Thursday, October 8, 2009

N. Korea Wants Gold Card Acceptance to Nuke Club

Defense News


N. Korea Wants Gold Card Acceptance to Nuke Club

By Wendell Minnick

SINGAPORE - The North Korean nuclear test May 25 has placed the region in an awkward position: officially recognize North Korea as a nuclear power or engage in more talks and sanctions? Past negotiations have failed and Pyongyang appears unlikely to accept new talks anytime soon.

Since April, Pyongyang has threatened to conduct its second nuclear test unless the U.N. Security Council apologized for condemning North Korea's April 5 rocket launch. The demand for an apology now appears to have been a ruse.

The nuclear test, along with missile launches, appears aimed at challenging the Obama administration to accept North Korea as a member of the nuclear club.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il appears to be "angry with the Obama administration, for Washington maintains a hostile attitude toward Pyongyang," said Masashi Nishihara, president, Tokyo-based Research Institute for Peace and Security.

He said Pyongyang either wants to raise the price for giving up its nuclear arms or force Washington into a position of officially recognizing North Korea as a nuclear state.

However, many in Washington are suggesting North Korea has no intention of going back to the negotiating table no matter what diplomats propose.

"The rapid pace of Pyongyang's provocations since January indicates it has altered its objectives and is no longer responsive to diplomatic entreaties," said Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation.

International diplomatic pressure was unable to prevent North Korea from launching a Taepodong-2 missile in April.

"The paltry sanctions subsequently imposed by the U.N. Security Council for North Korea's violating U.N. Resolutions 1695 and 1718 were insufficient to deter Pyongyang from its nuclear test," he said.

China appears to be the only power left in Asia capable of forcing North Korea to end its nuclear program.

"The U.S., South Korea and Japan should utilize North Korea's latest outrage to demand China and Russia agree to stronger punitive measures in the U.N. Security Council," said Klingner, who served as an analyst on North Korea for both the U.S. CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency. "Washington should cease the charade of praising Beijing's behavior in the Six Party Talks and instead criticize its obstructionism to carrying out the will of the international community as expressed in two U.N. resolutions."

It appears the only chance to get North Korea back to the negotiating table is to push China into cutting off shipments of oil, gas and coal across the border. This could give Kim the only option, and possibly a way of saving face with his generals, of returning to talks, said C. Kenneth Quinones, who served as the U.S. State Department's North Korean affairs officer from 1992-94.

Dennis Wilder, former senior director for East Asian affairs, U.S. National Security Council, said the nuclear test should be "seized upon by the U.S., South Korea and Japan to press China to live up to the sanctions on North Korea that were called for in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718."

He said China does about $3 billion in trade with North Korea annually.

"China must now step up to its responsibilities or the endless cycle of North Korea provocations will continue," said Wilder, now a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institute.


"North Korea is trying to get the world to accept its status as a nuclear state - we cannot drift into accepting that. If China continues to allow Kim Jong Il room, it risks a nuclear arms race in northeast Asia," Wilder said.

The United States has long opposed Japanese and South Korean nuclear weapon programs and safeguarded both with its nuclear umbrella.

The U.S. nuclear umbrella is a "solo countermeasure for non-nuclear countries, particularly for Japan, to prevent North Korea from using nuclear weapons," said retired Rear Adm. Sumihiko Kawamura, now deputy director of The Okazaki Institute, Tokyo.

"In this context, it is necessary to ensure confidence in the U.S.-Japan alliance so that nuclear deterrence can be relied on to function correctly."

Kawamura said this includes improvement in information sharing and interoperability of the missile defense system with the U.S. military.

However, if the United States accepts North Korea as a nuclear state, there is little stopping Seoul and Tokyo from considering a nuclear option.

"In Japan, the strategic discussions are likely to revive," Kawamura said.

"The discussions will include whether to adopt the capabilities to strike [an] adversary's territory and whether to review the current three non-nuclear principles, which state that Japan should neither possess nor manufacture nuclear weapons nor shall it permit their introduction into Japanese territory."


Even if Pyongyang returns to the negotiating table, there is a long history of North Korea pursuing talks and continuing ballistic missile and nuclear arms programs. This could have more to do with a delicate balancing act Kim plays to placate the military.

"Kim Jong Il appears to have been caught in a vise of his own making," said Quinones, now a professor at Tokyo's Akita International University.

"On the one hand, he has attempted to use negotiations to gain the economic resources he needs, particularly from China and South Korea, to build his 'strong and prosperous nation,' a goal he declared in 1998. On the other hand, he sought to appease his politically potent generals by allowing them to continue their weapons-of-mass-destruction programs."

Another factor is Kim's dwindling health and the increasing pressure to name a successor acceptable to the military.

Klingner said the change in North Korean objectives might have been triggered by Kim's health crisis and a "desire to achieve nuclear objectives prior to his death or a formal succession."

"To ensure acceptance of his preferred successor, he needed the generals' concurrence. After all, neither he nor his sons have done anything to defend the nation from the so-called 'imperialists,' " Quinones said. "To win the military's respect, Kim needs to demonstrate to his generals that we will not bow to international pressure but instead resist the so-called 'imperialists.'"

In part, Kim has painted himself into the military's corner. Since 1998, when he assumed the title "supreme commander" and became chairman of the National Defense Commission, he proclaimed his "Military First" or "Son'gun" political policy that "assigned the military priority access to the nation's limited resources." This has allowed the military to gradually increase influence on national policy, Quinones said.

There is also the issue of timelines that motivate Kim. Pyongyang has announced it seeks to become a "powerful nation" by 2012, the 100th anniversary of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung's birth, Klingner said. The goal may include achieving formal recognition as a nuclear state.