North Korea's Weapons Quest

Discussion in 'Politics' started by KenH, Aug 25, 2005.

  1. KenH

    KenH
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    This is a synopsis of an article in the Summer 2005 edition of The National Interest, pp. 49-52, entitled “North Korea’s Weapon Quest”, by Nicholas Eberstadt who holds the Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute. I thank fellow poster fromtheright for pointing me toward this article. Comments are welcomed.

    Mr. Eberstadt begins by stating that we should not be surprised by North Korea’s assertion that it has nuclear weapons as that has been its aim for decades; and not nuclear weapons only but it has also worked on chemical and biological weapons as well as ballistic missiles. He also states that these efforts aim to do much more than achieve blackmail.

    Mr. Eberstadt states that North Korea has three aims:

    1. The reunification of the Korean Peninsula under its rule.
    2. To make up for the failed attack on South Korea in June 1950.
    3. To conduct a war using its military which is the fourth largest in the world - a war which it considers a continuation of the 1950s conflagration which ended with a cease-fire agreement, not a peace agreement.

    Mr. Eberstadt then goes into a discussion of why nuclear weapons matter. North Korea is maintaining its conventional military force using a Soviet-style economy that is failing. And North Korea could never reasonably expect to defeat the United States military in a conventional war. Therefore, in order to wield any leverage against the United States, North Korea needs nuclear weapons as well as ballistic missiles to deliver them to the shores of America. And its long-range Taepo Dong missiles either now or in the near future will be able to reach the United States mainland. North Korea already possesses SCUD-type missiles that could obliterate Seoul and intermediate range No Dong-type missiles that can hit Japan. And, apparently, the North Korean government does not consider nuclear weapons to be a weapon of last resort but an integral part of its planning.

    Mr. Eberstadt then give five implications of this North Korean nuclear weapons policy:

    1. Escalating international tensions are an actual aim to extract political and economic prizes from the rest of the world.
    2. Nuclear weapon threats have already been used successfully by North Korea. The United States gave North Korea more than $1 billion in foreign aid from 1995 to 2004.
    3. Nuclear weapons can give North Korea a deterrent to United States conventional military power. Former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry has warned that long-range nuclear missiles could cause the United States to hesitate during a crisis on the Korean Peninsula.
    4. North Korea “does not now engage in win-win bargaining”. “The historical record is completely clear”, Mr. Eberstadt states, “Pyongyang believes in zero-sum solutions, preferring outcomes that entail not only DPRK[North Korean] victories, but also face-losing setbacks for its opponents.
    5. Those expecting a peaceful denuclearization of North Korea through international diplomacy must consider how such an outcome would be looked at from a North Korean perspective today, not from the perspective of a North Korea that we wish existed today.

    Mr. Eberstadt points out that if North Korea denuclearizes then its role in the world would be basically no larger than the size of the gross national product generated by its failing economy.

    Since its founding the North Korean government has exacted hardships on its citizens to fulfill its vision of a reunited Korean Peninsula. Without this vision what would be the purpose for the North Korean government’s harsh domestic policies?

    Mr. Eberstadt concludes by stating that “Kim Jong-il is doing his best to make the world safe for for the DPRK. Our task is to make the world safe from the DPRK. This will be a difficult, expensive and dangerous undertaking. For America and its allies, however, the costs and dangers of failure will be incalculably higher.”
     
  2. fromtheright

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    Ken,

    Excellent synposis. I enjoyed the article very much. It seems to me that President Bush has the right instincts on North Korea in despising Kim Il-Jong. I hope that translates into an unwillingness to trust him to abide by any agreements. We should absolutely not get into another agreement like the Agreed Framework which promised them nuclear plants. I must admit I'm not sure of the correct approach to North Korea but I do know that it includes keeping our powder dry and being prepared to eradicate their leadership and their buried facilities. I also don't believe we should relying on the Chinese as our go-between. The PRC has a dismal record themselves on the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
     
  3. elijah_lives

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    North Korea has threatened war if we place sanctions on them. What is your take on this claim? Are they bluffing?
     
  4. fromtheright

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    EL,

    That's the $10M question. Who knows? They consider themselves still at war and have made several commando type attacks and others since the 50's, including an attack on the Presidential palace in which the President's wife was killed, and an attack in Burma, I think it was, on some Korean businessmen. Their nuke plants and much, if not all of their weapons manufacturing is done in plants deep underground, their fleet tucked away inside mountain caves. They would be hard to get to by way of a counter-attack or, especially a pre-emptive one. They've said they can turn Seoul into a sea of flame. They've built a dam upriver from Seoul, which they could also use to flood that area. Once attacked, would their troops surrender in droves a la the Iraqis in 1991? I doubt it but even the army has suffered starvation at times. Kim Il-Jong's entire status as a leader is built on the fear he has created, and on the military/police apparatus, so I believe that given that mindset, it might be a "rational" response for him to launch an attack if he perceives his power or regime threatened.
     
