Along the Tracks

Thursday, February 06, 2003

North Korea demanding more attention

The conservative Free Republic site has an interesting “scoop,” obtained from a Japanese news service, of some documents which it claims were smuggled from North Korea. The report blasts officials for their failure to maintain social control and lists a variety of ways in which Western influences are causing the breakdown.

Assuming the report is real (and there’s no reason not too, based on its claims and implications), the entire North Korea situation seems more understandable, if no less dangerous. Kim Jong Il and his thugs are beginning to lose control of their people, which means they are losing power. What we are witnessing may be the death throws of this deadly regime.

It’s kind of fortuitous that this report (if true) has come out - I was just about to try once again to explain the Bush administration’s policy on North Korea, which frankly is no easy task. I’ve been in the “they’re putting Kim off until after Iraq” camp, but the provocations (transport of fuel rods, startup of reactor) are just getting too big. As I wrote last week, moving those fuel rods was a red line we had always said could not be crossed without “serious consequences,” and now that it has been crossed, the clock is ticking on Kim’s effort to start a nuke production line. We may have a month or so until the first one from this batch of plutonium is done. So, why are we still mumbling about “diplomacy”? What’s going on?

Perhaps - I don’t know, I’m really just speculating here - perhaps the administration has the kind of detailed intelligence on North Korea that Colin Powell demonstrated yesterday with Iraq. Perhaps things are getting pretty dicey for Kim. Perhaps the administration knows enough about Kim’s nuclear capabilities to be confident he cannot develop a usable bomb or bombs, or refine and sell fissile material, before he falls from power. In other words, this crisis is being created by Kim for internal, and in particular, military consumption, to get everyone busy doing something other than notice how destitute they are and how much they’d like to see Kim gone. Kim’s gamble is the West (America) will pay him off and he can regain control by giving his people a little more bread and his military a lot more money and hardware. In the meantime, the crisis itself tends to unite erstwhile dissenters as they face a common foe.

Unfortunately for Kim, Bush has not been playing along very well. The diplomatic dance has been little more than glances across an empty floor. Bush has okayed just enough talking to make it look like we are talking, always delaying and shifting when something substantial might be about to break (the Richardson talks; a Security Council resolution; dialogue through China, then South Korea, then China, South Korea, Japan and Russia, now maybe an eight-way conference). This has frustrated Kim, so he has stepped up the pressure to the point where he even has gone past the “red line.” Today, reports are he is talking about a “pre-emptive” strike against the American forces slowly building in South Korea and Japan and the nearby waters.

This is where the Bush plan of waiting for the dead fruit to drop gets dicey. Kim’s next step will be a missile test over Japan - count on it. That will come just as we begin the war in Iraq. The U.S. will condemn the act, of course, then do a lot of nothing about it. As the Iraq war continues and internal Korean pressure builds, Kim will look for ways to “take advantage” with even more provocative acts. How far will he go? Who knows. You’d think he realizes anything which initiates combat will ultimately result in his demise and the end of the North Korean state - but he seems pretty crazy, like most dictators, so maybe he really believes he’d get another cease-fire line kind of agreement after both sides tired of the bloodshed. The war itself, he might believe, would strengthen his internal position, which is all he cares about anyway.

It’s scary stuff, no doubt about it. In the end, Bush may have to give in to the blackmail and seek another way to take out Kim. But I don’t see Bush agreeing to anything which keeps nuclear material and potentially bombs in place in North Korea, with or without monitoring and inspectors.

What a dangerous world.

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