Wednesday, May 27, 2009

North Korea, Nuclear Weapons, Brinksmanship, and Miscalculation

North Korea's celebration of a second nuclear bomb test has already produced results. Not, though, what North Korea probably wanted.

South Korea has held back from joining the Proliferation Security Initiative, or PSI. The PSI is an America-led collection of nations that wants to keep ships from transporting materials used in making nuclear bombs.

Then, North Korea set off a whacking great explosion and announced a successful test of a nuclear bomb.

South Korea is now joining the Proliferation Security Initiative.

This is a declaration of war, North Korea says.

That's not as worrisome as it sounds: "...Since its April rocket launch, Pyongyang has considered almost any opposition a "declaration of war," including U.N. Security Council sanctions and participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative...." (CNN)

Free Trade, Open Borders, and North Korea

As a rule, I think that free trade is a good idea. I think that a market economy, where people are allowed to pay what they think is reasonable for goods and services, works rather well. Generally.

I'm well aware of problems created by monopolies and daft directors. That's why we've got regulations on trade today: and why, in my opinion, there will be a sort of dynamic stability in economies, as people who want no regulation and people who want total regulation gain and lose ground.
North Korea Exporting Nuke Technology: Occam's Razor Says 'Yes'
I don't know whether the PSI agreement is good sense or not: I don't know enough about it.

I do think I see why North Korea is so upset about limits on its export of nuclear weapons materials. North Korea is a small, self-isolated, impoverished country. Cash for bomb-making materials and know-how would be a boon to the North Korean government.

It looks like North Korea has been in the nuke export business for some time already.

Back in 2007, Syria complained about Israel blowing up a reactor1 it had been building. The Syrian reactor was almost exactly the same size and shape as a North Korean reactor. (October 29, 2007) There's evidence, including a photo of a North Korean nuclear scientist talking to his Syrian counterpart, that North Korea was deeply involved in building Syria's reactor. (April 26, 2008)
Syria's Reactor, Radioactive Kimchi, White House Conspiracies, and Occam's Razor
A couple years ago, I came up with a wild explanation (involving radioactive kimchi) for North Korea's presence at the reactor, and outrage at its destruction. The Syrian ambassador, playing (I think) to 'sophisticated' Americans, said the affair was a Bush plot: just like Iraq.

Applying Occam's razor2, it's much more likely that a reactor built along North Korean lines, with a North Korean nuclear physicist on site, was being built with North Korean help.

I don't have a problem with countries like India, France, or America, using and selling nuclear technology. Those countries have a track record for having moderately rational foreign policies: and whose leaders appear, in general, to have a relatively firm grasp on reality.

As I wrote earlier, in a somewhat different context, "I don't mind people owning dangerous technology, as long as they're not crazy. It's part of living in a free society." (March 4, 2009) I think the same principle can be applied to nations.

North Korea Threatens South Korea, America: What is Dear Leader Thinking?

An op-ed in The New York Times opines that North Korea's announcement of a successful nuclear weapons test and missile launches "...all point to a newly emboldened military influencing decision-making...." (NYT) That's likely enough. I was interested in the paragraph that came before that:

"...While brinksmanship is nothing new for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and previous outbursts have often brought increased attention — and rewards — this time international reaction is likely to be swift and unforgiving. North Korea has miscalculated the global ire its provocation has raised...." (NYT)

When even China - one of the very few friends Dear Leader's regime has - denounces North Korea's actions, you know that the country is running seriously short of goodwill. And, possibly, bargaining chips.

I think it's quite possible that North Korea's nuclear sabre-rattling is, in part, an effort by some of North Korea's military to strengthen their position in the country's leadership. Or, maybe Kim Jong Il is trying to make one of his sons look good: with an eye on the third generation of his dynasty.
You Don't Suppose North Korea's Leaders Believe Their Own Propaganda?
North Korea covered familiar ground, reacting to South Korea's acceptance of the Proliferation Security Initiative.

