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Kim Jong Il's Dangerous Ploy
Kim Jong Il's Dangerous Ploy
Pyongyang's underground nuclear test on May 25 and its April 5 test-firing of a long-range missile that flew over Japan was condemned almost unanimously across the globe. It is easy to understand why. A small but extremely belligerent and reckless country has effectively undermined the existing system for resolving conflicts and providing collective security.
The nuclear militarization of North Korea creates a dangerous risk for Russia. Any nuclear explosion by North Korea in the region would mean that radiation fallout would inevitably spread to Russia's Far East. South Korea, China and Japan face the same risk.
Moreover, Pyongyang's actions have posed a serious challenge to the United Nations and other international organizations in terms of their fundamental ability to resolve global problems. This is clearly not in Russia's interests. Moscow has always supported the UN -- and above all the UN Security Council, where Russia is a permanent member -- as the leading authoritative international institution for resolving global conflicts.
North Korea produces very little other than weapons. The starving population is able to survive only because the country receives aid from China, its traditionally loyal Communist comrade, and Western nations.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's main strategy to secure a steady flow of food and oil is extortion -- foreign aid in return for a promise to back down from the military nuclear program. Pyongyang has used the ploy successfully for years.
It is important to note, however, that Washington also played a role in escalating the North Korean conflict. From the early 1990s, it has concluded agreements with Pyongyang that it never intended to carry out. The U.S. strategy was to buy time in hope that the Communist regime would collapse before it was able to develop nuclear weapons. In 1993, the United States promised to build two nuclear power stations in North Korea and to provide it with energy resources, but it never fulfilled that promise. One of the contributing factors to the current crisis was the U.S. failure to remove North Korea from its list of «terrorist states,» although it had promised to do so as part of an agreement reached during the six-party negotiations in 2007, after which Pyongyang destroyed the cooling tower at its main nuclear facility in Yongbyon in June 2008. The United States finally started fulfilling some of its obligations after North Korea threatened to reverse its denuclearization program, but it was too little and too late in Pyongyang's opinion.
For its part, North Korea did not fulfill all of the terms of the 2007 agreement. It has not allowed international monitoring of its activities, even though the United States gave
In response to the crisis, Russia needs to take three basic steps. First, it should deploy missile defense batteries to protect its Far East region.
Second, Moscow should try to convince China, which holds the greatest economic leverage with North Korea, to take a tougher position against Pyongyang. Of course, China is concerned that if the Pyongyang regime collapses, it will result in a humanitarian catastrophe near its borders. Beijing also has no desire to see a newly unified, powerful and wealthy Korea allied with the United States. It might be necessary for Beijing and the other five members of the six-party negotiations to make a guarantee to Pyongyang that any sanctions or pressure they might apply are not intended to change the geopolitical situation on the Korean Peninsula. One good argument would be to point out that the North Korean threat is the main argument used by Japanese hardliners to justify building Japan's own full-fledged armed forces with the potential to initiate a war, something that is prohibited by Article 9 of the post-World War II Constitution imposed by the United States. China is also rightfully concerned about Kim's policies and should be concerned about Japan's aspirations to become an independent military force in the region.
Third, the Kremlin needs to explain to Washington that any failure to follow through on U.S. promises to North Korea will only exacerbate the problem. Moscow and Beijing could serve as mediators and guarantors to make sure that all obligations are met. As part of this agreement, of course, Kim must guarantee that North Korea will allow verification and negotiate on the particulars of any agreement without letting things reach another impasse.
It should be remembered, however, that the situation in North Korea could change at any moment, particularly since Kim's days are numbered.
Alexander Lukin is director of the Center for East Asian and SCO Studies at Moscow State University for International Relations.
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