Whatever Happened to North Korea?

While world powers met yesterday to discuss Iran's nuclear ambitions, it seems that once-urgent efforts to curb North Korea's far advanced nuclear program have stalled and all but vanished from the news.

What gives?

North Korea's abrupt cancellation Wednesday of a much-anticipated resumption of railroad service between the two countries provides some explanation, according to the country's online commentators. South Korea and Washington, they note, have very different approaches to the North Korean threat. Though both countries are committed to North Korea's containment, Seoul, located just 40 miles from the North Korean border, takes a softer line than Washington.

Last week, the Seoul daily Chosun Ilbo said U.S.-Korean relations followed a familiar pattern: "whenever its relationship with the U.S. becomes strained, North Korea mobilizes the inter-Korean channel with talk of 'one nation.'"

North Korea's apparent agreement to resume train service between the two countries for the first time in 55 years stirred hopes that the two countries might be inching toward reconciliation. The South Korean government had certainly struck a friendly tone in recent weeks. On May 9, President Roh Moo-Hyun offered "many concessions" and "substantial assistance" to North Korea. On May 22, the South Korea's unification minister expressed certainty that "a turning point for peace on the Korean Peninsula and inter-Korean relations will come within the year."

"That mating dance," said Chosun Ilbo, "gave the misleading impression that a steady confidential dialogue has been going on between the South and North."

The reality, say editors of the Joong Ang Daily, is that North Korea is manipulating the South in its efforts to obtain "even more economic support from the South" and that "repeated breaches of agreements by the North are in practice condoned" by South Korea's government.

"Under such circumstances, it is no wonder that the North may think it is fine to act as if it were the master of the South," they write.

The Yonhap News Agency notes that "South Korea provides tens of millions of dollars worth of aid and assistance every year to the impoverished North in the hope Pyongyang's increased dependence on Seoul would help bring the reclusive state into the international community and back to negotiations over its nuclear arms program."

"Although South Korea was determined to take the lead in the stalled nuclear talks by activating more inter-Korean projects," said the Korea Herald, "the effort is likely to be overshadowed due to this incident."

Meanwhile, the chief U.S. negotiator, Christopher Hill, arrived in Beijing yesterday to talk with Chinese officials about how to get the six-party talks going again. According to Xinhua news agency, Hill said Washington will not offer North Korea any economic incentive to resume negotiations.

With its two chief adversaries, South Korea and the United States, taking such different approaches, North Korea can afford to wait.

By Jefferson Morley |  May 25, 2006; 8:49 AM ET  | Category:  Asia
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This is what North Korea has been doing for decades. Alternatively issuing threats and promises in all directions. All to get the maximum ammount of aid from anywhere in the world with which to feed its massive army and keep control.

North Korea is not going to change. It is not going to relax. Those in power have nothing to gain and everything to lose by relaxing their iron grip on the people. And keeping nuclear weapons means they are safe from any attack whatever they do (short of invading South Korea).

Removing all aid will cause countless more deaths and maybe the country will fly apart at the seams destabilising the region, but as things are there is no reason to think that North Korea won't continue that bizarre dynastic communist regime for decades more to come.

Posted by: DavidP | May 25, 2006 10:11 AM

Again excellent entry, Jefferson.

It is very interesting how South Korea takes a softer stand then the US government.

The same scenario exists in the Arab world where for example Kuwait, the victim of Iraq's aggression, opposed the harsh sanctions against Iraqis while the US government led by the ruthless Albright vowed to keep them enforced until it killed countless number of victims.

I just don't understand what drives US officials to do such things.

Posted by: Karim | May 25, 2006 10:43 AM

Karim: I'm no fan of the Iraq war and think that the run up to it was a path paved with outright lies. However, everyone now knows that Saddam Hussein was snarfing up millions/billions of oil money while his people were starving or dying from a lack of medical care. I suggest you first lay your peculiarly antiquated opinions regarding the negative effects of Iraqi sanctions at his feet, not the US's. You are absolving him of all responsibility which is nutty.

