12 February 2013

New Nork Nuke Noodling

The Norks have supposedly set off a new underground nuclear test. CNN reports...

North Korea said Tuesday that it had conducted a new, more powerful underground nuclear test using more sophisticated technology, jolting the already fragile security situation in Northeast Asia and drawing condemnation from around the globe.
It is the first nuclear test carried out under the North's young leader, Kim Jong Un, who appears to be sticking closely to his father's policy of building up the isolated state's military deterrent to keep its foes at bay, shrugging off the resulting international condemnation and sanctions.
Although Pyongyang had announced plans for the test in recent, vitriolic statements, its decision to go ahead with it provided a stark reminder of a seemingly intractable foreign policy challenge for President Barack Obama ahead of his State of the Union address later Tuesday.
The test was designed "to defend the country's security and sovereignty in the face of the ferocious hostile act of the U.S.," the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said, referring to new U.S.-led sanctions on Pyongyang in the wake of a recent long-range rocket launch.

Put on your predictor hats - what happens next?

By: Brant


Guardian said...

A strongly worded letter from the UN will arrive in Pyongyang shortly.

Seriously, though, let's think about why Lil' Kim would do this?

He is relatively young and, although his people are suffering, he personally has it pretty good. So, it is not in his interest to rock the boat and provoke a final, decisive confrontation with the US and ROK.

This is unlike me, but I'm going to try to consider the human element here and put myself in Lil Kim's shoes.

He is the third generation of the Kim dynasty. Since the day he was born, his father, grandfather, and everyone else around him taught him that the ROKs, the US, and essentially the entire rest of the world (except for the PRC and Russia on good days) are out to get him and the glorious DPRK. This very likely made him so paranoid that he legitimately feels that he needs a deliverable nuclear weapons capability to protect himself and his country.

The problem is that the rest of the world sees things exactly the opposite way: the DPRK is a threat. The unstable behavior of the Kim dynasty, essentially throwing military tantrums to get foreign aid, hasn't helped this perception much at all.

This is a recipe for trouble. It's "irreconcilable differences" at an international scale. My prognostication:

1) Stronger sanctions will be implemented, with support from Russia and China.

2) The sanctions will actually "work" in that they will inflict significant pain on the DPRK regime.

3) The pain backs Lil Kim into a corner and now he REALLY has to start worrying that he will look weak and become vulnerable to a coup by the DPRK military. So, he will lash out directly at South Korea: perhaps another naval engagement, a limited artillery barrage, even an attack on one of the outlying islands, or something like that. No WMDs (yet). The motivation would be two-fold: show his own regime that he is a strong leader and to scare the South Korean people, who really don't want a war, into relaxing the sanctions.

4) ... except that lashing out might back-fire and lead to a rapidly-escalating series of military incidents that eventually lead to a full-scale counter-attack by the ROKs. If that happens, my bet is that Lil Kim will be dead (probably at the hands of his own people) and the ROK flag will be flying over Pyongyang 30 days after H-hour. Our (US/NATO) involvement will be limited: some ground combat but mostly air support, ISR, etc. Seoul will take a beating from artillery, but the missile defenses will actually work and stop any significant BMD attacks. As for the fight on the ground, the ROKs can handle this. The problem is they will then have a decades-long re-integration and humanitarian aid project on their hand.

-- Guardian

Brian said...

Guardian, I am with you up to 3) but I thnk a coup by the DPRK military is more likely than another Korean War (or rather, resumption of hostilities). The generals want the Songun principle to continue so they can continue to receive the best of what that country has to offer, but I don't think they want to piss it all away in a war that I am pretty sure they know they can't win in any sensible way.

Guardian said...

Good point, Brian. Taking out Lil Kim in a coup keeps DPRK intact and keeps the remaining leadership at the top of the heap. If they go to war with the South, they will all die or be imprisoned for life (probably by their own people, possibly by the ICC).

brian said...

Thanks. It may not even be an actual coup, that ends with Kim hanging dead off or by something, but perhaps some kind of "kicked upstairs" deal where he remains the titular and most visible face of the state while the real power resides with a cabal of generals and a branch of the Kim family - Jong-un may not have completely cemented his power base.

I recall Lin Biao and Liu Shaoqi wanted to do this with Mao Zedong in the late 60s, to kind of shove him to one side as "Head of State", and this set off another paroxysm of the Cultural Revolution.

Michael Peterson said...

Seems to me that Lil Kim has hoisted aboard the dictum from the first Gulf War, that if you don't want the US to mess with you, get a nuke.