Tuesday, October 10, 2006

North Korea: Not Bluffing, But ... Baffling

(Image from Wikipedia)

North Korea may not be bluffling, but it's certainly baffling.

Over at The Korea Liberator on Sunday, Richardson cited a CNN report that the North had told China that it might not test its nuclear device:

North Korea informed China it may drop its plan to test its first atomic bomb if the United States holds bilateral talks with the communist country, a former South Korean lawmaker said Sunday.

The North also denied speculation that its nuclear test was imminent and said the regime has not raised the alert level of the country's military, said Jang Sung-min, citing a telephone conversation with an unidentified Chinese diplomatic official.

North Korea warned the Chinese official, however, that it would accelerate its preparations for a nuclear test if the United States moves toward imposing sanctions or launching a military attack, Jang said, citing his contact.

In Richardson's view, the North had a tactical aim in its decision:
Perhaps not wanting to use up the precious nuclear card, North Korea has signaled that won’t test a nuke if the U.S. will meet in bilateral talks; plain and simple blackmail.
That seemed like a reasonable interpretation to me. Those crafty North Koreans were simply bluffing and using the bluff to ratchet up pressure for bilateral talks with the U.S.

The North, however, prefers baffling us to bluffing us, for less than 24 hours after the China report, came this update, commented upon in a follow-up post by Richardson:
Things are about to get interesting. North Korea claims to have tested a nuke; seismic confirms an explosion.
I was taking a lunch break in my office when I read Richardson's breaking news, and I happened to be the first to post a comment:
This comes rather suddenly upon the heels of the North's denial that "its nuclear test was imminent."

Given the unlikelihood that the U.S. has moved "toward imposing [new] sanctions or launching a military attack" in the brief 24 hours since the North warned against such moves, then this nuclear test is even more puzzling.

The test is yet more baffling when one considers that the North had "informed China [that] it may drop its plan to test its first atomic bomb if the United States holds bilateral talks."

Whether this was a nuclear device or a whole lot of TNT used for simulating one, its use so soon after its statements yesterday makes the North look extremely erratic. It might also prove embarrassing to China.

So … what was the point? Was this an accidental firing? Or does Kim Jong-il want to look erratic? Or does the army call the shots now, overruling the government’s position? Or was there a remarkably coincidental earthquake?

Bizarre.
I suppose that living in Korea, trying to read up on both Korean history and current events, and even taking a scholarly interest in the region, I ought to have more insight ... but I don't ... not yet, anyway.

In a comment to a more recent post by Joshua, also of The Korea Liberator, USinKorea suggests a message scarier than bluffling or baffling:
I think NK is desperately saying that if some internal problems come up next year -- rebellions, revolts, major splits at the top of the society [--] and [if] the US tries to exploit it, the NK could nuke Seoul. I think that is the message the timing of the test is sending out.

If the worst were to happen, here's what to expect:
The sound of the explosion was so loud, so prolonged and so unusual that I knew at once I was listening to a historic singularity...

6 Comments:

At 5:48 AM, Blogger Conservative in Virginia said...

Do you really think Seoul is a target? From what I read stateside, South Korea is always doing it what it can to appease Kim (while denying that it is doing so). Wouldn't Japan have more to worry about, given that there's no love lost between Japan and Korea?

Not that it really matters, in one sense. Mad man Kim now has the means to kill many people. That is very scary and tragic.

I blame China.

May God protect you and all peoples from Mad Man Kim.

 
At 6:54 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I think that you're right that Japan would be a target. So would the U.S. if the North had a proper delivery system.

But the closest potential target would be Seoul, and if the North were collapsing and the regime felt that it had nothing to lose ... who knows?

China shares some blame. In a fundamental sense, the North wouldn't even exist if China hadn't intervened in the Korean War to save Kim Il-Sung's regime, but China and the North have always had tensions. Kim Il-Sung played the Soviet Union off against China whenever possible, but that game's long over.

China supports the North, but it's none too happy about the Kim Jong-il's nuclear-weapons program. The North probably even worries that China has territorial ambitions in the region, so the nuclear-weapon test might be an implicit threat aimed at China, too.

Meanwhile, Japan and South Korea might shift toward developing their own nuclear weapons ... though the U.S. would be quick to discourage such moves (which Kim Jong-il might have been calculating on since he surely has nothing to gain by an arms race). But they might move forward with nuclear policies anyway.

In short, this region is a mess.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:52 AM, Anonymous Charles said...

Do you really think Seoul is a target? From what I read stateside, South Korea is always doing it what it can to appease Kim (while denying that it is doing so).

To think that Seoul's attempted appeasement of the North automatically makes the North and South friends is a mistake. Appeasement is usually seen as a sign of weakness and exploited by the aggressor (I'm sure we can all think of at least one prominent historical example). The North still considers the South its "primary enemy," and the Kim regime has absolutely no desire for a peaceful resolution to the current conflict on the peninsula. The sooner all parties realize this the better.

(I usually don't comment on political matters, but I guess I'm feeling particularly ornery today.)

 
At 9:59 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Charles wrote:

"I usually don't comment on political matters, but I guess I'm feeling particularly ornery today."

That's how Kim Jong-il was feeling yesterday: hornery.

Uh ... ornery. I meant ornery.

Anyway, he just couldn't hold back any longer -- just had to show us what he's got.

Speaking more seriously now, I think that you're right. Appeasement is seen as weakness. The Sunshine Policy should have been a policy of tough love for it to work. I hope that Seoul has learned.

Jeffery Hodges

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P.S. I guess that we still do read each other's stuff sometimes.

 
At 10:23 PM, Anonymous Charles said...

P.S. I guess that we still do read each other's stuff sometimes.

Indeed. And take comfort in the fact that I comment far less than I read.

 
At 3:57 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, and I'll probably be getting over to your place more often ... unless it becomes too interesting again.

Maybe you could try writing in a less interesting style...

Jeffery Hodges

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