The method behind North Korea’s madness
So why have the North Koreans decided to test? One answer, according to Brookings scholar Wonhyuk Lim, is that the North Koreans have learned that provocation gets the United States to stop dragging its feet on talks. Writing after this summer’s missile tests Lim noted that: Contrary to the expectations of many casual observers, this ...
So why have the North Koreans decided to test? One answer, according to Brookings scholar Wonhyuk Lim, is that the North Koreans have learned that provocation gets the United States to stop dragging its feet on talks. Writing after this summer's missile tests Lim noted that:
Contrary to the expectations of many casual observers, this provocative action resulted in the first serious bilateral talks between the U.S. and North Korea under the Bush Administration. In sum, as twisted as the North Koreans’ logic may be, it is based on their negotiating experience with the Americans. North Korea’s brinkmanship is the evil twin of America’s half-hearted engagement.”
Predictably, reaction from Washington to the possibility of a test has been blusterous, warning of unspecified serious consequences. But there isn’t very much that the U.S. can do if Kim Jong-Il goes ahead with the test. Indeed, if the tests are successful, playing chicken with North Korea becomes even more dangerous.
So what can be done? Deepening its isolation, as Ian Bremmer points out in his book, The J-Curve, only shores up the regime. Even if sanctions succeed in regime collapse, that’s the last thing that neighbors China and South Korea want. As Ivo H. Daalder points out, this would flood them with millions of destitute refugees and destabilize the region. That explains their minimal enthusiasm for Washington’s hardline approach in the six-party talks.
Either North Korea, scared by Bush’s doctrine of preemption, is serious about its bomb, or it’s desperately using its only chip, nuclear blackmail, for more aid and concessions. Or a bit of both. US policy needs to start reflecting this North Korean calculus and the fact that regime collapse is not necessarily the best outcome.
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