Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Pyongyang Problem

A North Korean defector is warning that, with chaos in South Korea over the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye and with US President Obama exiting the picture, the regime in North Korea is going to make the move to join the nuclear club next year as quickly as possible.

The North Korean government is pushing to develop nuclear weapons "at all costs by the end of 2017," according to a high-ranking North Korean diplomat who recently defected to South Korea.

"Due to domestic political procedures, North Korea calculates that South Korea and the US will not be able to take physical or military actions to deter North Korea's nuclear development," Thae Yong-ho, the former second highest North Korean diplomat at the embassy in London, told Yonhap News Agency, as reported by CNN.

During his first media appearance since he and his family defected in July, Thae said that North Korea is "racing ahead with nuclear development after setting up a plan to develop [nuclear weapons] at all costs by the end of 2017."

He added that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will not be open to dismantle the nuclear program for any amount of money.

The former North Korean diplomat noted that Kim's geopolitical strategy toward the U.S. and South Korea is designed to encourage stability-focused policies toward the country. 
"North Korea believes that relentless provocations must shift new [South Korean and U.S.] governments' policy lines into more stability-focused ones," Thae said according to the report.

It makes sense. Both Seoul and Washington are rather busy right now, but perhaps Beijing will be able to step in and knock some sense into Mini Mao here in the near-term.  While the analysis that Trump will have far bigger issues on his plate to deal with next year than North Korea is almost certainly correct, and that South Korea is likely to be in political aparalysis for some time to come, I foresee China being more than ready to act to placate the North Koreans if only to get them off the radar long enough.

We'll see what happens as China is, for now, helping to put the brakes on Kim Jong Un's ambitions.  But he's already ordered two nuclear tests in 2016, and it looks like more will be coming.

And as far as what Trump will actually end up doing about it?  Well, who the hell knows?

Trump has often suggested China crack down on its smaller neighbor. But while Beijing has no love for the instability North Korea creates, it is also in its interests to have a buffer zone against U.S. forces in the south of the peninsula.

The last thing Beijing wants is a collapsed North Korea, which could result in American troops right on its border in a reunited Korea. So for China, the status quo may be the least-bad option.

But if the new president concludes that a nuclear-armed North is inevitable, it may be forced to propose new arms control and nuclear talks that include Israel, Pakistan, India, Japan, Saudi Arabia and other states that may want the weapons. That is unlikely, although as a candidate Trump criticized the current international nuclear status quo that prevented allies like Japan from developing nuclear arsenals for their own protection.

"At some point we have to say, you know what we're better off if Japan protects itself against this maniac in North Korea," candidate Trump said when asked whether he would abandon longstanding U.S. policy of a non-nuclear Japan.

A nuclear Japan would infinitely complicate things in the Asia-Pacific region.  Neither China nor North Korea is likely to stand for it, to say the least.  But that's where things appear to be headed.

Things looked a lot better on this front in the past.  For now, adding the Nuclear Stupidity tag.  I feel like we're going to get a lot of use out of it here.

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