Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Advice On North Korea Is Statesmanlike But Perhaps A Little Late

The voices of old Washington hands have entered the discussions about North Korea, just as it begins to appear that the crisis has deflated. Good timing, guys.

Yesterday in the Washington Post, William J. Perry and Ashton B. Carter, respectively the secretary and assistant secretary of defense under Bill Clinton, argued for a preemptive strike against North Korean missile facilities:

We believe diplomacy might have precluded the current situation. But diplomacy has failed, and we cannot sit by and let this deadly threat mature. A successful Taepodong launch, unopposed by the United States, its intended victim, would only embolden North Korea even further. The result would be more nuclear warheads atop more and more missiles.

They theorize as to how the strike might be accomplished, probably not real smart since the enemy can read all about it on the internet, though they probably could have guessed on their own that a cruise missile would probably be launched against the missile site.

Today, Charles L. "Jack" Pritchard, a special U.S. envoy to North Korea, argues against Perry and Carter:
Perry and co-author Ashton B. Carter advocate a preemptive military strike against North Korea's missile while it sits on the launch pad. While criticizing President Bush's preemption in Iraq, Perry justifies a strike against North Korea as a prudent policy before mortal threats to U.S. security can develop. He argues that because we will forewarn North Korea that South Korea had nothing to do with it, Pyongyang is unlikely to attack the South. But just to be prudent, he says we should beef up our military forces in South Korea. That way, if war does break out, we will prevail swiftly with less cost in lives.

If you were Kim Jong Il and saw a buildup of American forces on the Korean Peninsula before an announced preemptive airstrike, would you be thinking that it would be only a limited strike and not the start of an effort to bring down your regime?


But the missile test is not a violation of anything more than our pride, ripping a gaping hole in the false logic that talking with the North Koreans somehow rewards and empowers them. To the contrary, we should be opening avenues of dialogue with Pyongyang.

This debate is informative and interesting, especially Pritchard's response, but it would have been nice to have had these men offer up their thoughts a few days ago, when the world went on alert, and not yesterday and today, when the crisis seems to be winding down.

I may prove to be wrong, but I suspect that some recent pronouncements from various parties signal the end of this crisis and the establishment of new negotiating positions. From Bloomberg we learn that the United States has indicated that it is willing to use diplomacy to alleviate the crisis:
"Diplomacy is the way we've long sought to deal with the problem of security on the Korean Peninsula," State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said yesterday in Washington. "Diplomacy is the right answer and that is what we are pursuing."

Meanwhile, Russia has summoned the North Korean ambassador to Moscow to "express alarm that Pyongyang could launch a long-range missile," and China has publicly expressed concern. The North Koreans have issued a statement condemning U.S. spy flights over North Korea. This is apparently something they have complained about in recent weeks, but it is still a change from a few days ago, when they were issuing statements demand the world recognize their sovereign right to develop, test, and sell ballistic missile technology.

Taken together, these reports say to me that U.S. pressure for North Korea to return to multilateral talks is supported by Russia and China, and that North Korea's blustery denunciation of spy flights establishes a way for them to gain a face-saving concession before standing down.

The sun will set in North Korea about 7 hours from the time this is posted, and the current weather in North Korea is sunny and clear.

UPDATE: Another sign the crisis is dead: the vultures have arrived.

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