"...'Now that the South Korean puppets were so ridiculous as to join in the said racket and dare declare a war against compatriots,' North Korea is 'compelled to take a decisive measure,' the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement carried by state media...." (AP)

North Korea's leadership says it isn't concerned about American sanctions.

"...'It is a laughable delusion for the United States to think that it can get us to kneel with sanctions,' it said in an editorial. 'We've been living under U.S. sanctions for decades, but have firmly safeguarded our ideology and system while moving our achievements forward. The U.S. sanctions policy toward North Korea is like striking a rock with a rotten egg.'..." (AP)

Taking what North Korea says at face value, they believe that the United Nations Security Council is part of the American government.

I prefer to think that North Korea's leaders, Kim Jong Il, generals, and all, have a somewhat firmer grasp on reality.

A Full Nuclear Exchange Could be Unpleasant

At this point, North Korea very likely has, or will soon have, nuclear weapons with yields approaching that of the bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Something like that going off over Beijing, Vladivostok, Anchorage, or Honolulu would be unpleasant: to say the least.

I think there's a very remote chance that bombing an American city would be met with nothing more serious than stern rebukes, and calls for action in the next meeting of the United Nations Security Council.

Or, America could respond like the warmonger imperialists North Korea believes we are. In which case, I wonder what North Korea's leaders think would be the result of a full nuclear exchange between the United States of America and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Remember: Their missiles will reach Alaska and Hawaii, but not the contiguous 48 states. (

I think an American response would be somewhere between those extremes.

What other countries would do, I don't know.

Russia made it clear, since 2000, that it would use nuclear weapons if it believed its sovereignty or territorial integrity were threatened. (January 19, 2008) One of the few ports the Russian Federation has is Vladivostok: well inside North Korean missiles' range.

In the days of the Soviet Union, Russia was quite willing to react to real or imagined threats: like Korean Air's Flight 902 in 1978 and Flight 007 in 1983. I wouldn't bet that things have changed all that much.

North Korea's Nuclear Fist-Waving: My Take

I think there's a very good chance that Kim Jong Il, or whoever is calling the shots in North Korea, took a calculated risk with the latest nuclear test announcement and missile launches.

America is a very influential country: arguably the only superpower remaining. (At this moment - China and India, at least, are rising fast.) And, America has gone through a regime change.

At least, I think that is how America's elections may be perceived by people in places like North Korea and Burma/Myanmar/whatever.

North Korea's leaders may have assumed that they were dealing with a leader who was not only relatively inexperienced, but eager to secure his position against remaining internal threats.

I'll grant, this is speculation.

President Barack Obama has been establishing a reputation for 'reaching out' to unfriendly people, like supporters of the Taliban. And, his administration has abolished the official use of "war on terror." (March 30, 2009)

I can see how leaders of an alternatively-peaceful, impoverished, and somewhat desperate country might see President Obama as a pushover. Just a hard shove, they might think, and he'll start spewing foreign aid and concessions like a slot machine with triple sevens.

That didn't happen.

"...'North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs pose a grave threat to the peace and security of the world and I strongly condemn their reckless action,' the president said in a statement in the White House Rose Garden. 'North Korea will not find security and respect through threats and illegal weapons.'

" 'We will work with our friends and allies to stand up to this behavior,' the president said and pledged to 'never waver' from the commitment to protect the American people...." (ABC)

This isn't what a red-white-and-blue-blooded 'all American' flag-waver might hope for: but it's very far from capitulation to a threat.

I've written this before: Things are different, when you're in charge. I think President Obama is learning that. And, responding fairly well to reality.

Related posts: News and views: Background:
1 It looked like a reactor, and Syria eventually called the installation a reactor. Before that, the reactor had been, according to Syrian authorities, an unused military building, an agricultural research station, and nothing but sand. (October 17, 2007)

2Occam's razor is a Franciscan friar's idea, that when you've got two ways of explaining something, and one is simpler, the simpler one is true. William of Occam said it more eloquently, of course.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.