In Seoul, the latest North Korean nuke scare is quaintly described as a cat among the pigeons, or more gravely, is said to “endanger us all.” For some of us, who’ve long considered North Korean nukes to be a grave problem that would continue to defy conventional solutions, the emotions are more mixed. Nobody would enjoy the prospect of a fallout cloud drifing over Seoul, Tokyo, or Beijing, but our last clarifying moment didn’t clarify things for long, it seems. We still haven’t even re-imposed the sanctions we lifted in the 1990’s to thank Kim Jong Il for that missile test moratorium.With this new nuke scare, Kim is helpfully advancing the clarification process. Even the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, who has sometimes strained his credibility to downplay the threat, and who generally quotes a balanced sampling of doves to inject vicarious commentary into his news pieces, is on the verge of some kind of epiphany: maybe Kim Jong Il isn’t really interested in disarming:
Instead, Pyongyang’s gambit could embolden hawks in the administration who advocate confronting North Korea with a stepped-up campaign of isolation and sanctions, perhaps even a naval blockade. Some officials have privately argued that a nuclear test by North Korea would be a clarifying event that would make the problem apparent to the rest of the world.
This is the second time in recent months that Pyongyang has abruptly dismissed peace feelers from the United States.
The last of these was the ill-fated “grand bargain,” which could have led to recognition of Kim Jong Il’s regime. Kim Jong Il, notwithstanding the sagacious counsel of the New York Times, did a Harry Whittington to those who floated that one. Since then, he’s also done one on State Department negotiators who were trying to give him back his Banco Delta money (which
must be is the stupidest thing I’ve heard all year). Says Kessler:
Before North Korea’s announcement yesterday, U.S. and South Korean officials had said they were looking at ways to wrap up the Treasury’s investigation of the Macao bank as a way to remove that impediment to the negotiations. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill noted last month that the Treasury action concerned only 40 accounts holding about $24 million.
But, now, Pyongyang has dramatically raised the stakes. U.S. officials immediately moved to put North Korea on the agenda of the U.N. Security Council, saying that, for the moment, the time for positive gestures has passed.
Kim Jong Il is certainly worse to his friends and kinder to his enemies than any other living being I can think of. So will he actually do it? I avoid trying to predict North Korea’s behavior, but Lee Jong-Seok is laying down mattresses in the drop zone of his dreams: he thinks a test is “highly likely.” Not unusually, another Korean cabinet minister is taking the exact opposite position:
“Considering that no actual signs of a nuclear test are being detected, the government plans to work to prevent the current situation from getting worse,” he told the parliamentary committee also attended by Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung.
Note that Yoon is later asked how he will stop the United States from launching a preemptive strike on the test site, which is about as likely as Nancy Pelosi doing a preemptive strike on Mark Foley’s text messaging. Speaking on behalf of hawks everywhere, I graciously invite this test and wish the Dear Supremo great success. Our national security may depend on it.