Taking that risk was necessary during the Cold War. But no longer. In Korea, for instance, only U.S. intervention could have prevented a North Korean victory in 1950. That is not the case in 2010. Americans no longer have anything at stake that warrants risking involvement in another conflict on the Korean peninsula.

The time is long past when Washington could play Globocop. We should start by bringing home the troops from Korea.

No comments: