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Story Archives: North Korean troubles ... yet again
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|North Korean troubles ... yet again|
Two weeks before the 2008 Presidential election, Joe Biden was speaking (or for what passes as speaking for him) in Seattle. He presaged that, if elected, President Obama would have difficulties above and beyond what someone else would experience.
Prophet Biden asserted, "Mark my words. It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. We're about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Remember I said it standing here if you don't remember anything else I said. Watch, we're gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy."
I hate to admit it … but Oracle Joe was right.
Obama has been tested economically and now increasingly on the foreign policy front. Whether in Iraq (remember that one: when is the last time you saw any media outrage regarding the U.S. in Iraq?), Afghanistan, Israel or Iran, Obama has found that talking about policy is much easier (and safer) in the Senate, than from the Oval Office. See, in the Senate you are not held accountable and you can afford to be wrong … like Biden for most of his career. On the other hand, a President must be right or else national security is threatened.
So here we are again: looking at another North Korean stand-off.
And before anyone tells me this is all Bush's fault, let me preempt that with a resounding "No it is not!" The origins of this current episode go all the way back to the mid-1990s … that is when Clinton was president.
According to South Korean reports, North Korea has restarted a plant that makes bomb-grade plutonium. Couple this with additional missile tests, and this situation comes across as quite terrifying. In short, this would mean a starving, unstable North Korea armed with short- to mid-range nukes with no regard for the international community and connection to terrorist networks. So, what about an immediate threat to the U.S.? We have about 28,500 troops on the Korean peninsula, including more than 16,000 soldiers guarding the 'demilitarized zone' or DMZ between North and South Korea. Further, the U.S. has billions of dollars worth of military equipment in the region. Also, South Korea and Japan (and to a lesser extent Taiwan) are Asian allies that flank China, and are in the crosshairs of North Korean missiles.
Also, the U.S. has pledged more military support for South Korea. For example, a $250 million upgrade to 35 South Korean F-16 fighters that would allow the deployment of Joint Direct Attack Munitions and Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles as part of a package of upgrades, training and equipment was recently announced. Another $180 million worth of missiles may be offered soon as well.
In other words, we have a vested interest, and perhaps a national interest, in matters arising in North Korea.
Predictably, Pyongyang has responded with the same tired rhetoric while beating their emaciated chests and throwing up the flag of national sovereignty to prevent any additional U.S. troop build-up in response.
In an effort to modulate the negative oratory, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has stated, "I don't think that anybody in the [Obama] administration thinks there is a crisis. What we do have, though, are two new developments that are very provocative, that are aggressive, accompanied by very aggressive rhetoric. And I think it brings home the reality of the challenge that North Korea poses to the region and to the international community."
Still, one has to wonder how long the world will allow North Korea to posture and intimidate regional states while potentially disrupting Asian geopolitics. At some point, you would think that China would want this situation neutralized to prevent the enormous refugee quandary that has materialized along its border with North Korea.
After all, the U.S. is clearly not a direct threat from Kim Jung Il's maniacal plans, right? Please, tell me I'm right! Sorry! No way!
North Korea has shown the propensity to develop cheap weapons and sell them to anyone (including terrorists, or if you prefer more delicate language: non-traditional, quasi-military, civilian-targeting lethal community activists). This is where North Korea perilously becomes a risk to the U.S. Despite the change and hope, there are still those around the world plotting our demise. So, what can be done?
A military strike or pressure would take months to plan and probably not get support from China (less than kin, and never kind?) or anyone else for that matter. On the other hand, diplomatic pressure without the fear of reprisals has little value. This is a policy quandary.
During the Bush years, the U.S. simply punted to the Russians, Chinese or the United Nations Security Council. But, before you are too harsh, this was his effort (albeit not particularly genuine) at multi-lateralism.
The result: back to where we were almost 15 years ago with North Korea upsetting the balance of power in Asia and the U.S. spending valuable time and treasure on a petty little state that shows all other petty little states how a mouse is supposed to roar.
John W. Sutherlin, PhD, is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Louisiana-Monroe. He also is co-director at the ULM Social Science Research Lab. He can be reached by e-mailing Sutherlin@ulm.edu.