FEBRUARY 10, 2013 4:23PM

Whither North Korea Policy Before February 16 as to Test?

Rate: 3 Flag

For MEB, forever. And Mst. Sgt. Jim Rich, USMC Republic of Korea 1950-52 or thereabouts. That's why I always watched the North over the years, out of basic respect, if like everybody else pretty much, from a distance. Not many people ever go there, and none do who see anything that the North isn't watching, save for maybe people who tell no tales, maybe, and surely not many.

Great Uncle Jim's only statement on the Korean War was as a response to the question "What's different about being back?"

"It took me about nine months to not hear the artillery at night."

People aren't paying much attention to it in the media, but U.S. policy towards the Democratic Republic of Korea, the DPRK, or North Korea as you prefer is reaching a potentially important juncture between now and February 16, if the North just sent an important signal as to saying maybe they won't test.

If you don't hear about much in the media, that would be good news, as all the tensions would go away on  deniable basis. The world economy would probably not fare well in a second Korean War, to put it mildly.

The good news is that the North today clearly offered some other measure to do as the "Surprise Party" for Kim Jong Il that will not be a nuclear test, if that doesn't mean they won't test either, just that there is now an opportunity, probably an important one. 

It is possible they could test in a way that is lower magnitude, as the last two tests, if there were no negotiation breakthrough, although it seems to the author that the North has put a lot of effort into seeking this out as a very dichotomous strategy, either things work out well or pretty much not.

Some people don't like that idea as to negotiating with the North on principles that have validity, if consequence management is important in such things too, as to principles involved always in somethig like that including prudence at the top of the list. 

That date February 16 is significant, because it is the birthday of Kim Jong Il, Dear Leader, son of Great Comrade Kim Il Sung, and father to current Suryong Kim Jong Un.

The North Koreans are regarded as unique in the world of dedicated Communists with their ruling ideology of Juche, "a creative application of Marxism-Leninism to Korean conditions," as being varying degrees of eccentric by most, and scary crazy by a small but not trivial minority. Making fun of them probably isn't usually helpful, although there was a rhyme and reason for W. Bush addressing Jong Il in THE most offensive way possible: dwarf.

"Bark little doggie or bite?" is similar in character as to that theory of making it clear that one would in fact go the distance, up to and including exchanging L.A. to defend Seoul as to risks of a confronation with a state that only may, and probably cannot with a high degree of confidence at all, do that.

The video was significant as to making that deterrent threat, although that is probably a bluff, and offered some other things too, as to peaceful exploration of space, unless of course it was designed in the latter regard to freeze a preemptive strike.

There isn't a lot of enthusiasm for such a thing for obvious reasons, but that has to be considered from their point of view, no matter what they or we say, military capabilities being what they are. 

That doesn't mean don't negotiate either, and in fact there is little choice but to proceed with considering the North's implicit offer in the statement about the "measures to defend the State" not necessarily meaning a nuclear test as assumed in "arrogant" quarters in the United States, even though in fact publicly available satellite data revealed a lot of activity at that site at Pyungyye-ri.


As to current events, first we have the North Korean's December 12 satellite launch, 12/12/12, whatever that is, supposedly an observation satellite, and more than likely a very expensive for a poor country dud, if the open source literature to date has not contained an explicit denial of some other possibilities, one in particular.

The North could explicitly state that as to credibility of varying degrees of obliqueness, oblique often being enough and good with the North, an oblique country to begin with as to understanding motives. One could even offer access to data of such observation satellites, in return for a very high level of openness about their satellite launches, including under the shrouds, a shroud necessary yes for protecting the satellite physically, if also useful for switching payloads too.

The video seems like it could be interpreted as possibly a trade being offered of no threat of burning New York for peaceful uses of space, in which pride is generated in the North as to doing that, and as a Confidence Building Measure, joint ROK-DPRK space uses could be considered, always remembering though that the North's default option is to go back to confrontation.

Ronald Reagan also said "trust but verify" as to dealing with a State of which it could not be said he liked. 

As to the evolution of current events, the U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions after the satellite launch, since it tests ICBM capabilities de facto as well, as usual as to protests of such a thing with the DPRK, not as usual, as to China going along with the protests as much as they did.

That is the case with Chinese cooperativeness on the North, higher than before, although at the same time the Senkoku-Diaoyu dispute simmers on higher as well, if that increase in tension is presumably mainly two new leaderships in Japan of Abe and Xi Jinping in China tussling for domestic purposes and feeling each other out, and not some more complex maneuver, although that has to be considered as to later steps, and as to ultimate motives.

