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Four not-so-good North Korean Scenarios
Posted by: McQ on Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Fred Kaplan of Slate tosses out four scenarios that are possible in the aftermath of NoKo's alleged "nuclear test" (we have to assume here that it was indeed a nuke):
First, Kim Jong-il could churn out more bombs and sell at least some of them to the highest bidders. North Korea is dreadfully short of resources; his scheme to counterfeit American money has run into roadblocks; nukes might be his new cash cow. During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, President Bush rallied domestic support by invoking the image of Saddam Hussein selling A-bombs to al-Qaida. It was a highly improbable scenario; even if Saddam had been building A-bombs, he would almost certainly have kept them under tight control. Kim, on the other hand, is a guerrilla-anarchist; he maintains his power not by trying to shape, or seek greater influence in, the international system but rather by throwing the system into a shambles. He's much less likely to have qualms about trading bombs for hard currency, regardless of the customer.
There has been speculation that the size of the blast may not have meant that it fizzled, but was a test of a low yield "suitcase" size device for export. As Kaplan posits, the possibility of developing a device for "export" first isn't as far fetched as some might like to believe.
The second possible consequence of a nuclear North Korea is the unleashing of a serious regional arms race. The Japanese have long had the technical know-how and the stash of plutonium to build atomic (or possibly even hydrogen) bombs. They've foresworn that route because of moral qualms stemming from their own militarism in World War II. They also cite their security arrangement with the United States. But it's an open question how long these 60-year-old qualms would endure in the face of a clear and present danger. Just last month, a Japanese think tank run by former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone published a study calling on the nation to "consider the nuclear option." North Korea's nuclear test can only fuel these temptations.

If Japan goes nuclear, the Chinese might decide that it's in their security interests to resume nuclear testing. China's moves could incite India to accelerate its nuclear program, which would almost certainly compel Pakistan to match that effort. The South Koreans, meanwhile, might feel they need their own bomb to deter any crazy ideas from their northern neighbor, which could push the cycle into still higher gear.
As I noted recently, Japan's new Prime Minister is the first PM to have been born after WWII. Those who lived through the horror of Japanese militarism are slowing leaving political leadership. So it is certainly not improbable, as Kaplan notes, for Japan to consider "the nuclear option". It wouldn't surprise me at all if they choose to develop their own nukes. I'm not as concerned about that as some. But I doubt that Japan doing so would serve as any sort of deterrence to North Korea.

I'm not sure about how South Korea will react, however, South Korea is going to the right politically, and that could, assuming this test is legitimate, also consider the "nuclear option" as necessary to neutralize any NoKo advantage.

The third point Kaplan makes is probably the most important of the bunch:
Third, it's a fair bet that the Iranians will be closely watching the coming weeks' events. If the world lets tiny, miscreant, destitute North Korea—the freaking Hermit Kingdom—get away with testing a nuke, then who will stop the oil-rich, leverage-loaded, modern-day Persian Empire from treading the same road?

For many reasons, then, the world's major powers and organizations—if they have any capacity for coordinated action—must take actions to punish Kim Jong-il for what he has done, not to pound him with airstrikes (for better or worse, an impractical option), but to make his regime suffer in all other ways, to let those around him know that his actions are the cause of their suffering.
This forces the hand of the world's major powers. It is put up or shut up time and Iran will be closely watching a) how united the world's powers are in the case of NoKo and b) how effective their actions (should they actually take any) are in this case.

Any weakness and any failure to act in a united way will signal to Iran that they're free to act in this regard without fear of any real consequences. For all the talk of any of these rogue regimes getting nukes being "unacceptable", there has been remarkably little progress or success in preventing it.
However, this leads to a fourth risky scenario that Sunday's test has set in motion: the danger of escalation and war.

A plan of economic pressure or sanctions depends crucially on cooperation from China. Without Chinese food, fuel, and other forms of aid, Kim Jong-il's regime would soon crumble. And that's the problem: The Chinese don't want the regime to crumble, for their own security reasons. It's a delicate matter to punish Kim just enough to affect his actions but not enough to trigger his downfall. The question is whether pressure from other countries—or the Chinese leaders' own anger at Kim's defiance of their warnings not to test—will lead them to walk this line and decide whether such a balancing act is possible.

It may well be that, back in 2003, the Chinese took the lead in creating a diplomatic forum to solve the North Korean nuclear crisis because they thought the Bush administration was about to order a military strike. They relaxed their sense of urgency once they realized a strike wasn't imminent after all. (This theory is held not only by White House hawks but also by many outside specialists who have pushed for direct negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.)

It is therefore conceivable that, in light of Sunday's test, some White House officials are proposing, once again, to send signals of impending military action against North Korea—if just to unnerve Beijing into going along with sanctions. The danger, of course, is that such stratagems can spiral out of control: Signals can be misread, threats can escalate to gunshots.
While war is a possibility, I don't see it as very probable (any more than I feel we're getting ready to strike Iran prior to the November elections as some believe). While I suppose the administration could cobble together a reason to strike NoKo, I don't think, politically, it is something they could really do and survive. Sure we could play games in which we act as though a strike is imminent to force China's hand and, of course, it is then possible, given the paranoid nature of the NoKo leadership, that they'd strike first forcing out hand.

But my guess is that sort of scenario would not be the first choice of this administration or any.

Nope, to me, Kaplan's third point is the most important and I can promise you the mullahs in Iran are watching this development with great interest. In the end it may turn out that in reality, there is nothing the major powers can really do to stop nations like North Korea and Iran from joining the Nuke Club. But, given their leadership, it is certainly in their best interest to give it a united try.

And there is no time like the present to begin doing that.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

This whole series of events from Iraq.Iran.elections Foley.And now this idiot Kim has thrown his hand down is a Clancy novel yet to be written.Unbelievable!!!! Those 4 scenarios tho bleak at best are completly solid.Bush must now really show his cajones..But can he build a coalition although it would be a dog and pony show that can contain this.Will there be unity or will other fragile alliances be broken.Who will see oportunity.China moves on Taiwan.India.Pakistan.And lets not even mention the mideast....Whats next.Iceland declares war on Canada...I dont know.Am i going out on a limb thinking this North Korean buidup is the Cuban Missle crisis of our time...I remember that time DUCK AND COVER!!!! Kevin
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