Sunday, July 09, 2006

North Korea Update

The chief negotiator for the U.S. at the six-party talks, Chistopher Hill, appears adamant that North Korea only be negotiated with inside the framework of the multilateral talks.

"If they want to negotiate, we are prepared to do so within the six-party process," he said referring to stalled talks among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States on ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs.

"If North Korea wants to isolate itself, we will do our best to oblige them," he added.

However, some reports quoted Hill as saying that the U.S. would agree to one-on-one talks with the North if the North returned to the six-party talks:
"As many of you know, the Chinese have talked about putting together a six-party informal, and we both support that and we think that all countries are prepared to come to that informal meeting," Hill told reporters after meeting with Chun Young-woo, South Korea's top nuclear negotiator.

Asked about the possibility of a bilateral meeting with the North, he said: "Within the informal six-party talks, yes, I can."

Meanwhile, the Japan is pressing the UN to vote on a resolution that imposes sanctions on the North and forbids them from developing ballistic missiles. The risk is that Russia or China might veto the resolution:
[Japanese Foreign Minister Taro] Aso said China would be isolated if it cast the lone veto against the resolution.

Taro also said there is a possibility that Russia will abstain from voting on the resolution, leaving China to decide whether to be the sole country voicing opposition.

"China will be backed into a corner," Aso said on the morning talk show Sunday Project. "It's only common sense not to do that."

The New York Times carries an overview of what North Korea might have learned from their failed missile test. Most bloggers have been quite cavalier about the North Korean failed launch, but not only does this overlook the apparently successful launches of the short-range missiles, it overlooks what North Korea might have learned despite the failure of the Taepodong-2:
On June 11, 1957, the Atlas, America's first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, took its inaugural flight from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

It lasted 24 seconds. The missile roared off the launching pad and soared to about 10,000 feet before its engines failed. Tumbling out of control, the rocket fell through its own trail of fire before the safety officer on the ground sent a radio signal that told the wayward rocket to blow itself up.

The rocket's designers, though disappointed, learned a lot. It was clear that, despite the pummeling the Atlas took as it careered out of control, the rocket had remained intact. That proved its structural integrity, ending a major debate over the design's soundness.

Perhaps everyone can learn from failure, even the North Koreans.

The article concludes with comments from two experts, Anthony H. Cordesman from the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Dr. Jonathan McDowell of Harvard.
"It seems very doubtful that North Korea is close to a real-world capability to attack the U.S.," he said.

Dr. McDowell of Harvard agreed. "Maybe they could do it five years from now, but that depends on how often they test," he said. "It would be 5 to 10 years before I'd start to worry --— even a little."

At least as reported by the times, these comments, while sounding reassuring, do not seem to take into account how North Korea differs from the U.S. in the development of missile technology. First, North Korea does not have to develop their missiles on their own: assistance came come openly from other rogue states or surreptitiously from China or Russia. Second, North Korea is not the first state to develop ICBMs. As the Times story reminds us, ICBMs were developed in the U.S. and Russia decades ago. The North Koreans have, possibly, much of that knowledge to speed their missile development.

It is reassuring to believe that North Korean technology is years away, but analysts have been about similar matters in the past: consider the surprise nuclear weapons tests in Pakistan and India. The diplomatic maneuvering around a mere UN resolution should remind us that hope and diplomats are not reasonable protection against the designs of terror states like North Korea. We will only be safe from North Korea's designs when North Korea's communist government is no longer extant.


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