Buying the Same North Korean Horse and Accepting the Unacceptable
Yesterday Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned North Korea that the United States would not accept North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons:
“We will not stand idly by as North Korea builds the capability to wreak destruction on any target in the region — or on us,” Mr. Gates told a major security conference here that has been dominated by North Korea’s test this week of a nuclear device and the firing of at least six short-range missiles, all in defiance of international sanctions. North Korea test-fired a missile on Friday, according to a South Korean defense official.
and that the U. S’s patience was wearing thin:
“I think that everyone in the room is familiar with the tactics that the North Koreans use. They create a crisis and the rest of us pay a price to return to the status quo ante,” he said in a question and answer session after his speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue.
“As the expression goes in the United States, `I am tired of buying the same horse twice.’ I think this notion that we buy our way back to the status quo ante is an approach that I personally at least think we ought to think very hard about. There are perhaps other ways to try and get the North Koreans to change their approach,” he said.
Judging by the reactions from our allies Secretary Gates’s speech has apparently had the desired effect:
SEOGWIPO, South Korea — South Korea and Thailand criticized North Korea on Sunday, saying the country’s nuclear test threatens world peace and stability and harms efforts to prevent atomic proliferation.
The two nations’ leaders discussed Pyongyang’s latest nuclear blast on the sidelines of a summit between South Korea and Southeast Asian countries being held amid heavy security.
The event was planned months ago, but North Korea’s underground nuclear test and a series of short-range missile launches last week threatens to steal the limelight from economic matters, the main focus of the agenda.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva agreed that the test goes against international efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation and “undermines peace and stability not only in East Asia but also in the whole world,” Lee Dong-kwan, the South Korean president’s chief spokesman, told reporters.
They also agreed to exert diplomatic pressure to assure North Korea complies with U.N. Security Council resolutions and “promptly returns to six-party talks” aimed at ridding it of nuclear weapons.
As I pointed out the other day this is something that needed to be done.
Unfortunately, we’ve been buying the same horse again and again over the period of the last 50 years and President Obama is likely to keep doing it for the same reason that Ike did: unless we want to risk all-out war with China the amount of pressure we can put on North Korea is limited. Now we’re not just worried about war with China but about losing China’s cooperation as a vendor and money lender. Considering China’s veto-wielding seat as a permanent member of the UN Security council and that China is North Korea’s most important patron, the likelihood of further sanctions against North Korea is very slim. A few moments ago I heard William Krystal on Fox’s sunday morning news program urge lobbing a few missiles at North Korean sites to give them the general idea of the sort of consequences that President Obama and now Secretary Gates has warned of. That won’t happen for the same reasons that the Korean War was suspended more than 50 years ago rather than concluded.
Unless there are same actual, positive, measures that Washington is willing and able to implement these warning are just so much bluster and I have little doubt that’s how the North Koreans interpret them. We have already accepted North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons and its proliferation of nuclear technology. Pronouncements about this or that being unacceptable without the means or the will to do anything about it is a sign of weakness.
I hope we are courting China for its participation in the program to interdict ships leaving North Korean ports that might be carrying missile or nuclear weapons parts. That would give them the general idea and North Korea’s not becoming the nuclear technology vendor to any comer is in China’s interest as it is in ours.
The coin pictured above is a North Korean ½ chon, worth about four cents.