  5. KenH

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    It will be very difficult to use force against North Korea. We are probably going to have to use the Cold War strategy of containment to keep a lid on things on the Korean Peninsula.

    Fromtheright, doesn't China have as much interest as we do in keeping a lid on North Korea? If the North Korean regime collapsed due to a miscalculation on Kim Jong-il's part, isn't China afraid of a massive flood of North Korean refugees coming across the border?
     
  6. KenH

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  7. fromtheright

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    But, Ken, North Koreans aren't staying there because they're happy with the current regime or because Kim is keeping them fed. China has increased its military presence on the border. It may be that with Kim gone, the Korean people find a reason to stay, not leave. With anything close to a democratic successor there, international aid would FLOOD into NK.
     
  8. kubel

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    If North Korea ever invaded South Korea, the threat is not to the US mainland, but to our soldiers and allies in Japan and South Korea.

    The best solution in my mind would be a revolution.

    The second best solution would be a cold war, and let them sweat it out until economical collapse. Unfortunately with that comes selling of nuclear goods- and we don't want that.

    Any pre-emptive or retaliatory action on our part is risking nuclear war (most likely against Japan, and I think they had enough during WWII).
     
  9. Phillip

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    Why? :confused:
     
  10. KenH

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    Here is an excerpt from an article at:

    http://cns.miis.edu/research/korea/dprkmil.htm


    "From the foregoing analysis, it is easy to see why available military options look unattractive to U.S. planners. U.S. military strikes could probably destroy North Korea's future ability to produce and reprocess plutonium for use in nuclear weapons, preventing North Korea from moving from the one or two nuclear weapons that might be available now to the six to eight weapons that would be available if the spent fuel rods stored in Yongbyon were reprocessed to produce plutonium. These strikes could potentially remove North Korea's ability to produce large quantities of plutonium for the next several years. However an attack is highly unlikely to destroy any existing North Korean nuclear weapons capability. Because the facilities involved in North Korea's uranium enrichment program have not been located (and are likely in hardened or underground sites that are difficult to destroy), military strikes would be unable to prevent North Korea from producing fissile material via uranium enrichment. The available information is insufficient to determine how quickly North Korea might be able to produce additional nuclear weapons using uranium enrichment. However one source estimates that North Korea might be able to produce up to 100 kg of highly-enriched uranium per year (enough for about six nuclear weapons) within one to three years.[10]

    The biggest problem with military options is the difficulty of preventing North Korean military retaliation. Defenses could not protect the South Korean population from North Korean artillery and missile strikes, while U.S. efforts to attack these weapons would escalate the conflict without removing North Korea's retaliatory capability. The United States would be forced to rely upon deterrence--possibly reinforced with explicit nuclear threats--to prevent or limit North Korean counter-attacks. North Korea would have the initiative and the ability to calibrate its response to maximize U.S. political and military problems. This might include threats or the actual use of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. The most likely result would be North Korean conventional counter-attacks combined with threats to escalate toward a full-scale ground war and the possible use of weapons of mass destruction. If deterrence failed to prevent North Korean counter-attacks, the United States would be faced with a very unappealing military situation, especially at a time when many U.S. forces are deployed in the Persian Gulf.

    The political consequences might be even more significant. South Korea and Japan strongly oppose military attacks against North Korean nuclear facilities, largely due to their vulnerability to North Korean retaliatory strikes. Their alliances with the United States are predicated on the belief that the presence of U.S. forces on their territory enhances their security. U.S. military actions that resulted in North Korean counter-attacks against their territory could destroy support for an alliance with the United States and end U.S. access to bases in South Korea and Japan. Military attacks might also fundamentally change the nature of U.S. relations with China and Russia, who strongly oppose resolving the nuclear crisis through military means. There is even some possibility of direct military conflict with China (which still has a security treaty with North Korea). More broadly, a U.S. pre-emptive strike against North Korean nuclear facilities would arguably violate international law and would convey the message that the United States can use nuclear threats to attack sovereign states with impunity. This would reinforce concerns many countries have about a growing trend towards unilateralism in American foreign policy. The result might only undermine the nuclear nonproliferation regime, but also damage the foundations of the current international order.

    Given the high risks and limited ability of military strikes to destroy North Korean nuclear capabilities, it is easy to see why Bush administration officials, like the Clinton administration officials before them, have decided that military means are an unattractive way to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis."
     
  11. Phillip

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    I agree that the US would be required to defend South Korea, but reinforced with "explicit nuclear threats". Explain why conventional warfare would not be sufficient.

    What better time?

