Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Surprise, Surprise

Prolific as ever Nicholas Eberstadt has released his latest jingoistic prose concerning North Korea via an opinion piece in the Washington Post ? “What Surprise?” And indeed his first point that the North’s declaration of possessing a nuclear arsenal was, among those following the issue, no big shakes and certainly no surprise. This concurs with my earlier post noting that the biggest surprise was that people were surprised. However, as usual, there are more points over which I disagree with Mr. Eberstadt than those I agree with and this article offers no exception.

The article argues that nuclear development on the part of the North fits is in accordance with three intertwined ambitions. That is, their state of war mentality; their desire to eventually rid the peninsula of US troops (and unite it under their own regime); and to achieve their ideological vision of juche. He further argues that achieving these ends cannot be done by possessing conventional capabilities and that the threat of being able to strike the US with a nuke will fill the gap. The goal of developing long-range strike capability is given as the rationale behind North Korea’s nuclear development. If that is the case, the North Korean leaders are a bunch of dolts (something I believe to be true).

Having nuclear weapons gives the North no advantage over the US. It does not improve their chances of winning the on-going conflict with South Korea. The North does not need nukes to hit the American enemy, all they need do is fire across the DMZ. Moreover, if the aim is to prompt the US to withdraw troops it is likely to do the opposite. Even if US troops withdrew, the North does not need nuclear weapons or long range ballistic missiles to be able to strike the US or even Japan to ensure that US would be engaged in any renewal of hostilities ? that is a given. Korea is not Taiwan, there is no ambiguity about US involvement. For North Korea conventional weapons are sufficient deterrent because of the damage that can so easily be afflicted on Seoul.

The other idea is that nuclear weapons will drive a wedge in US-South Korea relations. Eberstadt argues that diminished credibility of US involvement in an renewed outbreak of the Korean War would upset South Korea. I’m sure it would. However, it is difficult to see how a heightened threat from the North against the South would reduce the likelihood of US resolve to maintain a commitment they have proved in blood and sustained for over fifty years with the support of the UN. If anything, in the era of pre-emptive war, the increased threat from the North only serves to strengthen the resolve of US to jump in if South Korea is attacked.

The underlying message of the article seems to be that US should be more belligerent against the North, show resolve and forget about trying to make a deal and save face with the North. I also think that trying to cut a deal is all but pointless but rather than being more belligerent I believe indifference would serve the US better. The final sentence of the article states that, “For America and its allies, however, the costs and dangers of failure are higher?incalculably higher.” This statement is profoundly lacking in explanation. The nuclear weapons are presumably for deterrence and not first strike, and the North has no chance of winning in either a conventional or nuclear war. So how is it that the costs are higher to the US to let the North have their useless deterrent? Before the nuclear weapons came on the scene the US wasn’t planning to attack anyway.

On the Topic of Neocons
The Financial Times has a piece on Wolfowitz's chances of landing the top job at The World Bank. I would consider such an eventuality to be a decidedly unfortunate as I perceive his skills lie in fields other than development and poverty alleviation.

Access to Official Records on Korea
This exciting development on the release of Korean archives regarding normalisation of ties with Japan will hopefully lead to new insights into this period. Hopefully the information will generate some discussion that reaches the public either through newspaper, academia, books, etc.

Currently reading:

"Hell" by Yasutaka Tsutsui