The Limits of Incentive-Based Diplomacy.

(cross-posted at kickin it with cg and motley moose)

Once again, Kim Jong-il is testing the resolve of the international community. The latest North Korean nuclear provocation - an underground detonation yesterday - is the biggest trial of the Obama administration's foreign policy and of China's newfound global status to date.

The stakes are high not only because Pyongyang's provocations undermine security in northeast Asia, but also because a critical issue facing the US is nuclear proliferation to Iran. Should North Korea acquire the status of a nuclear-weapons state, any effort to prevent the nuclearization of Iran would lose validity. Additionally the prospect of a nuclear Iran could unravel U.S. Middle East policy, threatening the survival of Israel as well as the security of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf oil-exporting states. For China, the stakes in North Korea are no less important. It has banked its credibility on restraining Pyongyang through the diplomatic process of the six-party talks on Kim's nuclear program.

The Kim family dynasty's determination to secure its survival through the acquisition of nuclear weapons not only threatens South Korea, but also may provoke Japan (the only country that suffered an atomic bombing) to weaponize its advanced nuclear technology. Yet Kim has success doing what he has been doing in the past - winning foreign aid to stave off his people's hunger and provoking diplomatic apoplexy to feed his megalomania.

A unscrupulous dictator, Kim bankrolls his state by counterfeiting U.S. currency and the export of narcotics. He has no fuel for his factories and no foodstuff to feed his people yet finds the time to kidnap teenagers from the beaches of Japan. He goes through the motions of building nuclear reactors, then wins subsidized oil shipments from the outside world in return for suspending construction. With thousands of land-based missiles pointed at South Korea and 1.2 million soldiers under arms, Kim has long had the West over a barrel.

The response to the removal of North Korea from the U.S. list of countries supporting terrorism has been for Kim to renew his campaign of nuclear blackmail. He has no fear of the UN Security Council, whose resolutions he has defied on multiple occasions in the past five years.

With yesterday's events broadcast through the global airways, North Korea created critical mass.  No doubt a nuclear arms race in northeast Asia would undermine the U.S.-Japan security treaty and inflame a fear of Japanese militarism in the rest of Asia, especially in China, where bitter memories of Japan's aggression simmer just below the surface.  It's pretty safe to say that a scramble to acquire a nuclear stockpile in any region of the world is not what the international community is hoping for.

The only way to restrain Kim from his course is the joint and explicit cooperation of the rest of the participants in the six-party talks, led by China and the United States and supported by Russia, Japan and South Korea. China's swift condemnation of this week's nuclear test by North Korea signals that its patience is at an end.

In the coming days, we will see whether the international community can rise to the challenge. The limits of incentive-based diplomacy have been reached. The world must now tolerate imposing painful sanctions on Pyongyang. The price of inaction is too high. The risk of a war that would once again devastate the Korean Peninsula has deterred any military option. So it would seem that only close co-ordination between China and the United States to devise sanctions (such as a total energy embargo on a state that has no domestic source of oil) might constrain the continued operation of the North Korean regime without firing a shot.  However it could also provoke a suicidal attack on South Korea or Japan from a power-crazed and desperate neighbour.

Kim threatens the world with the push of a button out of weakness, not strength. The world may ultimately be forced into an uncomfortable and uncharacteristic game of brinkmanship, because clearly it seems the international community is running out of options.

Tags: china, diplomacy, kim jong-il, North Korea, sanctions, UN, US (all tags)

Comments

18 Comments

any other suggestions?

by canadian gal 2009-05-26 11:17AM | 0 recs
Re: The Limits of Incentive-Based Diplomacy.

The drug trafficking is I think now history. The countefeiting likely remains a problem. The Haggard/Noland paper I linked to in my post from this morning has more on that. Even so, counterfeiting likely amounts to a small percentage of state income. Probably not even 1%.

