In the fantasy world many liberals inhabit, every person on the planet except George
W. Bush is a decent, rational human being with whom satisfactory settlements can be
negotiated, if negotiations are conducted in good faith (that is, the U.S.
acknowledges that tensions which exist are mostly, if not entirely, the fault of the
North Korea's nuclear test this weekend has shaken this comfortable presupposition.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il is hard to love even by those who have warm, fuzzy
feelings for Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. There just isn't much nice
to say about a regime that routinely starves its people in order to build more
weapons, even for people who love to say nice things about those who hate the United
The reported North Korean test has brought international condemnation, and has
prompted an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.
The reported test also likely will spark renewed interest in ballistic missile
defense, especially in light of views like this, expressed by North Korean spokesman
Kim Myong Chol in the Asia Times last Friday:
"A next war will better be called the American war because the main theater will be
the continental U.S., with major cities transformed into towering infernos."
So why don't I share in the general alarm?
First, North Korea has been suspected of having the bomb since at least 1998, and
declared that it did in 2002. The test merely confirms what was already widely
Second, the bang wasn't very big. South Korean and U.S. estimates place it at
roughly half a kiloton. This means the test probably was a dud, said Jeffrey Lewis,
director of the Managing the Atom project at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
"A plutonium device should produce a yield in the range of 20 kilotons, like the one
we dropped on Nagasaki," Mr. Lewis wrote on the Defensetech Web site Monday. "No
one has ever dudded their first test of a simple fission device. North Korean
nuclear scientists are now officially the worst ever."
Third, the test has alarmed the South Koreans, who are rethinking their appeasement
policy toward the North, and angered the Chinese, without whose continued support
the North Korean regime cannot survive.
When they were developing their bombs in the 1990s, neither India nor Pakistan
announced their nuclear tests in advance. Kim did, because he uses brinksmanship as
a negotiating ploy, one which in this instance seems to have backfired.
"If Kim Jong Il deliberately timed the test to coincide with Japanese Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe's visit first to Beijing and then to Seoul, he may have dreadfully
miscalculated," wrote Donald Kirk in the Asia Times Monday.
Kim's Stalinist policies have so screwed up North Korea's economy that only massive
shipments of food and fuel most of it provided by and nearly all of it funneled
through China, keep the country barely afloat. If China were ever to cut off the
largesse, the regime would collapse.
China has resisted using threat of an aid cutoff as a negotiating tool in part
because it fears the consequences of a North Korean collapse (tens of thousands of
starving refugees flooding into Manchuria), and in part because China enjoys the
migraines North Korea gives South Korea, Japan and the U.S. But North Korea's
provocations are changing the calculus.
A North Korean nuke means Japan, and possibly South Korea, will obtain nuclear
weapons of their own, a development China would very much like to prevent.
The six party talks (about getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear program) have
been going nowhere because China and South Korea have been unwilling to shake
meaningful sticks at Kim's regime. But that calculus is changing.
Josh Manchester, a former Marine whose Web log (Adventures of Chester) is must
reading for serious students of national security policy, thinks the test proves
"American policy against North Korea is working.
"That policy, in a nutshell, is this: use all methods short of war to harm the
economy of North Korea, making it impossible for that government to raise revenue
from illicit activities, and thereby more and more difficult to retain power or fund
its nuclear ambitions.
"This creates cascading effects that work in favor of the U.S: the possibility of a
North Korean collapse forces China and South Korea to consider changing their
stances in the six party talks, making it more likely the (five) will agree on a
unified plan to de-nuke the peninsula, and that North Korea will have no choice but