What America wants in East Asia now in the context of other State's interests is rather important, those other states being in order of power, and therefore importance, China, Japan, Russia, and then Korea, if Taiwan is a consideration as well, as is the situation in Okinawa within Japan somewhat too, as to basing of U.S. forces (because Japan has been moving for sometime to a more independent status, if subtly so), and also Germany, the latter as to the GDR experience being thought useful, plus other motives as to German reach in the international system. 

So the North tests the missile, the U.N. spanks them, and then the North got really, really unhappy, and threw out, even for them, fairly harsh language, and of course declared martial law, not a big change in daily life, but significant if they were planning on escalating or feared that to be the case on our side, preemptive strikes included, and then of course released that curious video, all the while preparing seemingly for a nuclear test.

They do that a lot in the North too, as to posturing. 

Here in the United States it is hard to see why the North is particularly afraid of American preemptive strikes, since few express an enthusiasm for that save in a demonstrable emergency,  but military realities and diplomatic ones being what they are, one can't dismiss that out of hand, if it also is useful from the North's point of view as well.

However, any agreement with the North has always had the notion that there would be security assurances given in return for no nuclear weapons program, if CVID is the return, although not making that staged has always been thought by some to ask for too much.

(As to other ongoing soap operas in East Asia of moderate concern, meanwhile, Japan and China are getting kind of heated over the Senkoku-Diaoyu situation and Russia is flying Bear Bombers over the Kuriles as Japan celebrated it's "the Kuriles are Japanese Day," none of which is totally out of the ordinary, but a little concerning too. As to the thing with China painting Japanese warships, people like to "paint" people with fire control radars all the time, to test frequency responses, and just for kicks, plus to show some bravado, if it can trigger people firing too: Chicken can result in fatalities, even potentially escalation.)

But as to Korea, and the now closing window for a North Korean test and American policy, on the assumption that the North may well test if diplomatic moves are not made now, as the North knows that we know the significance of February 16.

Anyone who knows anything about the North knows that, and they know that we know, actually revealing some real sophistication as to what Game Theorists call "Common Knowledge."

Presumably the video is part of that signalling process, as if it's not Hollywood, it can't have been anything but planned in advance, and States don't do that without reason, in the North's case somewhat stylistic in character as to how they do such signalling in general. 

If the North is going to bust off a nuclear cap, it doesn't have a lot of time left, which is good news, possibly. The North is unpredictably predictable in that regard. If they are going to bust off a nuclear cap, it will be soon, almost surely on or before the 16th, at most within days. 

That's how they roll in the North, their message today the author would interpret as an offer to negotiate before that date, as to the basic framework, in which if they aren't happy, they will test with 100 per cent probability, our "arrogance" not being willing to do so the signal to escalate tensions further.

So, whither American policy, having raised tensions because of the North's move firing off the satellite or whatever that was, noting that the last thing the world economy needs right now is a food fight, especially because on balance, things are getting better in the world economy.

The North probably doesn't care about that, but everyone else in that dispute, China, Japan, the ROK, and Russia does, and would all lose economically in anything going too far, almost surely, probably really badly.

That's good news as to cooler heads having good incentives everywhere, except of course in the North, and even then, they can't gain anything from a war so long as we actually executed in that contingency, and conveyed that without precipitating anything. 

Note as to that concern about precipitating something, for students of international relations and practitioners, one important aspect of diplomacy is to not induce a "reciprocal fear of pre-emptive strike spiral," in which each side fears the other might launch an attack, and their response increases the alert level of the other side in a negative feedback loop that generates war as an accident.

(One could argue that is what happened in the Six Day war as to Egypt and Israel, the war with Syria a done deal almost already.  Ivan told the Egyptians that the Israelis were going to attack the Syrians, true enough as to the ongoing "bulldozer war," but not like Ivan said a major move, and so Egypt's move into Sinai and Aqaba although fundamentally a bluff was interpreted by Israel as a real threat leading to preemption, or so one version that is fairly standard goes, as to these things of accidental wars of large consequence happening, Sarajevo being the nightmare version of that.)

Given the inherently tense situation on the Korean Peninsula, and the recent context in East Asia, that is always an argument to remember, to be careful of doing something meant to show resolve only that instead triggers an escalatory spiral ending in war one's action was only meant to prevent, if only so some nervous sergeant doesn't start a bloody war.

Iraq of course increased fears of American preemptive strikes to a point, although whether anyone really thinks that has a large constituency now is debatable it would seem like in such an obvious way that it can hardly be scaring many people now. In fact citing that repeatedly would be a good move for other reasons, e.g. to freeze response until it is too late.

Of course, that visible hesitancy to launch a preemptive strike on North Korea and in general has its own issues too, as to credibility bargaining. 

That's life, and escalatory spirals one wants to avoid. 