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | May 25, 2006 10:59 AM

I think Karim that you missed Mr. Jefferson's point. Because of either wild eyed optimism or cowardice South Korea is a taking a soft approach with North Korea. There approach is interfering with the world community's ability to contain North Korea. South Korea's efforts will only succeed if North Korean collapses from within - a result being made less likely by South Korea's actions.

I think Kuwait's actions were likewise being dictated by fear caused by close proximity to Iraq and a desire to not look to close to US policy for fear of offending the so called "arab street".

Posted by: Chip Smith | May 25, 2006 11:45 AM

Excellent roundup, Jefferson

We (the west) have taken the pieces off the board and North Korea wins the stalemate because they will have long range strategical nuclear weapons shortly. South Korea is already paying in anticipation of the offer they can't refuse.

This is a significant defeat and the UNs options are severely undermined by China and Russia's unwillingness to be serious about nuclear containment. Not long from now we will have two mafia states with nuclear capability, one of whom will shortly be able to hit any place on the planet. Thanks to Russia and China.

Fascinating little piece off the AP wire is:
Very few papers picked up on it:

"North Korea and Iran ... celebrated their friendship and said their opposition to "global dominators" made their relationship stronger, the North's media reported Thursday."
"Calling the ties a special relationship, speakers at the opening ceremony said the (countries') acts and slogans of struggle to oppose global dominators and their struggle spirit aimed at safeguarding national dignity and independence are deepening the relations,"

Imagine that, the most extreme communist nation and the most extreme islamic nation on the planet celebrate how similar they are. Will miracles ever end.

Many of posts in the western media are focussing on the Bush administration's failure to contain North Korea. What has really failed is the UN and Russia and China are the countries that failed us from safeguarding our future from rogue nuclear states. We should call them on that. The drive to turn the Bush administration into a lame duck is very dangerous considering the highly volatile nature of international affairs at this time.

Karim you already seem to understand what drives the US to do such things otherwise you wouldn't single out Madeleine Albright in this context. So don't be shy and spell it out.

Posted by: jvd70 | May 25, 2006 12:28 PM

Jeff wrote: "With its two chief adversaries, South Korea and the United States, taking such different approaches, North Korea can afford to wait."

I think this observation is a bit off-base. There's no indication that the US opposed the train link; more likely NoKo got cold feet at the thought of all those travelers, so it played the all-purpose "US Oppression" card as a fig leaf for getting out of it.

As to the US negotiator's remark, I think it's a bit misleading of Jeff not to point out that the "economic incentive" demanded by NoKo to return to the table is the lifting of sanctions on a bank in Macau that NoKo has been using to launder counterfeit US$100 bills. Is that really such an unreasonable position for the US to take?


Posted by: Tom T. | May 25, 2006 01:28 PM

Excelent Post DavidP. I rank you highly. Got that Jefferson? :-)

North Korea is so exasperating because
1) So many people suffer because one man and ose around him.
2) This one relatively small country destabalizes a whole region (whole world really).
3) It is incredible how effective the North Korean leadership cult is in indoctorating the Korean masses.

Thus it is temping to toy with ideas about regiem change. However as was demonstrated recently when you have he above conditions (well actually 3 only applies to the Sunni minority for Iraq and not even there really) changing a bad status quo doesn't neccisarily make things better. Especially, not in the short term.

Posted by: David George Ferguson | May 25, 2006 01:37 PM

There are somethings you can fix in life and somethings you cannot readily fix. The North Korean are behaving like North Koreans. If they have the bomb, you cannot wish it away. Does North Korea with a few bombs worry me? Not really! We have 10,000 nuclear weapons, and I do not think any nation that wants to survive will attack us with nuclear weapons. I would talk to them if they are reasonable, and let them stew if they are not reasonable. All this fuss about taking bombs away from countries is nonsense. North Korea cannot use nuclear weapons locally, because they are too close to their neighbors not to get some blow back in the form of radioactive fallout. They might even feel the blast effects from their own weapons in some cases. I would give any country food aid. Nobody should starve! The Bush Administration cannot micromanage the world. Nobody can mircromanage the world! Foreign policy is not brain surgery. Talking never hurts, and force is a last resort. There is no need to use force with Iran or North Korea. We have 10,000 nuclear weapons. It made the Soviet Union stop and think. Their 20,000 nuclear weapons made us stop and think. Making Nations stop and think is the purpose of nuclear weapons. It is called deterance, and, in some cases, mutually assured destruction. Using nuclear weapons means everybody dies!

