Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Just the Two of Us

The six-party talks about North Korea's nuclear arsenal will go on after North Korea finally agreed to return to the table.

North Korea is one of the parties so we can eliminate them as a party interested in getting North Korea to give up nukes. If not, there would be no talks on the issue since North Korea would simply not have nukes. There are no six-party talks (or five-party, or twelve-party, or whatever) over making sure Canada gets no nukes (or Spain, etc.).

China does not want North Korea to be nuclear free enough to risk North Korea's collapse or defeat. Sure, a nuclear-armed North Korea might prompt South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan to go nuclear in the long run; but in the short run, supporting our aim by cutting off the vital Chinese exports of fuel and food would risk North Korean collapse and reunification with Seoul. As a potential arrow in their quiver to shoot at America and Japan, the Chinese won't let Pyongyang die. Lots of North Korean refugees in Manchuria would be unwelcome also. As an aside, how does this short-term calculus bolster the idea that China's ancient culture makes them patient and far-sighted?

Russia still has phantom superpower pains. Even though Russia relies on nukes for defending their shrunken but still far-flung realm, you'd think they'd want proliferation of nukes solidly contained. But no, the instinct to stick it to America and our allies is still too strong for them to apply pressure on North Korea or to side with us to enthusiastically.

Sadly, even South Korea is not reallly with us on this, as their deputy foreign minister makes clear:

"The most important thing is North Korea giving up its nuclear development, but there are motives and reasons why the North wants to have nuclear programs," Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min-soon said on a KBS radio program on Monday.

Song also said the regional powers at the talks needed to take into consideration how any deal would impact on the North's economic and political stability.

You'd think that a country with its capital and a quarter of its population under conventional, chemical, and now nuclear threat would be a little less concerned about the motives for your apparent enemy keeping you under threat of a sea of fire.

But of course, from South Korea's perspective, the north's political and economic stability are important since South Korea doesn't want to win. The cost of absorbing North Korea would make East Germany look like child's play.

As for the nuclear threat to South Korea, who cares? Seoul has been wrecked by North Korea already and for the last five decades a war would have wrecked Seoul just from the conventional forces of North Korea assaulting the city and probably taking it. Even in the last decade as South Korea's strength has grown to the point where we could now defeat an invasion and in my estimation likely hold Seoul, North Korea retains the ability to destroy Seoul with high explosive shelling without even crossing the DMZ. North Korean nukes add little to this calculation. Even if we assume that in another decade that South Korea will have enough strength to invade North Korea and win, Pyongyang could still lob a nuke at Seoul as they went down. Doing anything to upset the current balance is not in South Korea's interest right now.

Nukes are only a new threat to America when Pyongyang can develop long-range missiles and to Japan anytime the North can mount a nuke on a missile.

So in the end, the only two parties that want North Korea de-nuclearized are America and Japan, while the third party you'd think wants to end North Korea's nuclear threat undercuts the coming talks by offering lots of electricty right off the bat:

Japan and the United States urged Pyongyang on Tuesday to abandon nuclear weapons or risk failure in six-nation talks, while South Korea offered to supply its reclusive neighbor with electricity in return for a deal.

What is really disturbing is the very different needs for security that America and Japan have on the one hand and South Korea's security needs. Since America and Japan fear nukes, we are willing to risk conventional war in South Korea with the risk of destroying Seoul in order to forestall a nuclear missile threat to our cities away from the theater. Japan, which has endured two nuclear strikes, probably has more incentive than us pacifist post-war reputation to the contrary. South Korea fears any type of war that could result in Seoul's destruction, and so will risk North Korea possessing nuclear weapons capable of hitting America and Japan. A North Korean collapse could precipitate a war that destroys Seoul almost as much as a North Korean decision to invade. My question is when will these apparently incompatible objectives drive South Korea away from alliance with America?

I would like to take exception to this comment:

"Just having a meeting is meaningless. If you don't make any progress, there is no point," Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters at his residence after his meeting with Rice.

On the contrary, stringing North Korea along with the hopes of getting an agreement among the four powers who don't really want North Korea to give up nukes while North Korea collapses is very meaningful if it keeps the Pillsbury Nuke Boy from rolling the dice on war if it looks like he has two choices: collapse or war. Right now the PNB has a third choice: win in negotiations. As long as we and the Japanese don't lose our nerve, we can slowly squeeze North Korea to the point of collapse.

In the end, our only solution to the competing worries may be to partition North Korea.