The Limits of Incentive-Based Diplomacy.

by: canadian gal

Tue May 26, 2009 at 15:15:34 PM EDT



(cross-posted at kickin it with cg)

Once again, Kim Jong-il is testing the resolve of the international community. The latest North Korean nuclear provocation - an underground detonation yesterday - is the biggest trial of the Obama administration's foreign policy and of China's newfound global status to date.

The stakes are high not only because Pyongyang's provocations undermine security in northeast Asia, but also because a critical issue facing the US is nuclear proliferation to Iran. Should North Korea acquire the status of a nuclear-weapons state, any effort to prevent the nuclearization of Iran would lose validity. Additionally the prospect of a nuclear Iran could unravel U.S. Middle East policy, threatening the survival of Israel as well as the security of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf oil-exporting states. For China, the stakes in North Korea are no less important. It has banked its credibility on restraining Pyongyang through the diplomatic process of the six-party talks on Kim's nuclear program.

The Kim family dynasty's determination to secure its survival through the acquisition of nuclear weapons not only threatens South Korea, but also may provoke Japan (the only country that suffered an atomic bombing) to weaponize its advanced nuclear technology. Yet Kim has success doing what he has been doing in the past - winning foreign aid to stave off his people's hunger and provoking diplomatic apoplexy to feed his megalomania.

A unscrupulous dictator, Kim bankrolls his state by counterfeiting U.S. currency and the export of narcotics. He has no fuel for his factories and no foodstuff to feed his people yet finds the time to kidnap teenagers from the beaches of Japan. He goes through the motions of building nuclear reactors, then wins subsidized oil shipments from the outside world in return for suspending construction. With thousands of land-based missiles pointed at South Korea and 1.2 million soldiers under arms, Kim has long had the West over a barrel.

The response to the removal of North Korea from the U.S. list of countries supporting terrorism has been for Kim to renew his campaign of nuclear blackmail. He has no fear of the UN Security Council, whose resolutions he has defied on multiple occasions in the past five years.

With yesterday's events broadcast through the global airways, North Korea created critical mass.  No doubt a nuclear arms race in northeast Asia would undermine the U.S.-Japan security treaty and inflame a fear of Japanese militarism in the rest of Asia, especially in China, where bitter memories of Japan's aggression simmer just below the surface.  It's pretty safe to say that a scramble to acquire a nuclear stockpile in any region of the world is not what the international community is hoping for.

The only way to restrain Kim from his course is the joint and explicit cooperation of the rest of the participants in the six-party talks, led by China and the United States and supported by Russia, Japan and South Korea. China's swift condemnation of this week's nuclear test by North Korea signals that its patience is at an end.

In the coming days, we will see whether the international community can rise to the challenge. The limits of incentive-based diplomacy have been reached. The world must now tolerate imposing painful sanctions on Pyongyang. The price of inaction is too high. The risk of a war that would once again devastate the Korean Peninsula has deterred any military option. So it would seem that only close co-ordination between China and the United States to devise sanctions (such as a total energy embargo on a state that has no domestic source of oil) might constrain the continued operation of the North Korean regime without firing a shot.  However it could also provoke a suicidal attack on South Korea or Japan from a power-crazed and desperate neighbour.

Kim threatens the world with the push of a button out of weakness, not strength. The world may ultimately be forced into an uncomfortable and uncharacteristic game of brinkmanship, because clearly it seems the international community is running out of options.

canadian gal :: The Limits of Incentive-Based Diplomacy.
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any other suggestions? (2.00 / 4)


"I spend my days and nights pondering the meaning of life, the state of the universe, and the Home Shopping Network." -- Donald Roller Wilson

This is such a mess. (2.00 / 4)
The Chinese have to be absolutely FURIOUS with NK right now.  It's understood that the Chinese are the real power players here and it only makes Beijing look weak when they can't keep Kim Jung-il under control.

Kim Jung-il has one card he can play with the Chinese.  He can stop policing the already porous northern border.  Let's say that we really tighten the screws on North Korea and a humanitarian crisis follows.  Refugees will pour across the northern border because they can't cross through the south.  The Chinese don't want to deal with a destabilized North Korea on its southern border.  And Kim Jung-il knows that.

Some of the press yesterday indicated that this might be about an internal North Korean politics, using the tests to demonstrate military support for Kim's regime.

This whole situation is such a huge mess.  I don't even know where to begin.  We can't cut off humanitarian supplies without hurting the NK people.  The only real sanctions we could apply would be against banks who do business with the government.  The ball is really in China's court on what to do next.


i think you might be right... (2.00 / 2)
and yes - apparently much of yesterday's test it is said has to do with internal politics and external. that said - the signal sent yesterday is undeniable.  and i believe that china wants/needs the US to take the point here due to its lack of diplomacy experience and entangled geopolitical position.

"I spend my days and nights pondering the meaning of life, the state of the universe, and the Home Shopping Network." -- Donald Roller Wilson

[ Parent ]
I think that China wants to be out front. (2.00 / 2)
China's long-term goals include being THE regional power.  Right now, the regional power is still the United States.  We keep Japan under wraps, patrol the Korean border, and protect Taiwan from the Chinese.  China has already made great inroads, using is large supply of foreign currency to invest in Chinese language & cultural centers throughout Asia and spread economic aid without strings attached.

[ Parent ]
Sanctions are always tougher on the people than the ruler, (2.00 / 1)
recall the "500,000 starved children" in Iraq (while Saddam sat on several $500M blocks of US currency and lived in palaces).  Kim remained the world's largest purchaser of Grand Marnier during the North Korean famine.

It is an amazingly difficult country to get information out of, both because of the enormous risk to any citizen assisting as well as the genetically monolithic population (I, for example, have a 0% chance of being a successful spy there).  But given Kim's health (if in fact he is still alive), the status of the offspring he has sired through his campaign of wallowing hedonism, and the life-long fully-justified paranoia of anyone near the source of power, I can imagine some of the potential forms of the power struggle going on right now.  Whatever it really looks like inside the halls of Pyongyang would, I suspect, make a story so bizarre as to be mocked as unbelievable if it were a Hollywood movie.

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."


[ Parent ]
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