As the United States and governments across the globe react to North Korea’s nuclear test Sunday, questions loom about the test’s broader implications. Does this mark the beginning of the end for Kim Jong Il’s regime? What will the diplomatic and security landscapes of northeast Asia look like in the
Download Audio as MP3 wake of the detonation? Will China begin to rethink its support for the world’s most brutal Stalinist state? Finally, what will the test mean for broader nonproliferation efforts across the globe?
AEI scholars Dan Blumenthal, Nicholas Eberstadt, and James Lilley will discuss these and other questions. Gary J. Schmitt, resident scholar and director of AEI’s Program on Advanced Strategic Studies, will moderate.
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Dan Blumenthal, AEI
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Nicholas Eberstadt, AEI
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James R. Lilley, AEI
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Gary J. Schmitt, AEI
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As the United States and governments across the globe react to North Korea’s October 9, 2006, nuclear test, questions loom about the test’s broader implications. Does this mark the beginning of the end for Kim Jong Il’s regime? What will the diplomatic and security landscapes of northeast Asia look like in the wake of the detonation? Will China begin to rethink its support for the world’s most brutal Stalinist state? Finally, what will the test mean for broader nonproliferation efforts across the globe? These and other questions were the focus of an October 12 AEI panel discussion.
The world has been changed overnight in the wake of North Korea’s recent nuclear test. Although the Bush administration was quick to downplay the significance of this possible test, it must be viewed as the crisis that it is. Keeping in mind the Kim Jong Il regime’s record of noncompliance in the past, as well as the country’s “Axis of Evil” status, the outlook for strategic de-escalation seems bleak. North Korea has shown itself to be a serial proliferator, intent on forced reunification with the South, and has shown a willingness to test fire missiles over the Sea of Japan. Thus far, the U.S. response has been incoherent at best, while that of our allies has been equally irresponsible. Democrats continue to stress the merits of engagement and diplomacy, though these have proved ineffective to stop the regime’s drive to weaponization. Nonetheless, the criticism being hurled at the Bush administration seems misplaced and tends to neglect North Korea’s spurious record on previous agreements to halt their nuclear program.
What are we to conclude from the ongoing developments in this crisis? Clearly, North Korea desperately wants a robust nuclear arsenal and will do anything to achieve this. These weapons are perceived to be central to survival of the Kim regime, and no amount of diplomacy will help. Any belief that China might help the United States in the immediate future is misguided. The United States must continue to reassure region allies such as Japan and South Korea and must act decisively to oust Kim Jong Il through containment and deterrence.
North Korea’s rhetoric gives insight into the state’s actions. There is no denying that the regime of Kim Jong Il is a revisionist government which is deeply distrustful of the international capitalist system and is opposed to globalization. The country is intent on building up its nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile arsenal, opposed to the U.S.-backed government of South Korea, and dissatisfied with the security architecture in Asia.
All of North Korea’s actions have been carefully thought out and well planned, culminating in the test conducted October 9. Should North Korea fear the threat of financial sanctions? Trade with its neighbors, South Korea and China, has continued to grow since North Korea’s missile test launches on July 4. Thus far, no real action has been taken that has been detrimental to the country’s economy, and there has been no significant punishment for the regime’s antagonistic behavior.
American and international policy toward the current regime in North Korea bears an unpleasant similarity to the appeasement that was all too common in addressing Nazi Germany during the interwar period. There are many illusions about the nature and intentions of North Korea that serve to corrupt what should be a more aggressive stance taken by the international community towards this emerging threat.
Three perspectives must be taken into account in regard to the developing crisis in North Korea: those of the Chinese, the United States, and South Korea. China is perhaps the most important partner in negotiations, due to its locality, size, strength, and trade relationship with North Korea. Nonetheless, all of the country’s policy decisions must be considered vis-à-vis China’s many complexities and long history of regional politics. The country views North Korea as a long term project, choosing to back the current regime in a gradual effort to reform its neighbor economically, turning the North into an ideal trading partner and ally. Although China has exerted certain pressures on the Kim government, these have come in the form of diplomatic advances and economic seduction. In contrast, the United States is primarily concerned about the state’s nuclear development and the possibility of those weapons being proliferated to other rogue states and non-state actors. Finally, the South Korean perspective views regional developments through a lens biased by the country’s desire to incorporate the North. The South is focused on unification first, and elimination of the nuclear arsenal second.
Unfortunately for the Kim regime, North Korea’s greatest success with its recent nuclear test was in bringing together the other five powers involved in the talks. This is antithetical to North Korea’s interests, as it has consistently sought to undermine the six-party process. Recently, North Korea has been moving away from association and alliance with the Chinese and is trying to make common cause with other anti-U.S. movements around the world. There has also been an expressed desire by the regime for returning to the “good old days” of the 90s, when money flowed into the country from numerous foreign backers, particularly from the United States and China. Currently, much of Kim Jong Il’s attention has been focused on trying to extract larger aid packages from China.
AEI intern Benjamin Kramer prepared this summary.