Wednesday, July 05, 2006

North Korea Might Not Be As Screwed As We Might Hope

North Korea test-fired a 7th missile today, and initial reports suggest, to me at least, that the response to their recent provocations may not be as robust as expected and hoped. The Washington Post reports the launch, as does the Chicago Tribune via this AP report. Though the failure of the Taepodong-2 will probably be the center of most discussion, it is believed that the tests of 5 of the 6 smaller rockets went smoothly. This is reason enough to worry.

Thus far the response has been somewhat muted. The Japanese imposed some sanctions, the U.S. denounced the launch, and the U.N. security council has convened an emergency meeting. China had only a bland, measured announcement asking all sides to remain calm, and South Korea has stated that it has not yet decided whether to follow through with threats of sanctions. Both China and South Korea fear destabilizing North Korea in any way, and will live with North Korean threats directed at other nations to protect themselves from the effects of a North Korean collapse.

Korea Liberator has much good discussion of the missile launches and the possible responses to them. One of their posters posits a believable motive for the tests. Though it would enrage Occam, the suggestion is that this provocation is not at all to force a diplomatic compromise, but is in fact because North Korea wishes to withdraw from diplomatic talks altogether: "This is a tactical move in its ongoing '‘strategic disengagement,' which North Korea has been using since its uranium enrichment program was uncovered in October 2002." Lending support for this theory is this from the Washington Post:

Analysts and some diplomats involved in six-nation talks aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear weapons programs said the first causality of the tests might be the talks themselves.

For more than six months, North Korea has resisted returning to the negotiating table, citing "sanctions" imposed late last year against financial institutions that the U.S. Treasury has linked to Pyongyang's counterfeiting, money laundering and drug smuggling operations. The missile test, analysts and diplomats said, made the chance of a compromise deal between the key players - the United States and the North Koreans - less and less likely.

We can add the motive of "strategic disengagement", which makes more sense the more I think about it, to the other possible motives, which are not necessarily mutually exclusive: to serve internal North Korean politics, to satisfy the wishes of the Chinese, to advertise their missile program, to provoke greater attention and aid from the six-party nations, and, last but not least, to simply test their missile capacity (happy with that last one, Occam?).


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