Posted by: P. J. Casey | May 25, 2006 02:31 PM

I find it amazing that no one doubts NoKo has nukes. NoKo has never tested a nuke, which would have to be a first step. There is no actual documentation of any kind that NoKo does in fact have nukes.

We were just lead down this same garden path in Iraq with bogus WMDs and now we are being played for fools again. "Show me the money" or shut up about it.

Posted by: Paul | May 25, 2006 02:45 PM

Paul nobody really doubts that North Korea has nukes because they themselves make the claim. So they have actually documented it themselves, correct?

Nuclear proliferation is a real and imminent problem, we have ourselves elected the current leadership in the west and so we can only blame ourselves for our weak hand of cards.

Posted by: jvd70 | May 25, 2006 03:21 PM

You're all wrong. North Korea has been infiltrating this country, using engineers on work visa's, for several years. No idea as to what they are doing. They can usually be found mixed in with the Chi-Com spies vetted by the Chinese government that our corporations value so highly for their "engineering talent"..... Along with the Islamic radicals coming from India (Ansar AlIslam), this just about completes the joke that national security has become.

Posted by: Mike Brooks | May 25, 2006 03:34 PM

"It made the Soviet Union stop and think. Their 20,000 nuclear weapons made us stop and think. Making Nations stop and think is the purpose of nuclear weapons."

Yes... What I worry about is that these countries arn't going to think like we do. They've been flipping off the world and their own people for years. They might decide they can get away with it.

"Talking never hurts,"

I draw your attention to the begining of World War Two when Hitler invaded Austria.

"I would give any country food aid. Nobody should starve!"

But here's the billion dollar question. Are the food aids going to keep them from starving?

I notice the people with this arguement never bother to ask why the people are starving in the first place. Why did Iraq need food aid? Why does N Korea need food aid?

I'll give you a hint, it ain't because of droubt.

"We were just lead down this same garden path in Iraq with bogus WMDs and now we are being played for fools again. "Show me the money" or shut up about it."

Well NK claims it has nukes and in this case I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Posted by: Duck | May 25, 2006 04:02 PM

North Korea will continue to exist because China and Russia do not want American troops on their border. North Korea borders both. South Korea does not want to destroy its economy by feeding and sheltering millions of its starving cousins if North Korea crumbles. Finally NK will have nuclear weapons only if Ruusia and China will allow it.

Posted by: Andy | May 25, 2006 04:12 PM

Paul, no one doubts that the N.K. has nuclear weapons simply because their program was established, at least partially staffed by, and equipped by China and India. Ditto for the demonstrated missile program. What I am flat out livid about is this - every bit of this technology was stolen from this country. In our insane rush to "globalize" (read: "corporate greed") we have imported over one million Chinese and Indian engineers under the H1B and L1 visa programs. All the while, 20% of our pown enginneers are unemployed. Not just that, but (no one really knows) most experts think that over half of the enrollment in our public unicversity engineering and science programs are Indian and Chinese nationals. Please forget the garbage you read about their being better qualified. Every spot taken by one of these students had a fully qualified U.S. citizen applying for that position who was denied it quite literally because public universities receive four times the tuition and fees for non-resident students.

If the Post would do it's homework, this could be verified. And the Post could also publicize what we have been told by the intelligence community for several years now - there are thousands of cases of these nationals working on even top secret military contracts, there are thousands of cases of these guest workers literally walking off with plans, even complete circuit boards for weapons systems. That underwater missile recently tested by Iran? It's U.S. technology, based on a defence contract. The ciruit board for this was carried to India and was sold to Iran. In other cases we know of U.S. companies that have used these guest workers as "mules" to knowingly hand carry equipment and technology for sale. That is how Saddam's Iraq got their optical fiber network. That is how China got her's. And it is Chinese technician's who are installing such a network in N.K. as we sit here.

