Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: WORLD POLITICS — Rick Moran @ 6:12 am

It seems probable that, unless they can be dissuaded by China, the North Koreans will indeed go through with a nuclear weapons test. This is extremely troubling news for the United States. But for South Korea and Japan, the news borders on the catastrophic:

The North Koreans are basically hellbent on proving to the world that they need to be taken seriously. That’s dangerous,” said Rep. Curt Weldon (news, bio, voting record), R-Pa., vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

“A North Korean test would embarrass China and might actually rally other nations to our position. But the result might push Kim Jong Il to take whatever steps he felt were necessary to rally his people into war,” Weldon said.

Weldon, who led a delegation to North Korea in January, said he met last Monday in New York with North Korea’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Han Song Ryol, and told him, “If you do a test, you’re going to set this process back years and years, and it’s going to lead to consequences neither of us want.”

Geography and military reality are two reason that US options would be limited in the event of a weapons test. The North Koreans have thousands of heavy artillery pieces trained on Seoul, the South Korean capital. Any military action taken by the United States to destroy the North’s nuclear capability would probably be met by a conventional military response that would devastate the capitol city which lies just 30 miles from the Korean DMZ. This would start a war the US can’t afford to fight. With our military engaged in both Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s doubtful we could send enough help to stem the onslaught from the North Korean’s 1.2 million man army.

In addition, a North Korean nuclear test would cause a radical shift in Japanese defense priorities and philosophy:

The potential downside of a test is enormous,” said Kurt Campbell, former assistant secretary of defense for Asia in the Clinton administration. “It would set off a chain reaction in the region with completely impossible-to-predict consequences.”

It could even lead South Korea and Japan to rethink their current policy against nuclear arsenals, Campbell said.

North Korea says it has removed fuel rods from a reactor at its main nuclear complex — a step toward extracting weapons-grade plutonium. U.S. officials say spy satellites spotted the digging of a tunnel and the construction of a reviewing stand in northeast North Korea, possibly suggesting an upcoming test.

During the cold war, it was an important American policy goal to keep Asia relatively nuclear free. While China exploded it’s first bomb in 1964, their nuclear arsenal was aimed mainly at Russia. And Japan, whose constitution forbids an extensive defense establishment, was one of the worlds best nuclear citizens in that they followed all treaties and conventions regarding nuclear power and were noted for the transparency of their program.

Recently however, Japan has taken the first tentative steps toward projecting its military power beyond its shores. Their deployment of a tiny contingent to Iraq as well as their military assistance during the recent tsunami are the first real deployments since the end of WWII. In addition, by some estimates, the Japanese extensive nuclear power program has produced enough separated uranium over the years to make 10,000 nuclear warheads.

That’s only the first step, of course. As far as we know the Japanese don’t yet have the capability to turn that enriched uranium into weapons grade material or even if they have a design or delivery systems for a bomb. But Japan is the most technologically advanced society on the planet and it would seem logical to assume that the time between making a decision to go nuclear and having a nuclear capability would probably be measured in months.

China’s reaction to a nuclear Japan would be extremely negative. The Chinese haven’t forgotten the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1933 and the resulting devastation wreaked by the Japanese military on much of the country. If Japan felt compelled to go nuclear as the result of an overtly nuclear North Korea, it could trigger a nuclear arms race in Asia.

So what’s holding the North Korean’s back? More than any potential action by the United States, the North may be worried about angering their best trading partner, China. In the last year, China has almost singlehandedly kept the North Korean people from massive starvation as their deliveries of foodstuffs and energy is keeping Kim Jong Il’s “worker’s paradise” from collapsing altogether:

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Richard Lugar (news, bio, voting record), R-Ind., said he concluded from a recent meeting with Bush that the president expected other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — including Russia and China — to join him in seeking U.N. penalties against North Korea if there were a test.

China has indicated it opposes such action as a means of leverage over North Korea.

But Lugar said Bush “feels the Chinese … would take a dim view of the test, to say the least, and would be prepared to go to the U.N. if that is required.”

Clearly the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula is about ready to come to a head. Unless the US can get the North Koreans back to the bargaining table where the six powers involved - the US, China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, and North Korea - can work to contain the crisis, the consequences flowing from a nuclear test by North Korea would change the face of politics and security in Asia forever.

Cross Posted at Blogger News Network

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