Lose-Lose Situation

News broke yesterday that North Korea has announced (yet again) the intention of testing a nuclear weapon. Everyone seems to be playing this down and one might think this announcement is nothing new. When I read something like this, my first stop is always Jeffery Lewis, ArmsControlWonk, who almost blogged this live as the news broke. In his second post he explains one interesting point

By now, you’ve probably heard that the DPRK has announced its intention to conduct a nuclear test. (The BBC has a translation of the Korean statement; the original is here.)

The money line is:

The DPRK Foreign Ministry is authorized to solemnly declare … the DPRK will in the future conduct a nuclear test under the condition where safety is firmly guaranteed.

Anyway, I recently blogged the GoogleEarth coordinates of the P’unggye-yok site in North Hamgyong province, which often suggested as probable test location—strangely, at the PIIC meeting in Xiamen, one of the presenters expressed doubt that North Korea would test there because of the extensive mushroom crop, which provides significant hard currency earnings and is harvested from late August to early October.

Looking farther, I checked the Washington Post and New York Times articles. Note the comment about safety in the Korean statement. This seems to be a button issue even for North Korea. On page two of the very informative WP article, Anthony Faiola and Dafna Linzer put the test in perspective.

Some scientists question whether North Korea has the technology to conduct a test safely — leaking radiation is a major concern.


North Korea has frequently provided the world with early warnings of dramatic moves and has often chosen symbolic dates for them. A series of missile tests took place during the July 4 weekend, and Tuesday’s statement came as South Korea was marking its national day.

“A decision to test is a political calculation, not a technical one,” said one intelligence officer. The officer said analysts believed that the Pyongyang government issued the statement in part to gauge international reaction before making a final decision. “It doesn’t mean they won’t test, but it gives them a chance to roll back, or be coaxed back if they want to,” said the officer, who agreed to discuss some of the classified analysis on condition of anonymity.

And David E. Sanger in the New York Times goes further, playing down the crisis with

American intelligence officials said they saw no signs that a test was imminent. But they cautioned that two weeks ago, American officials who have reviewed recent intelligence reports said American spy satellites had picked up evidence of indeterminate activity around North Korea’s main suspected test site. It was unclear to them whether that was part of preparations for a test, or perhaps a feint related to the visit at that time to Washington of South Korea’s president, Roh Moo Hyun.

Where does this leave us? For a final professional synopsis, I turn back to my arms control expert Jeffery Lewis and, in a strange case of fully quoting a quoter, I give you his latest entry in full.

Dave Kang—Associate Professor in the Government Department at Dartmouth and Managing the Atom Research Associate—sends along his thoughts on North Korea’s announcement of an impending North Korean nuclear test:

Will North Korea actually test? What do they hope to get out of it? I think there are two issues to keep in mind. First, the north Korean leadership may have decided that the benefits of proving their nuclear weapons capability may outweigh even their relationship with China and South Korea. North Korea may be gambling that it can endure further isolation better than it could continued negotiations and interactions with the world. Second, that North Korea has often made announcements that they later do not keep. That is, whether they actually follow through with a test will probably depend on the reactions of the other actors.

As you can tell, you should be reading Jeffery’s blog not mine for this kind of thing so bookmark it! Now!

Still here? OK. Now my take.

I, as a silly ex-pat in Germany, wonder if the Bush administration has finally managed to put North Korea up against a wall. I’m not sure this is a good thing.

The sanctions imposed on Pyongyang have worked but what now? Does the Bush administration have any real plan where to go from here? Do they expect the government in North Korea to disintegrate into dust like vampires in the sun and have the flowers of democracy sprout in the remnants? Remember this is the group that expected parties and flags not bombs and AK-47s in the streets of Bagdad.

I would really like to hear someone, Condi Rice, Tony Snow, maybe even the über-diplomat Donald Rumsfeld, say something about what they expect. Remember the PBS Frontline show about North Korea? They presented the inherently evil Clinton administration opening up channels with the Norks and how things were progressing. The country was being pulled into the world community instead of being bullied out of the international playground. Remember all that changed when the hardliners took over in Washington and North Korea became one of the axis of evil? I have a hard time finding the goal here. Does Bush want a 51st state? An Asian colony? A retirement community? What?!!

I just hope for everyone that Bush hasn’t dealt yet another round of losing hands to US policy, North Korea and the world. At the moment, I don’t see how anyone comes out on top; I don’t even understand what the US is trying to win. But right now, for North Korea, it’s a lose-lose situation. And thats not good.

3 comments so far

  1. Barry Taylor on

    I thought that the USA had nuclear weapons Its ok for the USA & Israel to have nuclear capabilities – so why can’t the Koreans & the Iranians. The ruling minority of US citizens thinks it is a world policemen – well it is not! Its no wonder that the poorer countries hates the West – especially the Bush Blair Howard axis of arrogance & evil. Its this arrogant attitude of the Bush Blair Howard axis that is fuelling terrorism.

    Hand Texas over to Israel & leave the poor Palestians to their land!

  2. blc303 on

    You said

    Its ok for the USA & Israel to have nuclear capabilities – so why can’t the Koreans & the Iranians.

    I’d disagree with that statement. It’s not OK that either the US nor Israel have nuclear weapons. Period. But now we are talking about even more countries getting nukes.
    I would argue, while not wonderful, Iran might be entitled. Even though I seriously doubt that is the direction they are trying to go right now. I suspect Iran is pulling the US chain and trying for peaceful enrichment. They are trying to balance the US/Israeli presence in the Middle East. Again, not great, but realistic.
    The North Koreans are a much different problem. Even China is worried about the Koreans having nukes because they are unpredictable. When the current leader of a country kidnaps a director because he is intrested in films, you have a problem.
    Like I said in my post, the US under Clinton was on it way to solving the problem, giving North Korea peaceful reactors and food. Korea was at the bargining table and things were looking up. Bush changed that policy and that I really disagree with. I don’t know what the US wants.

  3. Staunton News on

    North Korea Nuclear Test

    North Korea said on Tuesday that it will conduct a nuclear test. The KCNA, the communist country’s new agency issued this comment in their statement. “The field of scientific research of the DPRK (North Korea’s official name) will in …

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