National Security Network

North Korea: Powerhouses Proving Powerless

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News The Chronicle Herald - Halifax, Nova Scotia 28 May 2009

National Security Network north korea nuclear proliferation President Obama


WE MAY as well get used to it: North Korea has joined the nuclear club and there is nothing anybody will do about it.

Newsprint and electricity have been wasted since Monday’s underground nuclear test in the self-isolated northeast Asian country, but it is pointless pretending that the test does not mean what it means.

American media, concerned about being less than nice to President Barack Obama, and spoon-fed by the likes of the National Security Network, are eager to offer explanations that nothing really important happened on the day Americans honour their fallen soldiers.

That’s hard to believe, but the evidence is all around. In America’s capital, the Washington Post reduced the test explosion to an attention-seeking gimmick by Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s absolute ruler for life.

What his latest provocation "should not cause," said the Post’s lead editorial on Tuesday, "is the response he is seeking: a rush by the Obama administration to lavish attention on his regime and offer it economic and political favors.

"That approach has already been tried by two American administrations," the editorial allows, when Washington "handed" North Korea "a string of bribes" and got empty promises in return.

It’s all true. That is what happened when President Bill Clinton had Jimmy Carter, his predecessor, do some praying with the North Korean leaders in 1995 and Secretary of States Madeleine Albright make sweet eyes at the tough bunch in Pyongyang. They got the goodies and Washington got the hole in the doughnut.

One would think that lesson might have been learned — but it seems not to have stuck. George W. Bush took the same hook and now Barack Obama is being urged to go for it.

It would be better for the international community to admit this is a no-win situation and leave it at that, but that’s not in the cards. The international community and President Obama are ready for more mumbo-jumbo about negotiations and engagement with Kim Jong Il.

This is a mass confession of helplessness and nobody should be fooled. Note what’s being peddled: The New York Times tells the president to keep the crisis cool. Prime Minister Stephen Harper says it’s awful and the rest of the international choir is in tune.

Take the UN Security Council. It deplored North Korea’s decision and said it violates a UN resolution demanding an end to nuclear weapons testing.

The new twist here is that all five permanent members of the Security Council voted for a rap on the naughty boy’s hand and much is being made of it. Over the years, neither Russia nor China would lean on North Korea in any persuasive way. They have spoken now, though only in the toothless way characteristic of United Nations chiding.

Mr. Obama’s deploring is hardly distinguishable from the limp-wristed rest. His first reaction, offered just before he left the White House for Arlington Cemetery and the traditional Memorial Day tribute to America’s war dead, amounted to an observation that "North Korea is not only deepening its isolation, it is inviting strong international pressure."

Well, Kim Jong Il must be chuckling, "Hit me with a silk hankie, Mr. President of the United States."

There is a still sillier notion floating among America’s most serious opinion makers: Old, ailing Kim Jong Il wants his third son to succeed him and staged the whole nuclear test business and ballistic missile launchings as part of a power struggle in Pyongyang.

Some might think so, I imagine, considering that the third son is 26-year-old Kim Il Sung, a young man of no known distinction.

However, those tea leaves, first read by the New York Times, are now offered in a full-throated way by the National Security Network, the Obama campaign’s talking-points mouthpiece on world problems and global diplomacy.

The National Security Network continues to function — as the Obama administration’s unofficial spin machine. That being so, one should be surprised at nothing. Spin machines produce guff — including fanciful theories of dynastic ambitions that involve playing with nukes.

But to take such spin seriously is reckless. It negates North Korea’s decades of efforts to become a nuclear power and that must be given its full historical weight.

William J. Perry, President Clinton’s secretary of defence from 1994 to 1997, took a hard line — not evident until through part of the George W. Bush years. If need be, Mr. Perry would bomb the nuclear facilities to block North Korea from having nuclear weapons.

He has softened his position, but only, I suspect, because no other country would support such drastic action.

As to the effectiveness of negotiations and international pressure, the Global Strategic Review by the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London has it right: The most powerful countries in the world, the United States, China and Russia — supported by Japan — have demonstrated "almost complete inability" to budge North Korea in years of trying.