On the other hand, if one wants to prevent war, there exists the possibility of deterrence failure because of undereacting too, by not making it clear that although one won't launch an attack, one will most definitely crush one should it be launched.  

That is the critique of the first Bush administration with Saddam, that there was not a clear enough warning conveyed to him that invading Kuwait wouldn't be tolerated, certainly not annexing it.

You can do one of two things in these matters generally speaking, overreact or underreact, and usually, especially with the North, there is no way to know for sure which is correct.

Obviously, there isn't a lot of enthusiasm for doing anything that might be perceived as overreacting. You don't have to be on a place as hate America first as OS to see that. Maybe we are the bad guys, if I don't think so, and think people have to stomach a lot to be fans of the DPRK.

That might be dangerous too, but it is the risk we are going to run. If the North pops a nuke and then gives an ultimatum, calling it could be hair-raising, even very deadly.

That's life, and is the only reason ever advanced to be ready to test fire a Trident missile towards Kwajileen Island in the event that they test at large magnitude with radiological signatures that demonstrate certain things as to HEU and boosted fission, with multiple RVs to discourage a contest of pain endurance, should the low probability but possible case be that the North has as many as worst case on top of worst case 8 road mobile ICBMs. 

That worst case is not likely at all, as it is more likely that Markus Schiller of RAND is on to something about the North Koreans having much bluff in what they are doing, something that calling most people don't want to do, factually speaking. 

That's not showing wanting to start a second Korean War, just demonstrating that one would be willing to finish one if need be, therefore hopefully preventing one in the first place.

As to going forward, if that is possible, one has to separate this from Iran.

That is because some will argue not without plenty of reason that if we back down and acknowledge the North's ability to proceed full steam ahead, then Iran will get a clear signal to do the same, which might have bad consequences in and of itself in the latter case.

Of course Iran's offer to talk, qualified yes, might or might not be a coincidence, if they have to be kept separate formally, if only so North Korea doesn't influence Iran as to thinking threatening a nuclear test gets it something and encourages Iran to go the distance with its program, since no one did anything in the North Korean case. 

That has always been a tie between the two issues, accentuated by their actual ties as to collaboration in missile technology via Pakistan. 

That right there is one of the Administration's dilemmas: how to prevent the North from getting leverage for Iran?

But having remembered all that, consider these questions posed by someone who shall remain nameless.

The technical details are no doubt of great interest to the "security" experts and the IAEA,

However, my questions to policy-makers:

1. How does technical information about the quality of the DPRK nuclear capacity inform policy?
2. Should the nuclear issue (e.g. CVID) conundrum and/or impasse cause policy paralysis, i.e. non engagement?
3. Is not conventional warfare far more likely for the foreseeable future? What steps are taken by the surrounding powers to prevent such a conflagration?
4. Do the great powers care that the DPRK possesses ability to annihilate Seoul with its conventional missiles and rockets? 
5. In the face of such a possibility why does the ROK adopt a confrontational policy and risk all it has painstakingly built economically in recent years?

1) The technical issue informs policy to the extent that people consider how it might influence day to day calculations, and long run calculations. The more independent the North is as a nuclear armed state, the more we have to consider in America do we want an extended deterrence relationship with the South with a now nuclear quality. ROK calculations matter a lot too as to matching the North. Moreover, the North's capabilities especially influence Japan on that topic, as to encouraging something some Japanese want anyway, which is more policy and security independence, independent of what many Japanese may believe or even want. That opinion dates back to the original Yoshida Doctrine as not being permanent necessarily in character at all. If Japan feels like it is in its interest, it will do so. 

2)No. The North made an offer in a highly charged environment, and with much preparation, the latter to seek out a confrontation with high potential risk, and now has swerved. That is both a risk and opportunity not to be taken lightly.

3) Conventional warfare is taken deadly seriously, because of the bracketing of Seoul with artillery that if not Assured Destruction or "Sea of Fire" is very serious indeed, with RAND simulations suggesting that a no-warning SINGLE shot bombardment by only 2/3 of DPRK artillery in range and with a high dud rate would instantly kill or wound 3,000 ROK civilians. One round.

As to avoiding that, beyond the presence of U.S. forces in Korea, if moved away from the DMZ, which might have reduced credibility somewhat if it shows good faith as to not initiating the use of force too, the ROK has shown great restraint over the years in the face of DPRK provocations, like Cheonan, the sub landing, the aircraft bombing, Rangoon bombing all the way back to the Pueblo. Surely the North knows there is little serious desire in either Seoul or Washington or Tokyo for initiating the use of force, again revealed in 1994, when the DPRK program was much more vulnerable to preemptive strike, no not so much the case, just like its road mobile ICBMs, if not just mock-ups, would not be easy to destroy easily with 100 per cent confidence, at least until major conflict had started.

