Nuclear Groundhog Day in North Korea

[Welcome to the readers coming in from the Wall Street Journal, Gateway Pundit, Ed Driscoll, Patterico, and Little Green Footballs, and thanks to the authors of those sites for linking.]

Well, all I can say is, thank God Christopher Hill’s ingenious diplomacy disarmed North Korea in time:

“The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea successfully conducted one more underground nuclear test on May 25 as part of the measures to bolster up its nuclear deterrent for self-defence in every way as requested by its scientists and technicians.

“The current nuclear test was safely conducted on a new higher level in terms of its explosive power and technology of its control and the results of the test helped satisfactorily settle the scientific and technological problems arising in further increasing the power of nuclear weapons and steadily developing nuclear technology.

“The successful nuclear test is greatly inspiring the army and people of the DPRK all out in the 150-day campaign, intensifying the drive for effecting a new revolutionary surge to open the gate to a thriving nation. “The test will contribute to defending the sovereignty of the country and the nation and socialism and ensuring peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and the region around it with the might of (the military first policy) Songun.” [KCNA, via Reuters and the Washington Post]

Let me begin by offering my congratulations to Allison Kilkenny for beclowning herself as conspicuously as a person without subject matter expertise, perceptible writing skills, or any other apparent qualifications to merit publication possibly could (and also, to John Bolton for being spot-on).  Like all apologists for North Korea, Allison is learning what a thankless task it can be to have a client who humiliates you endlessly.

The Wall Street Journal adds that the North Koreans “also launched three short-range missiles,” one of them from nearby Cape Musudan, the site of North Korea’s long-range missile launch.

A Technical Success

Seismic reports from the U.S. Geological Survey tell us that the blast created a magnitude 4.7 earthquake at grid coordinates matching the Mount Mohyang test site, the same place where North Korea tested a nuclear weapon in October 2006, and directly adjacent to the enormous gulag of Camp 16.

By contrast, North Korea’s 2006 nuclear test measured 4.2 on the Richter Scale (South Korean measurements were closer to 3.6). Because the Richter scale is logarithmic, each whole number increase in the Richter number equals a ten-fold increase in measured wave amplitude of a tremor, or a release of 31 times as much energy.  This means that the latest test would have had a significantly larger yield than the 2006 test, and would have a magnitude that approaches those of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.  [Update:   The New York Times agrees.] Technologically speaking, and assuming that these numbers hold up, the North Koreans are correct to call this test successful.  And if you believe that the North Koreans’ goals are largely technical — that what they “really” want is The Bomb — that’s the end of the story.

A Challenge to the Obama Administration

But of course, the North Koreans can’t fail to appreciate the important financial and diplomatic gains they wrested from the Bush Administration after their last nuclear test.  The Obama Administration, having failed to react effectively to North Korea’s April missile test, had signaled a strategy of “malign neglect” in the absence of any idea how to deter and punish North Korea’s provocations:

Clinton said the United States had no interest in offering North Korea carrots to return to the talks. “We have to be patient,” Clinton said. “We intend to have an open door for a return to the six-party talks,” she added, referring to talks among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States on ending North Korea’s atomic programs. “The ball is in the North Korean court. We are not concerned about chasing after North Korea and offering concessions to North Korea.” [Reuters, Jon Herskovitz]

However Clinton said North Korea should not expect better terms in the negotiations. “The ball is in the North Korean court,” she said. “And we are not concerned about chasing after North Korea, about offering concessions to North Korea. They know what their obligations are. They know what the process is, and we are all urging that they return and begin once again to act with us to move the agenda forward.” [Chosun Ilbo, May 15, 2009]

I warned whoever was reading this site that it wouldn’t work:  North Korea has a talent for not being ignored.  The administration is now obliged to the United Nations for more tough-looking sanctions that we already know China will undermine:

The United Nations Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting on Monday afternoon New York time to discuss the North’s actions.  [….]

In an indication of the pressures Beijing can expect, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said during a visit to Shanghai that the test is “cause for great alarm.”

“These reported tests underscore the message our congressional delegation planned to deliver to top Chinese government leaders during our meetings later this week: The Chinese must use their influence to help bring North Korea to the table for the six party talks,” Ms. Pelosi said, referring to the diplomatic process in which the U.S., China and three other countries have tried since 2003 to persuade the North to halt the weapons pursuit.  [Wall Street Journal, Evan Ramstad and Ian Johnson]

And with the characteristic efficiency of the apathetic, the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s statement today is “virtually identical” to the one it issued in 2006.  One should not expect that China’s reaction will be any more helpful.

There will be a castigations from the United Nations, naturally. This will be a necessary display for domestic political consumption, but don’t mistake that for the administration’s real policy, which will now have to shift again.  The question is whether the Obama Administration will lose its nerve and appease as the Bush Administration did … and just look where that got us.

Speaking later in the Rose Garden of the White House, Mr. Obama called the tests “a blunt violation of international law” and said that Pyongyang has reneged on its commitment to abandon its nuclear ambitions, the Associated Press reported. The president said the U.S. would work with its allies to “stand up to” Pyongyang.  [Wall Street Journal, Evan Ramstad and Ian Johnson]

To its credit, the new administration shows signs of realizing that giving North Korea concessions without demanding strict conditions is a failed strategy.  But they show no signs of understanding that there is another way, it’s been proven to work, and barring a coup d’etat in Pyongyang or the rise of a rural insurgency, it’s our only hope to negotiate with North Korea from strength.

[Update:   Uh oh, here come the global criticism   and world outrage again.]

Groundhog Day

Finally, I’m struck by how similar the events today are to those of 2002, after which the Bush Administration was roundly criticized by North Korea’s apologists (by then, relocated in think tanks) for walking away from Agreed Framework I.  In fact, Bush did not repudiate the agreement; he rightly called North Korea for breaking the agreement by pursuing an undeclared uranium enrichment program and suspended shipments of fuel oil.  Hillary Clinton has done precisely the same thing this year in the face of North Korea’s provocations and its violations of Agreed Framework II.  But because most of North Korea’s apologists also support the current Administration, expect a hypocritical absence of the same kind of criticism that was directed at Bush several years ago.

All of this discussion really leads to a question I’m going to answer in a longer posting at The New Ledger — why and how we should hold China accountable for making North Korea the threat it has become.

Update:   As promised.