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Saturday, January 31, 2009

North Korea is a problem

Some words from former UN ambassador John Bolton - Now Is No Time to Downplay North Korea:
Yesterday, North Korea declared all its political and military agreements with the South "dead" -- the latest in a string of confrontational moves taken by Pyongyang against Seoul and the U.S. In the past few weeks, the North confirmed it possessed enough plutonium for four to five nuclear warheads; threatened to retain its nuclear weapons until America withdraws its nuclear protection from the South; denounced the appointment of Seoul's new unification minister as "an open provocation"; and proclaimed that a routine South Korean military exercise had so inflamed tensions that "a war may break out any time."

The Associated Press concluded from all this that North Korea "sounded open to new ideas to defuse nuclear-tinged tensions." Some State Department quarters will warmly receive that analysis; a senior careerist at State once called earlier North Korean provocations "a desperate cry for help." Others will say Kim Jong Il just wants attention, that these moves are simply a "coming out" exercise after his recent illness.

Unfortunately, early signs are that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is falling prey to such logic and downplaying the significance of Pyongyang's nuclear program. It may well be that the Obama administration wants to emphasize domestic economic issues and limit foreign affairs priorities to the Arab-Israeli conflict. But neglecting North Korea is a dangerous gamble with very high stakes.
What? You didn't hear about the NK action? Read about it here:
North Korea’s state media, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), on 30 January 2009, released statement declaring the DPRK’s unilateral withdrawal from all political and military agreements with South Korea.

Specifically cited was a 1991 agreement that included a sea border in the Yellow Sea. This signals North Korea’s dissatisfaction with ROK President Lee Myung-bak’s policy of linking aid to progress in denuclearization, unlike the previous two ROK presidents that appeased Pyongyang. What to watch for? Another naval skirmish along the Northern Limit Line (NLL).
Article 11 of the 1991 agreement cited by North Korea states:

The South-North demarcation line and areas for non-aggression shall be identical with the Military Demarcation Line specified in the Military Armistice Agreement of July 27, 1953 and the areas that have been under the jurisdiction of each side until the present time.

The west coast border between the two Koreas has been extremely contentious and volatile, with naval skirmishes in 1999 and 2002. By disavowing the previously agreed upon border, North Korea opens up the possibility of more naval confrontations on the West Coast.
And here:
The real reason for North Korea’s new hostile policy probably has more to do with the interruption of billions of dollars in regime-sustaining extortion payments the North bullied out of previous left-leaning South Korean governments. Since his inauguration a year ago, President Lee has insisted that South Korea should actually get something back for its money — the return of Korean War prisoners of war or abductees, maybe the removal of some of those guns aimed at Seoul, or a little meaningful performance on one of many North Korean commitments to give up its nuclear arsenal. It’s pretty clear in retrospect that financing those programs was not an effective way to curtail them. And as for the theory that more “engagement” with the South would slowly transform the North into something less miserable and oppressive, there’s a lot more evidence for exactly the opposite.

South Koreans have seen all of this before. Most are reacting to the new announcement with yawns, although “analysts” think some sort of provocation near the Northern Limit Line could be in the works. The South Korean government warned the North that any intrusions across the Northern Limit Line will be met with a “resolute response.” According to the Daily NK, the North Korean military has canceled leaves and appears to be in a heightened state of alert.
Most of the press reports also suggest that the North Koreans are trying to get the attention of Barack Obama, which is a half-truth, because what the North Koreans really want is their very own bailout. What we’re seeing is the beginning of the same old extortion racket the North Koreans have used against every new American president since at least Richard Nixon. There’s always a “crisis” with the North Koreans around the time of a presidential transition. And if my guess is right, the new administration is occupied with the selection of political appointees to fill key civil service posts and much less “ready from day one” than advertised to deal with the threat, however empty it may be, of a third theater war. Which means it’s quite likely that we’ll soon send some special envoy off to Pyongyang to find out the asking price of a few more months of quiet time for appointments, confirmations, and policy reviews.

Of course, North Korea can’t survive for long without the generous underwriting of nations with functioning economies. With its calculated alienation of the South and no immediate prospect of large-scale U.S. or Japanese aid, the North is turning to its main backer, China, to provide the support it will need to sustain its belligerence and terrorism in the meantime.
Your level of concern may vary.

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