28 August 02003

North Korea's Nukes

There are cautious reports of progress in the current six-nation talks aimed at resolving the impasse on North Korea's nuclear capability and withdrawal from the non-proliferation treaty.

To understand what's at stake the excellent report in August's Prospect magazine gives a chilling account of possible scenarios for North Korea's collapse. Even if the talks go well, the best possible end-game will still have major repercussions for the whole of South East Asia and beyond.

Re-unification of North and South Korea seems likely at some point but the South is nervous of the costs, which will be much higher than those borne by West Germany in the 1990s, even if armed conflict is averted.

South Korea throws away more food than North Korea eats, and exports more in two days than the North does in a year. Westerners entering N Korea have to leave their mobile phones behind (even though they won't work). The four-lane highways are literally empty, since private car ownership is banned: the only cars on the roads carry state dignitaries. Citizens are reportedly banned from walking on the pavement on the same side of the street as Western embassies.

Kim Jong-il has been in charge since 1994 when his revered father died. Since he no longer has any Soviet support to rely on, he is said to have lost the plot, and is behaving increasingly erratically, even to China, a powerful neighbour that he can ill afford to alienate.

Just what we need: a loose cannon of a leader, who is backing himself further and further into a corner, and is playing "are you feeling lucky, punk?" with his nukes.

Meanwhile loose cannon leaders across the world can hardly fail to draw the instructive comparisons between the treatment of Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-il: make sure you develop Weapons of Mass Destruction capability sharpish, before anyone else invades to undermine your bargaining position.

Posted by David Jennings in section(s) Politics on 28 August 02003 | TrackBack

Perhaps I'm the one that's being a bit thick, but my impression previously was that North Korea's claim that its nuclear developments were a response to the threat of aggression from the US looked like a flimsy and see-through excuse. Consequently it seems a bit of a dim diplomatic/PR move for the US to lend credibility to this claim by deploying new Patriot missiles in South Korea. Can someone explain why this is the right time to be doing that?

Posted by: David Jennings on 21 September 02003 at 6:10 PM
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