There is no right way of saying this but what North Korea really wants is to be accepted as a nation. The regime knows that it is failing but that doesn't mean that they want to cede power. Selfish bastards they are but they are not suicidal.

Sanctions have worked in the past. Noland argues that the most effective ones were the ones that hamstrung the Kim Dynasty personally. Kim Jong-il has expensive taste. Bush shut off his play money that was sitting in a bank in Macau. That move stung and led to agreement that shuttered Yongbon.

Beyond that there is a geopolitical game going on. We all know that the DPRK is a failed state but it is not a collapsed one. South Korea wants a slowing imploding DPRK in short a managed transition to an unified state. The PRC wants to prop up the DPRK to prevent a reunified Korea but it doesn't want a nuclear DPRK so China is in a bit of bind. Japan is harder to read. It would accept a reunified Korea because that would consume the ROK's energies but for the moment there is an element in Japan that wants a nuclear DPRK to use as an excuse to remilitarize. And of course the neo-conservatives here simply want the DPRK to fail asap.

China has on two occasions stopped fuel deliveries but the fear now is that Iran may supply the DPRK in return for nuclear technology. The danger from a nuclear North Korea isn't that it will lob one over the DMZ and hit Seoul but rather that the North Koreans, cash-strapped as they are, will export their knowledge to who knows whom. The threat is a proliferation one.

by Charles Lemos 2009-05-26 11:47AM | 0 recs
Re: The Limits of Incentive-Based Diplomacy.

no doubt one of the main concerns is the n. korea's sale of nuclear technology. and kim as we all know - has sold military technology in the past which makes this a forgone conclusion.

having lived in s. korea i note that in the past 10 years the signals being sent by kim demonstrate that things in n. korea have been  deteriorating a steady pace.

by canadian gal 2009-05-26 12:02PM | 0 recs
the options are very limited here

For the following reasons:

1. There are enough nations that have done business with the N. Koreans in the past (like Pakistan who acquired missiles from them) and are willing to do so in the future (like Iran)

2. Recalcitrance of China to impose any form of meaningful sanctions because it will lead to a mass refugee problem

3. International community cannot blockade the N. Korean coast, because in all likelihood it will precipitate war, and also China will not allow US and other ships so near its coast

Which basically leaves us with the following: make more concessions, or transfer weapons grade nuclear technology to S. Korea and Japan. Since we have seen the repeated failure of the first, are there any takers for the latter?

by tarheel74 2009-05-26 12:25PM | 0 recs
i certainly...

hope you aren't right in that the solution is to nuclearize north asia.

by canadian gal 2009-05-26 12:33PM | 0 recs
Re: i certainly...

Agreed.  And unlikely, given Obama's interest in moving purposefully in the other direction.  But it may be a "card" to play in negotiations.  This would certainly carry more weight than simply gesturing to our nuclear submarines off the Pacific rim.

Anymore Zionist propaganda you want to pump CG?

Sorry, just wanted to help you feel at home.  Nice to see you frame a foreign policy discussion, which you do quite well here, without being slandered and attacked.

by Strummerson 2009-05-26 12:59PM | 0 recs
Damn...

... you stole my thunder Strum. I'll have to assemble some other pithy comment on down the thread.

by RecoveringRepublican 2009-05-26 11:42PM | 0 recs
Re: Damn...

Yes.  More.  More pithy comments.  Can there ever be enough?

Let's say I borrowed your thunder.  I believe in sharing resources.  You may have it back now!

by Strummerson 2009-05-27 10:03AM | 0 recs
Re: i certainly...

