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North Korea
Posted by: Jon Henke on Wednesday, July 05, 2006

At first glance, it's very difficult to tell what North Korea was hoping to accomplish with their recent missile tests. The threat of indeterminate missile capability was one of the few tools in the North Korean foreign policy toolbox. One would think this means North Korea is getting (much more) desparate.

Perhaps for that reason, China does not "appear too upset by the launches", and is generally asking everybody involved to settle down and resume negotiations. It's difficult to discern the motivations and interests of each actor involved, but Chinese ennui may arise from the fact that, without it's missile leverage, North Korea now finds itself with fewer diplomatic and military options. This means North Korea is now much more dependent on China, both for protection and aid.

Meanwhile, via Instapundit, we note Strategy Page's observation that North Korea has begun keeping the Chinese trains that bring aid supplies. That's a bold shot at the closest thing North Korea has to a benevolent protector. But halting aid supplies until they get their trains back, China is tightening its grip on North Korea.

Stratfor believes the North Korean activity over the next few months will give us the best signal
The question now is what happens inside Pyongyang. A failure of a major economic, political and military expenditure could quickly lead to infighting as blame is assigned and passed and next steps are debated. [...] If Pyongyang makes quick, clear steps in the coming days, it will suggest it was either well-prepared for failure or aborted the launch itself. If not, expect to see the North close in on itself, and perhaps turn to neighbor China for advice and protection.

Either way, a major shift in North Korean behavior can be expected in the coming months.
So the balance of power has shifted away from North Korea and towards China, but not necessarily in favor of the United States. Unless China becomes too demanding and the US can exploit a division and offer better terms, the center of gravity of the North Korean problem is likely to remain in China, whose interest may lay more in exploiting rather than defusing the problem.

Meanwhile, Joe Cirincione at Arms Control Wonk wonders who looks more foolish:
A. Kim Jong-Il for staging a July 4th fireworks display that blew up in his face;

B. William Perry and Ash Carter for hyperventilating that we had to blow up this missile on the launch pad, instead of waiting for it to blow itself up 40 seconds after launch;

C. All those reporter who repeated the Pentagon palbum about how until the launch failure “we were ready to do what was necessary to defend the country,” as if the interceptors in Alaska had any chance of intercepting anything; or

D. All of the above.
Once again, this is evidence that, though it's possible to err on the side of too much caution, a cautious, skeptical approach to foreign policy also allows us to avoid a great many unnecessary costs.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Nice analysis Jon, especially looking at how this affects the US <—> N.Korea <—> China dynamic.

The Belmont Club has an interesting post on the missile failure. I think his point is that whether we did or not, we don’t know, and (most importantly) neither do the N.Koreans.
Written By: ChrisB
URL: http://
At first glance, it’s very difficult to tell what North Korea was hoping to accomplish with their recent missile tests.

There has been a lot of speculation about possible domestic and international political goals that North Korea hoped to achieve with the missile launch, but I haven’t heard anyone mention the obvious technical answer: test launches are a necessary step developing a working missile system a missile system.
Written By: Aldo
URL: http://
The most annoying people on the planet are those S. Koreans who defend Kim - no wait, I’m wrong. The most annoying are those S. Koreans who are secretly proud that the North has nukes and is standing up to America.

Really, really bugs me.
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
The world gets its knickers in a twist over the prospect of one NK missile launch, so the N Koreans launch a bunch of missiles; "Stick it in your ear, world". It wouldn’t be the first time. Aldo makes an excellent point. It was a TEST missile. It failed. So what? We have certainly had our share of launch failures. It might be helpful to find out what the N Koreans are saying, both internally and to the rest of the world. Is there
a site that publishes what they broadcast to their own citizens?
Written By: timactual
URL: http://

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