February 20, 2003

North Korea Update:

I’ve been tracking the North Korea situation for several weeks, and today there were several items I consider important to note.

First are reports that North Korean diplomats attempted to gain support among non-aligned states at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) meeting. In particular, the North was lobbying for support of a statement blaming the U.S. for the current North Korean nuclear crisis. (NAM is a 114-member organization of mostly developing states.) The North Koreans went so far as to try and amend the session’s closing declaration with this:

"removal of the constant threats of the US against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea constitute a precondition for ensuring a stable peace and security on the Korean Peninsula."

This created a significant disruption at the meeting, with diplomats from several nations, thankfully, deeming the language as undiplomatic and inaccurate. North Korea was using the NAM meeting as an opportunity to actively solicit allies against the U.S. as a precursor to the nuclear crisis endgame. While we can be glad for the negative response it created, we shouldn’t expect North Korea’s alignment efforts to stop there.

Second, North Korea’s state news agency continues to elevate its jingoistic rhetoric to even more disturbing levels. The most recent statement claims the situation is:

"so alarming that a nuclear war may break out at any moment."

While the press release isn’t yet on the Korean Central News Agency site, there is this language:

A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of the DPRK issued a statement on Tuesday accusing the United States of persistently turning down the DPRK's proposal for the conclusion of a non-aggression treaty aimed at finding a peaceful solution to the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula and pushing the situation to the phase of confrontation ...

... The plan to stage month-long large-scale joint war exercises announced by warhawks at a time when the situation on the Korean Peninsula is getting tenser over the nuclear issue there goes to clearly prove that the U.S. reckless plan for a nuclear war has entered the phase of practical implementation ...

... Now the DPRK-U.S. relationship is in a dangerous state of confrontation with no gunfire. There is no place for us to step back and we have nothing to make a concession to the U.S. If the United States acts in reason, the nuclear issue of the Korean Peninsula may be settled smoothly. But if it continues military pressure as it is now, the present situation will lead to catastrophic explosion. Not only the United States but we have options. The U.S. warmongers should know that it is easy for them to provoke a war against us but it is impossible to survive the war.

Official state news releases like these (and in particular this last statement) are increasingly sounding not like warnings, but threats. And indeed, the statement “that nuclear war may break out at any moment” came just hours after a North Korean MiG-19 jet fighter crossed the western sea border and flew almost eight miles into Southern airspace before heading back into communist territory (same link as above).

This doesn’t sound like much … until you learn it’s the first such incursion by a military aircraft from the North since 1983.

North Korea is clearly intensifying the situation on the peninsula. Initially, I think everyone agreed that the North was being obviously opportunistic: reactivating its nuclear program in an attempt to leverage the Iraqi situation and extract economic and energy concessions from the West.

But if you’ve been tracking the rhetoric, you notice a recent and disturbing trend. Statements by the official news agency are increasingly threatening. They talk with greater frequency not of a willingness to fight, but of a readiness to fight … not simply of a commitment to self-defense, but of an ominous willingness to incur a “catastrophic explosion” of conflict.

You can take this language literally or metaphorically. But match it with an effort to establish allies among NAM states and the first air incursion over the DMZ in 20 years, and you have to wonder if the North is accelerating its efforts to force the Bush hand.

The timing is obvious … but what of the trigger? Most commentators have claimed the North was simply attempting to create diplomatic pressure through the nuclear issue. But given the increasingly aggressive posturing, I have to wonder if the North will force the ultimate hand: wait for engagement in Iraq, create a hot military crisis in Korea, and force the Bush administration to rationalize the reality of a two-front war.

It’s a frightening prospect. But if I adopt the perspective of a sociopathic dictator with a million-man army, I have to tell you … it’s exactly what I would do. I hope to God I’m wrong, and just another amateur pundit, jabbering into the ether. But it's exactly what I would do.

UPDATE: KCNA has posted the North Korean press release with the "nuclear war may break out at any moment" language. You may find it here. The statement is long, but take the time to read the whole thing. It also threatens:

The DPRK has never fired even a single shell at the territory of the U.S. if the U.S. dares start a war against the DPRK despite its warning, it will react to it with the toughest self-defensive measure.

UPDATE: And Frank at IMAO chimes in with his North Korea Top Ten list ...

Posted by Avocare at February 20, 2003 11:55 PM
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