All of this is as nothing compared to the technologies we have offshored. Consider the new MacIntosh computers, using dual core Pentium technology, being made in China. Those computers, small though they might be, are perhaps the finest and most powerful personal computers ever made. I know, I'm an engineer and own one. It blows my $5000 Dell workstation off my desk. It's roughly 30% faster, with better graphics and a lot better software and tools. Consider something innocuous like grocery store scanners. The same technology to find and decode bars on a piece of paper work equally well for encoding and decoding any other sort of information, also - plans to terrorist cells, blue prints of power plants and dams, etc.

So, Mr. Morley, if you really want to blow the lid off this story, why don't you do some basic research and verify and publish all of this? The H1B nd L1 visa programs are dangerous to the very survival of this country. And offshoring is flat out insane.

Posted by: Mike Brooks | May 25, 2006 04:19 PM


The shameful Albright was the US ambassador to the UN. She made it clear that she will veto any attempt to lift or ease the sanctions which were killing innocent people (not Saddam). Few western nations did try to do something but in vain.

Besides, don't think we Arabs are going to forget what she stated in the 60' program.

I understand that Albright is very critical of the current administration but that shouldn't matter. She already did her part in the Iraqi killing machine.

Saddam was a dictator who got rid of anyone standing in his way and his interests (pretty much like the US foreign policy), but he was not a madman. Babies were not a threat to him.

Just like the way the US government hyped the threat from Iraq, manufactured the WMD claim, invoked mushroom clouds, it used similar tactics in an attempt to encourage Iraqis to revolt by letting their children die.

The US government wanted the Iraqis to believe that their government was starving them to death, when in fact, and despite what Saddam took, children largely died because of very harsh inhumane sanctions.

Collective punishment is unethical, inhumane, and uncivilized.

Posted by: Karim | May 25, 2006 11:48 PM

Chip Smith:

I am from the "Arab street".

What do you know about Kuwait if it is oil?

Posted by: Karim | May 25, 2006 11:59 PM

"Nobody doubts that NoKo has nukes" because it is in everyone's political interest to pretend that they do. No unbiased expert in the field (where is Hans Blix when we need him) has stated that NoKo has nukes. Even the "Slam-Dunk" CIA always hedges its "assumption" that NoKo has nukes.
Obviously, Kim wants the world to think he's nuclear and everyone else then joins in the act to "negotiate a solution." But the "negotiations" go nowhere because there is no urgency to actually do anything. Even Japan, which has the most to lose, doesn't seem very concerned.
While I enjoy this "Mikado" as much as anyone, it is a dangerous game as the Iraq fiasco proved.

Posted by: | May 26, 2006 11:40 AM

Kareem why don't you do us all the great pleasure of stating why you choose to pick specifically on Madeleine Albright? Why not Bill Clinton? Or all members of the UN security council that supported the resolution?

The mere taint of your bias makes me retch.

Posted by: jvd70 | May 26, 2006 10:12 PM

It's absolutely right that nobody has ever proved that North Korea has nukes. Their own statements are completely meaningless. Everyone knows that North Korea was spared Iraq's fate because it was too well-armed to be knocked over easily. It's in their own interests to talk up their capabilities.

As for South Korea's attitude, they have been subject to the threat of destruction since 1953 regardless of WMD. Seoul lies within the range of deeply emplaced North Korean heavy guns that could flatten the city in a few days.

Posted by: OD | May 27, 2006 05:42 PM

Here's a question - if South Korea is so convinced of the benevolence of North Korean intentions, why doesn't the US withdraw its troops from the DMV? South Korea is a weathy democracy - if they think this is the best path, so be it, but there's no reason to hold thousand of US troops hostage to their hopes. I understand japan's concerns re NK, but we could always make it clear that the US nuclear umbrella extends to Japan. Even Kim presumably isn't crazy enough to miss that point.

I should say that in a just world Kim would be in prison or in a noose, and the North Korean people would not be oppressed by a lurid tyranny. But it's not a just world, and it's not worth US lives to change the regime there.

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