    I'm not saying that we should use military action, but un-informed experts of the military of the United States, and its technology; predicted that Dessert Storm was going to be a US blood-bath. They were wrong.

    The article itself is self-defeating since it discusses "hardened bunkers", then turns around and refers to "bunker-busters". The REAL capability of bunker busters is classified, but it can be said that hardened sites in North Korea do not pose a problem to US technology.
     
  12. KenH

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    The North Korean army would not be as easy to defeat as the Iraqi army.

    Also, I don't think we can attack North Korea without Seoul being badly damaged. Sure, we could defeat North Korea but it would come at a high price for the South Koreans.

    And if even one of North Korea's nukes survived our attack, well, I don't think we want to contemplate what would happen.
     
  13. elijah_lives

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    N. Korea, like Iran, would be a tough nut to crack. But sometimes it is necessary to take action even if it would be tough, unpleasant, and diplomatically incorrect. I don't think we had any choice but to do what we did in Iraq, for example. It would have been criminal for any president to have ignored the intelligence presented, and the implications of ignoring it.

    The real questions, in my mind, are:

    1) What are the long-term consequences of ignoring the clear intentions of Iran and North Korea to become nuclear powers?

    2) Are we prepared to live with either of these powers becoming nuclear bullies? Spreading nuclear technology to other rogue states? Or to terrorists?

    3) Would North Korea actually use nuclear weapons in the event of a military conflict? (The very existence of that nation would be eliminated if it used even one device).

    4) What alternatives to military conflict are available, that would meet our objectives of preventing them from threatening other nations, or continuing to sell their nuclear technology to other nations or terrorist groups?

    5) If we take no military action, what are the probabilities that neighboring countries, like Japan, S. Korea, or Taiwan would develop nuclear weapons as deterrents to N. Korea?

    I confess that I don't have any good answers for these questions. But my gut feeling is that if necessary, military conflict with either Iran or North Korea would be better on our terms, rather than theirs. A true dilemma.
     
  14. fromtheright

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    Fascinating discussion. The only line that I disagree with in the article Ken posted is the concern over American unilateralism. I don't really care what the rest of the world, especially Europe, thinks about any unilateral actions; however, we do need to pay attention to the concerns of allies in the region. As to undermining the nuclear nonproliferation regime, the only ones it seems to affect, just as with treaties with Communist countries, is the good guys. Not only the rogue states, but others such as China and Pakistan seem to give it little attention.

    The "can be said" should say "might, if we're lucky, be said". I have wondered the same thing myself, what our actual capability is, but we should not assume this to be the case. Such an assumption carries huge risks.

    And I agree with Ken, a comparison between Desert Storm, or even OIF, and NK is dangerously mistaken.

    EL, I think you also make some excellent points, but just a few additional thoughts, in response:

    (1) What are the trends in both countries? Can we place any hope in the gathering democratic movement in Iran? I don't know the answer either, but if we're thinking long term, we should consider it without being overly optimistic. The trend in NK isn't nearly as hopeful, though. I do believe that we should be applying more real pressure on China to back up its image as an ally in cooling NK off. Given that we keep letting them off the hook for their own violations of the NPT I'm not optimistic, though. American businesses care nothing of the strategic consequences of the cozy trade relationship.

    (2) As to nuclear "bullies", I think it will come down to what NK thinks they will gain by such bullying and what actions their bullying will actually include. Because of the risks, we will let them status quo persist as long as no "major" attacks are carried out.

    (3) I would not guess whether NK will use nukes in a war, but I do believe they will use their sizable special forces (commonly estimated at 100,000) to carry out WMD attacks in the South to demoralize and weaken the South simultaneously with a border-crossing war. They might also use the dam or nukes as a blackmail weapon. You're surely right about the consequences of using nukes, but we should also consider that their leadership may value their own survival over that of their population, given the huge underground complexes they are reported to have.

    (4) Alternatives to force? For one thing, we should be looking to increase further South Korea's own capbabilities and perhaps increasing at least our semi-permanent naval forces in the area. I also suggested increasing pressure on China, without losing sight of the "lips and teeth" relationship they have with NK. Though the "unstable neighbor" argument has some merit, we should also consider that China reaps some benefit in keeping us concerned about NK, a la, "the enemy of my enemy..."

    (5) Personally, I'm not worried about any of those countries having nukes. It's in their own interests to do so, I think. And if they're not afraid to build them, they may have no problem with us reversing our policy and stationing such weapons in their (SK and Japan, at least) countries.
     
  15. KenH

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    With the spread of technology, I don't think we can stop country after country from obtaining the ability to make the components for nuclear weapons. We have to make sure that everyone understands that their hostile use in a first strike would carry devastating consequences for any country that did so, or that assisted terrorists in doing so.
     

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