- (august 2009)
Bush lumped Iran and North Korea together in the "axis of evil" but this has
somehow distorted the issue, presenting the two regimes as if they were
similar when in fact they are very different.
The first difference is one of circumstances. Iran is an old empire surrounded
by weak countries: its natural tendency is to assert itself as a regional
superpower. The reason it wants nuclear weapons is not so much to attack
Israel (that would result in the annihilation of Iran's main cities) but to
show the Islamic world that Iran is their leader.
North Korea, on the other hand, has no such ambition for the simple fact that
it is surrounded not by weak countries but by superpowers: Russia, China,
USA (in South Korea) and Japan. North Korea is merely aiming for survival.
After the end of the Cold War, it has to find a way to survive on its own
merits. Alas, it is cursed with one of the least important lands of the planet:
there is virtually nothing that North Korea has and the world wants. Worse:
50 years of communism have demolished the economy, instead of creating a vibrant
industrial base like in South Korea.
Therefore the nuclear program is North Korea's only claim to relevance. Without
the nuclear arsenal, North Korea is merely an annoyance that, sooner or later,
the powers would have removed from the map of the region. The nuclear
program is North Korea's life insurance.
When Hillary Clinton calls North Korea "an unruly attention-seeker teenager",
she misses the point: it's more like a poor neighbor buying a Ferrari to be
accepted in a rich neighborhood.
Hence the odd request that a former USA president visits North Korea and meets
with the ailing Kim Jong Il: the patriarch of a rich family acknowledges
the poor neighbor as a peer of equal standing. Hence the request of direct
talks with the USA.
There is virtually nothing that can change this attitude. North Korea does not
want to be reunited with South Korea, because it has learned the lesson of
East Germany: it would happen only if the North Korean regime collapses, and
it would de facto hand over North Korea to South Korea. North Korea does want
friendly relations with the USA, but it knows that any step the USA takes
is driven by North Korea's nuclear program: without a nuclear program North
Korea would be as relevant as Burma or Sudan to the USA.
North Korea might in fact be focusing not on disarmament but on the opposite:
how to become more relevant. The answer is simple: develop a missile capable
of hitting the USA. After North Korea becomes technically able to strike USA
soil, there will be virtually nothing that North Korea cannot demand.
Worse: North Korea is becoming an example, a sort of role model, for any country
that wants to become more relevant than its economy makes it. Think Somalia
or Burma or Sudan or any other "rogue state": North Korea is showing them
how they can all acquire not only impunity but even legitimacy.
Unlike Iran, a semi-democratic country with strong pro-Western traditions
(no matter how many times Bush called it "evil")
where a powerful opposition exists and probably enjoys the support of the
majority, North Korea is a totalitarian state in which the only meaningful
"opposition" could come from a new pretender to the throne, presumably someone
in the military or in the higher echelons of the Communist Party.
Such a pretender is likely to be bound to the same ideology as his predecessor.
Once the succession takes place, the USA will realize that there are no options
but the military one: take out the regime's military machine (nuclear sites,
missile sites, arm factories) before it's too late, and do so minimizing the
chances that North Korea retaliates on South Korea or Japan.
Every day that goes by what increases is the number of civilians who will be
killed in that future war.
TM, ®, Copyright © 2007 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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- (may 2009)
Wait until they do have the missile.
If you think that North Korea is out of line now that it can only threaten
South Korea and maybe Japan, wait until the day (not very far in the future)
when it develops a missile capable of striking the West Coast of the USA.
Bill Clinton tried to appease North Korea and what it got out of it is that
North Korea pressed harder to develop nuclear weapons.
George W Bush tried to appease North Korea and what it got out of it is that
North Korea detonated its first nuclear weapon.
Now it sounds like Barack Obama wants to appease North Korea.
At every step of the negotiations North Korea receives a very strong
encouragement to become more aggressive: the more aggressive it gets, the more
likely that the USA wants to sit down and negotiate.
North Korea has also learned that it is not a strategic country. The USA and
the rest of the world would gladly ignore the existence of North Korea.
Therefore, every now and then, North Korea has to remind the world that it
exists, and the best way is to show how dangerous it can be.
North Korea is also undergoing a regime succession that might entail all sorts
of arm wrestling within the hierarchy.
Whatever the reason or reasons, North Korea has learned that it has nothing
to lose from provoking the USA. The USA will simply fume and then... sit down
and talk a bit more.
There are only two ways to stop this vicious cycle
The first one is to act on North Korea's lifeline: China. The USA has been ready
to antagonize Russia on all sorts of silly issues
(See for example The mess the West got into)
but has refrained from antagonizing the one country that represents a real
threat to the USA in Asia: mainland China.
It is China that provides North Korea with most of its trade. Without China,
North Korea wouldn't even have the gasoline to carry its armament around
the country. It is also mainland China that has repeatedly sheltered North
Korea from harsher United Nations sanctions.
The second one is very simple: retaliate. South Koreans have been traditionally
hostile to any military escalation because any exchange of fire would inevitably
cause deaths in South Korea, but South Koreans and USA citizens need to realize
two basic truth: 1. North Korea is de facto holding South Koreans as hostages,
and it has no intention of releasing these hostages;
2. As North Korea improves its missile technology, this is rapidly becoming
a USA issues, not just a South Korean issue. A preemptive strike against
North Korea will be highly imprecise and approximate, but it will at least
send a clear signal that we perceive their actions as a declaration of war.
This might also lead China to reconsider its attitude. Just one USA bomb on
Pyongyang will create enough apprehension among the Chinese elite (whose number
one desire is stability in the region) that 1. It's extremely unlikely that
North Korea will attack South Korea; 2. It's extremely likely that China
will decide that this regime does not serve its interests.
Japan can also help putting pressure on China. The last thing that China wants
is that its traditional enemy Japan starts rearming. Japan should issue an
ultimatum: either mainland China takes out the current regime in North Korea,
or Japan will rearmed and become a nuclear power itself.
It's very unlikely that China will decide that keeping this North Korean regime
in power is worth an arms race with its nemesis.
TM, ®, Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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- Articles on Korea before 2009