Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Let's Talk

Just hours after declaring its right to launch a long-range missile, North Korea has indicated that it wants direct talks with the U.S. on the missile issue. With preparations for the launch largely complete, Pyongyang appears to be playing one of its main cards, hinting vaguely that the missile launch might be postponed or even scrubbed, if Washington agrees to its demand for one-on-one negotiations.

Pyongyang has long sought bilateral talks with Washington, but the Bush Administration has (correctly) refused, preferring to deal with North Korea through a regional, six-party forum that also includes South Korea, Japan, Russia and China. On Tuesday, the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Thomas Scheiffer (brother of the CBS anchorman) , called on North Korea to return to the six-nation talks, observing that Pyongyang "doesn't have to undertake bad policies in order to talk to the U.S." North Korea withdrew from the six-party process last November, because of a U.S. crackdown on Pyongyang's illicit financial activity. While the six-party talks have been remarkably unproductive, the U.S. remains committed to the process, because it engages other nations with a stake in the North Korean "outcome," and (in the case of China and Russia), it leverages governments that have some influence with Kim Jong-il.

Speaking of diplomacy, Tuesday's "overture" should not be interpreted as some sort of capitulation or face-saving measure by Kim Jong-il. Long before the TD-2 was mounted on its launch pad, the North Koreans carefully considered all possible scenarios and outcomes. Their latest gambit will allow Pyongyang to "blame' the launch on the United States (if it occurs), claiming that direct talks between the two countries could have prevented it. And, if the U.S. decides to engage the TD-2, Pyongyang will claim a propaganda windfall, asserting that the imperialists interrupted a legitimate space launch and using the incident to further its missile and WMD programs. On the other hand, in a best-case scenario Kim Jong-il gets what he wants (direct talks with the U.S.), at the minor cost of moving one missile to the launch site, and filling it with fuel.

However, the odds of Washington agreeing to bilateral talks (in order to stop the TD-2 launch) are decidedly remote. North Korea's development of WMD and long-range delivery systems is a regional problem--at the very least--and will become a global issue in the very near future. Other nations (specifically China) need to be more actively involved in pressuring Pyongyang to get rid of its nuclear program and long-range missile systems, or face serious consequences. In response to Tuesday's developments, Beijing urged "calm." Not exactly helpful, given the gravity of the current situation.

With the TD-2 sitting on the pad, fueled and apparently ready to go, there will be calls for the U.S. to enter direct talks with North Korea, to "defuse" a tense situation. So far, the Bush Administration is playing its hand correctly. The North Korean crisis is a regional issue that should first be dealt with at that level, with participation by all relevant parties. If Pyongyang elects to go ahead with the missile launch, then the U.S. reserves the right to knock it down, since the apparent flight path would carry it toward our regional allies (i.e., Japan) and American possessions in the Pacific.

The United States appears to be drawing a line in the sand with North Korea over the TD-2 issue. After a decade of appeasement (and more than two years of unproductive, six-party talks), the Bush Administration appears to be calling Pyongyang's bluff, and responding to threats (in this case, an ICBM launch) with an appropriate military response--in this case, engaging the TD-2 with interceptor missiles. It's a sea change in dealing with North Korea, and quite frankly, it's about time.


Unknown said...

I completely support one-on-one talks to resolve the problems with North Korea. With China.

I honestly don't see how anyone can advocate bilateral talks with North Korea with a straight face. China is North Korea's ace in the hole and as long as the Chinese are willing to subsidize the North Korean regime, the North Korean's will continue to thumb their noses at us.

Wanderlust said...

I agree with the poster the other day who said that NK was China's dog, and that China was content to give the dog a lot of leash and let it hump the leg of the US for a while.

Dave is right: NK is nothing more these days than China's client state. Through NK, China can get away with thumbing it's nose at the US without ever having to admit doing it.

Now what would REALLY kick ass is, if during the war games at Guam, MDA staged a "full-up" operational BMD test from Kwajalein and only gave the BMD folks a broad window of when the test would occur - kinda like NK is doing to us - and knock the target out of the sky on terminal phase.

Then, if Dear Leader wants to shoot his TD-2 anyway, let him do it, if he wants us to show him that his missiles are worthless, while the whole world watches.

Steve White said...

Question for those more in the know than me: assume the Taepodong-2 is launched and actually gets off the pad. Assume further that the initial track of the missile is such that it will overfly no American or Japanese soil.

Question: do we still have the right to shoot it down?

I honestly don't know the answer, which is why I ask.

Wanderlust said...

Steve, assuming that the TD-2 trajectory doesn't terminate in LEO, it has to come down somewhere.

If that "somewhere" appears to be pointing towards Japan, the Phillippines, US possessions or protectorates in the Pacific, or US forces operating in international waters, then we have the right to terminate its flight.

Given all the intel assets covering NK by now, I'd expect we would know that info pretty quickly, post launch.