There are not many solutions available right now and all of them go through the Politburo in China. Eventually there are only two ways to get N. Korea to see reason, blockade them (not that it matters because he is starving the rest of the country) or create a balance of power in the Korean peninsula and Japan. Either way there are no good options here.

by tarheel74 2009-05-26 01:14PM | 0 recs
Re: the options are very limited here

You may be on the right track but it is the mere threat of South Korea and Japan weaponising their nuclear arsenals which should be allowed to weave it's diplomatic magic.  I hope you will forgive the reposting of this comment but it seemed relevant to your second point.  There seems to be no reason China wouldn't be willing to participate in the cross-border sanctions you mentioned as long as it didn't actually cause the collapse of the regime:



Many Americans, neo-conservatives in particular, overestimate China's support for North Korea and underestimate China's resolve to see Kim Jong-Il lay down his nuclear weapons program, perhaps because they have not understood China's two-pronged approach to North Korea. China did not want North Korea launching missiles in 1998 or in 2006, nor did it want North Korea testing nuclear weapons in 2006, because China does not want to see an American attack on North Korea, refugees flowing across its borders, sanctions against North Korea, economic instability, northeast Asian arms races or any of the other scenarios discussed above. If, absent any explicit provocations from the United States, North Korea is found to have continued to develop, test and/or deploy nuclear weapons, Americans can expect to see China continue to stand with the international community in holding North Korea accountable via the UN, and to continue to put the squeeze on North Korea when needed, as illustrated by its recent cutoffs of oil, capital, and food supplies to the DPRK.

Gregory J. Moore - How North Korea threatens China's interests International Relations of the Asia-Pacific 8 Oct 2007


I found this somewhat lengthy article most instructive on the issue of China's relationship with North Korea.  Apparently China cut off oil supplies in February and March of 2007 as well as 2003.  Reports of the alleged suspension of oil deliveries before the October 2006 test make for interesting reading too.  I still maintain we should manoeuvre the Chinese to be taking the lead on this, it's their funeral, really.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-05-26 01:51PM | 0 recs
Re: The Limits of Incentive-Based Diplomacy.

China's swift condemnation of this week's nuclear test by North Korea signals that its patience is at an end.

CG, Do you happen to a link to support the statement above? I'm curious to read what China has stated regarding this topic.

Thanks.

by oc 2009-05-26 01:23PM | 0 recs
Re: The Limits of Incentive-Based Diplomacy.

Here ya' go:


BEIJING -- The Chinese government is resolutely opposed to the nuclear test by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), Chinese Foreign Ministry said here in a statement Monday.

China 'resolutely opposes' DPRK's nuclear test China Daily (Xinhua) 25 May 09

Pretty thin, so far, but relatively strong words from China straight off the blocks.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-05-26 01:42PM | 0 recs
sure thing.

here's one:

China said it "resolutely opposed" North Korea's test and urged Pyongyang to return to talks on ending its atomic programs.

by canadian gal 2009-05-26 02:22PM | 0 recs
Re: The Limits of Incentive-Based Diplomacy.

It's curious but having mused over this event for a day or so I am more inclined to see this as an opportunity than a threat, frankly.  I think Charles pointed out elsewehere that the Obama administration's policy toward North Korea, while tacitly pursuing restarted negotiations, has been to basically ignore them and I think that was arguably the right strategy if counterintuitive to public perceptions of US global responsibility and emerging risks.  

Here's why, it seems to me that China, North Korea's long-standing ally who shares a common border and props up this problematic regime with oil, food and capital, bears the greatest responsibility for managing this problem.  The Bush administration with neoconservative ideological ambitions was willing to take the initiative with North Korea but basically failed to exert much influence because their motives encouraged the Chinese to remain aloof.  Now the Chinese are worried, on several grounds, and mightily pissed off with their client state for these actions which disturb the status quo and are likely to set off a renewed security crisis in East Asia.  We seem, thankfully, to have noted this:


To devise a common response, administration officials began planning to meet with Asian leaders, and eventually with the central player in the diplomatic drama: China. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will begin the effort this week on a previously scheduled trip for an annual defense meeting, and his spokesman, Geoff Morrell, said, "There is simply no greater security challenge facing Asia than a nuclear-armed North Korea."

