Options Abound: Weekly Digest

By | March 31, 2012 | No Comments

 The big news around Seoul this week was the arrival of Barack Obama for the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit, his visit to the DMZ (predicted several weeks ago on One Free Korea) and the flurry of stories related to North Korea’s planned rocket launch.  Given reports of US intentions to “overhaul its approach towards North Korea” if the country proceeds as planned with its satellite missile launch, it seems appropriate to entertain the field of alternative approaches that North Korea watchers are suggesting.  Other than a repudiation of the notion that food aid is apolitical and a confirmation that the US is indeed linking aid to broader security-related issues, exactly how the US should, or will, respond is uncertain.   This week’s digest provides readers with an overview of the options the US and other regional powers could take, or are taking, towards North Korea, following the announcement of its intention to launch a satellite and the minor diplomatic crisis that followed. – S.C. Denney, Assistant Editor

Obama at the DMZ, March 25, 2012 | Photo courtesy Chicago Tribune/AP, "Obama to China: Help Rein in North Korea."

Weekly Digest: An Overview of Options

by Steven Denney

Despite the depiction by many that North Korea is simply engaging in typical deal-breaking behavior, there are alternative approaches to understanding the satellite missile launch. Andray Abrahamian, executive director of the Chosun Exchange, does a superb job outlining the many possibilities.  Abrahamian’s piece provides multiple starting points from which more detailed analysis and predictions can be made.

John Delury and Moon Chung-in argue that using “megaphone diplomacy,” and other measures, to put pressure on North Korea will ultimately “strengthen the hand of hardliners.”  In order to “gather a sense of the situation on the inside,” Delury and Moon suggest sending an envoy to North Korea.  They might have had Wendy Sherman in mind when writing their article.

Andrei Lankov discusses the ineffectiveness of sanctions on North Korea.  Although Lankov never states it explicitly, his analysis strongly suggests that the imposition of more tighter sanctions following the satellite missile launch would be all for naught.

Chris Green makes the case for treating the satellite missile launch in April as “a domestic undertaking for the domestic North Korean audience” and, in effect, turning a blind eye to the event.

Jeffery Lewis makes what is certainly an unpopular argument that a “foul up” by the US, regarding the handling of the negotiations in Beijing, “gave the North Koreans a loophole large enough to fly a Taepodong through and they took it.”

Scott Synder proposes that the US find “a third party willing to offer North Korea launch services to place a North Korean satellite in orbit” and then work with other allies and members of the Six Party Talk framework, particularly China, to foster international support and insure North Korea that the US means well.

An interesting proposal is to support North Korea’s attempts to develop its space program (one of the reaso ostensible ns given for its planned satellite missile launch).  Former Soviet diplomat Georgy Toloraya brought up the space program development option to North Korea at an ASAN conference in Seoul last week.  His position was that commercializing North Korea’s space program would be a viable alternative to further isolating the regime.  Toloraya’s anti-isolation position is revealed in past articles he’s written (see here and here).

China and Russia’s position, communicated through a South Korean interlocutor, is that North Korea should focus on the welfare of its people rather than the launching of a satellite missile.  Expressions of concern by both countries were issued last week.  This may have been a small compromise to President Obama’s call for Hu Jintao to put more pressure on North Korea to “scuttle plans for a rocket launch.”

Japan, in more direct terms, has stated its intention to shoot down a rocket fired by North Korea if it “threatens the nation’s territory.”  Officials in Korea have indicated a similar position.

Whatever the approach recommended or the demands made, North Korea simply wants the US to be consistent, insisting that Washington’s response to the satellite announcement is confrontational and thus contradicts its insistence that the US has no hostile intent towards the DPRK.

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