4) is answered in response to three, yes. As to responses, as part of responding to the North's offer, over time withdrawal of some portion of DPRK artillery should be part of that process, if in the context of security assurances, because the DPRK used artillery to take Seoul hostage in the first place partly for deterrence reasons, as well as usual to discourage the long run goal of reunification along the lines of the ROK social system.

5) There I would reject the premise of the statement that the ROK has provoked this, at least at the level of that perspective. As to why there is a confrontation, the ROK believes it was on the right side of the first Korean War as to choice of social and economic system.

Therefore, it assumes unification should be on its terms, as should diplomatic processes too.

It is somewhat analogous to having a brother with a drug problem in which the other brother is very successful. The economic achievements of the ROK are extraorndinary, meaning however that the Northern brother does in fact hold much at risk in terms of just conventional weapons.

That is annoying to the ROK then when the DPRK repeatedly creates crises to bargain for food, when the ROK can point out, "Why do you continue to imbide the drug called Juche, one that is killing fellow Koreans by its disastrous economic management?"

That is understandable as to not wanting to just do what the DPRK says, beyond the question of feeling like one is being held up by an armed robber with artillery and possibly nuclear weapons.

It is also understanable that the ROK does not wish to encourage DPRK aggression, as that might be the most dangerous thing of all, even as it probably helps explain what is the plaint of the wayward little brother with the drug problem called Juche. 

Leaving people pride is also important, especially in Cain and Abel scenarios, as pride of the lesser can then becoming an unreasoning hatred of the more economically successful, and failures of rationality are not so consistent with deterrence, as to risk.

Therefore, it would seem worth the risk to accept the North's manuever in the implicit offer of in effect canceling the nuclear test in order to not have relations stagnate per point two, so that the North does not try to bring that relationship to a very hot level, recognizing that it does run the risk of being perceived as weak, always the risk with the North, if the GDR situation shows that what were once implaccable enemies for many, many years can come together with surprising ease.

That goal too probably ought to be part of the negotiating process, if only in terms that are longer-run, along the lines of what the Chinese have for many years so prodded the North as to Deng-style economic enterprise zones in the North, if couched carefully so that the North does not see that as "arrogant," as one thing that is clear is that whether it makes sense or not, and no matter how much one can understand the ROK's point of view, and the author is totally in sympathy with that view, from a consequence management point of view, military realities have their consequences as to bargaining with the North's offer, if in the author's view as well, it runs the risk of ending badly as to the North seeing weakness and therefore does somewhat weaken deterrence.

Given the implict North swerve from the nuclear test, that risk of deterrence failure seems to be outweighed by the benefits, one of which frankly would be morale should deterrence suddenly fail, as to some people wanting to blame that on ROK and American recalcitrance for reasons obvious and not so obvious.


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This is an incredibly long and erudite article and, since I'm probably the only one commenting here today, I want to broaden the subject a bit. May I say something without seeming too provocative? It is incredible that someone with your erudition is relegated to a one-person audience on here. What a tragedy! How did you wind up this way? What cardinal sins did you commit to be sentenced to this one, insignificant and pathetic venue of OS? It is literally a Greek tragedy writ large! Someone unsympathetic to you would say that you should concentrate on making enough money to send child support payments for MEB instead of pontificating on here. I, who have never had nor wanted to have any progeny, however, appreciate your talents...but it seems almost no one else in this society does. Isn't that pathetic?......wink
Remember that as Comrade Yagoda I sympathize with your self-destruction. I can put a 9-millimeter bullet through the back of yer haid and end this joyless earthly torment of yours. As an atheist I abhor earthly incarnation....of most humans, including myself. This is what the Presidium, and the Supreme Leader, can offer you...wink
Suicide is a sin in the Western tradition post-Christianity, a tradition I accept.
You're living in a great deal of pain Comrade Don-San, as am I. I myself will commit suicide at some point, as my health begins to fail. I have made preparations for that eventuality. I do not fear death, only physical and mental pain. Does that make me a coward, from the classical Greek point of view? I think I am a coward, and not ashamed of that fact. I do not belief that the purpose of life is to live virtuously, because that precept is everyday negated by the ruthless ambitions of the power-hungry. Your virtue Donny is that you yourself, in your personal life, are not power hungry at all. If you had that vice you would not have wound up here. QED. The meaning you derive from life is to learn and understand. Your ambition is to encompass all of the human world with your mind. It is a noble effort....and now you are left with only a few readers like me. Triumph or tragedy? You choose....dubble winkles
There has to be a deal somewhere.

Let's do it.
One hopes so Nick, or, we shall see what would transpire next, rather interesting one would think, depending on the test.