Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Should we bomb North Korea's Nuclear Facilities?

Simon Jenkins in his clearly argued article today, suggests now may be the time to act militarily against North Korea. He argues economic sanctions would be cowardly and likely to hurt only the starving citizens of the country rather than influence its leaders. Tomahawk missiles aimed at the nuclear facilities would do the trick nicely and: 'Fewer people would die that way than with any other pre-emptive response.'

Jenkins is a serious columnmist and one who advocates withdrawal from at least one other current foreign imbroglio. Would it make sense to replicate a Bush like pre-emptive strike to prevent a disturbed ruler from posibly running amok for example by making nukes available to terrorists? I can think of three reasons why this is not such a good idea:

a) Jenkins argues N.Korea is isolated and hence, one assumes, such enforcement could be completed with impunity. But we learn from David Usborne in the Indie today, that both Russia and China, though worried by their erstwhile puppet's behaviour, are not willing to contemplate the use of force. Both will oppose a critical resolution under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter which would enable it to be enforced militarily. While it could well be that both countries would fall in line once the deed was done, alienating such major powers would not be advisable.

b) Should the action be successful, it would encourage Pentagon hawks to urge similar treatment for Iran, a measure which would further inflame Muslim opinion and exacerbate the socalled War on Terror.

c) Condoleeza Rice has anyway, already stepped back from such a measure: 'The USA doesn't have any intention to attack North Korea or invade.' After such an unequivocal statement it would be hard to over-rule it.

So, it seems that rather than 'bomb it now', as the latter part of Jenkins' title proposes, we will probably have to follow his former option and 'accept North Korea into the nuclear club'. It will be dangerous but maybe less so than raining destruction on yet another poor country; besides, if India and a less than wholly stable Pakistan have been granted de facto acceptance, why not one more?

Does Simon Jenkins really believe that a few ‘surgical’ strikes by cruise missiles to remove North Korea’s “bomb-making capacity and missile sites” will end this crisis? If he does his naivety is staggering. Firstly North Korea has claimed for over a year that it has had ‘the bomb,’ so it is a bit late to now destroy their nuclear bomb making facilities; secondly their missiles will probably be on mobile launchers and will therefore be able to launch from any location; thirdly they have a 1.1 million man standing army with a government and army command who would, no doubt, delight in using it. The chaos that would be wrought on South Korea would be incalculable.

Additionally, Simon Jenkins has consistently condemned the Iraq expedition, which as we are all sick of hearing, was intended as a war against WMD by an unprovoked intervention in a sovereign country, and yet now he calls for gratuitous military action against an infinitely more dangerous ‘enemy’ who would be determined to fight and retaliate. Jenkins is often an interesting columnist but advocating a military strike, in this instance, is madness. The world will just have to face the reality that, if the test was successful, North Korea is now confirmed as a nuclear power and everyone will, unfortunately, have to live with it.

He is correct about the sanctions issue though. The World Food Agency said yesterday that the country has fallen below a level where economic sanctions would have an effect and sanctions against a regime that is prepared to see their people eat grass will not make them change anything.
I think we're straying into dangerous territory with the 'we'll have to accept it' line.

Jenkins himself points out while we might not be happy with India & Pakistan having nuclear weapons they're on a different scale in terms of unpredictability - 'devious not mad' is the phrase he uses.
well, cassilis, it doesn't often happen but I think I have to agree with dreadnought on this one.
Fair enough Skipper - but nothing concentrates the mind like a little game of 'what if' so...

It's 2010 and the US is busy reclaiming its internationalist credentials under Hilary Clinton. The UK is doing the same with Gordon Brown and Iraq and Afghanistan have pulled back from the brink and stable governments and relative law in order are in place (I know but go with me here). You learn that North Korea has successfully tested new long-range missile technology and you have intelligence (again, go with me!) that they also have the means to mount a nuclear device in a missile warhead.

North Korean forces are amassed along the DMZ and Pyongyang is threatening an invasion – any external interference will be considered an act of war.

However messy and dangerous Simon Jenkins solution might be it seems preferable to this surely…?
Given your scenario Jenkins wouold appear right but things seldom work out just the way one imagines. And that's the future- now is now. My chief concern re initiatives in international relations is 'will this make things worse now?' Look at Iraq: Bush-Blair believed they would improve things by 'liberating' Iraqis from Saddam, but ended up making things arguably as bad if not worse than when they started. Bombing N.Korea seems fraught with similar dangers to me: chances of shit happening more than anything good happening in other words
Wouldn't a better test of the efficacy of any particular solution be 'will this make things better in the medium-to-long term?' rather than 'better now'?

I'll put something to that effect on my blog in the morning...
The three objections:

1. Russia and China might not be happy. So what? They weren't happy about Iraq. They will have to like it or lump it. I suspect they realise more than us that North Korea's days are numbered.
2. If the action is successful, then other similar action might be attempted. Am struggling to see the problem with this logic.
3. The lovely Condy: people change their minds. That logic could be used to say that North Korea could do literally ANYTHING: others actions will affect US policy, and North Korea has taken a huge step in doing this terrible thing.

I am always wary of the people who say we shouldn't tackle a rogue state because they are too strong. Reminds me of Sir Humphrey defending foreign policy in the famous Yes Minister sketch about defending Afghanistan from the Soviet menace.

The policy of Appeasement in the 1930's is a lot more complicated than an issue of moral courage. I am inclined to believe that the appeasers were right. But let us be clear about WHY they were right. It was Chamberlain and his allies who were right, because they realised that eventually Hitler would have to be confronted. Delay in confronting him was just that. They had a realisation that action was inevitable, and the delay was to maximise the chances of the success of this action. The anti-war brigade were as naive as ever. "Let's ignore the baddie and hope he goes away" rarely works.

My point being that on balance it would probably not be wise to attack North Korea immediately, but make no mistake. America and others will not stand by and watch this mad country acquire nuclear strength, and it seems action is the only way to prevent this. The delay will be to prepare the conditions, both politically and militarily. But I am afraid the solution of looking in the other direction and wishing for the best will not keep the world safe. When the time comes, North Korea will experience a military power beyond it's imagination, and this horrible little dictatorship will only be in the history books. Let us always remember that the people of North Korea deserve freedom as much as every one of us.
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