David E Sanger - Tested Early by North Korea, Obama Has Few Options NYT 25 May 09

The challenges presented here are manifold but if we are sensitive to China's profound concerns over the possibility of South Korea, Japan and, most significantly, Taiwan seeking to improve their missile defenses or even restart nuclear weapons programs we may find we have more indirect leverage over North Korea than the Bush administration was ever able to exert overtly.  If we are willing to stand back a little from our role of geopolitical beat cop and encourage the Chinese to exert their clear infuence over North Korea with cross-border sanctions, which have worked in the past, perhaps we are discharging our global responsibilites in a more measured and effective way.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-05-26 03:51PM | 0 recs
Re: The Limits of Incentive-Based Diplomacy.

im not sure how obama has been ignoring them - just this week alone, clinton boldly stated that the idea that north korea would take part in negotiation talks, was "implausible, if not impossible"

as to the idea that north korea can be pushed off for china to deal with - this seems doubtful to me. a point of note is that the korean peninsula serves as an important bridgehead for the US strategically as it gives them an area on which to stage armed forces - just in midtown seoul alone (a main, cosmopolitan city of millions) sits a US military base the size of a small city (from memory - maybe 30,000 people?). if the idea was to back away from this problem - wouldn't the military bases and 10's of thousands of service people be brought home decades ago? clearly american policy makers - both democrats and republicans have strategic interests in this part of the world.

but i believe you're right in that the chinese will need to be heavy hitters (if not the lead players) in however the international community responds to this.

lastly it seems to me that the idea of ignoring north korea is sorta similar to how iraq and iran were "contained" during the 1980s - sadly we can see two decades later how well that turned out.

by canadian gal 2009-05-26 04:52PM | 0 recs
Re: The Limits of Incentive-Based Diplomacy.

Perhaps 'benign neglect' is a better characterisation, and events in North Korea certainly have escalated since Obama's swearing in, however there has been little evidence that this has been an area of more than 'business as usual' diplomacy compared to Obama's direct and public role in extending a hand to Iran, for example, or involvement in the Middle East.  There was concern, for example, that Ambassador Bosworth, our special envoy to North Korea, was serving in a part-time capacity.  There has also been an absence of the kind of rhetoric we have engaged in under past administrations in spite of the chilly relations and numerous provocations we have received.

I don't see how the 86,000 US personnel stationed in South Korea argues against China's diplomatic responsibility, it merely emphasises that a half-century of negotiations has achieved very little.  I am thinking of the withdrawal of these forces as the 'end-game' of a successful diplomatic strategy of encouraging China to step up in respect of it's own ally, and that is a long term goal, to be sure.  We could sorely use the resources tied down in South Korea elsewhere although there are clearly regional security issues to be considered.  But that probably won't happen until a reunification of Korea is a realistic possibility and it now seems more distant than ever.

My whole point about 'stepping back' regarding North Korea was that it is predicated on having the Chinese fill the vacuum, so to speak, not abdicate our clear international responsibilites or abandon our regional objectives.  Surely the normal mechanisms of Security Council condemnations and resolutions will be followed through and so forth.  I just don't see how letting the burden of response fall more heavily on China undermines our regional ambitions in any way.  What I am suggesting is perhaps a subtler approach in our discussions with the other powers, specifically China, which would encourage them to take a more proactive role in their own interests than our previous adversarial world image, informed by neoconservative projection of US power, would have permitted.  A more collaborative relationship with Russia would be helpful too, in many ways.

That's why I'm suggesting this is an opportunity as much as a threat, it's not a matter of black and white.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-05-26 05:41PM | 0 recs
you make me smile.

that is all.

by canadian gal 2009-05-26 06:09PM | 0 recs
Happy to Oblige

Yes we can.  Looked at from the perspective of early 2007 if Obama can win the presidency of the United States then anything seems possible.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-05-26 08:09PM | 0 recs

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