Tuesday, December 20, 2011

North Korea: Moving the doomsday clock closer to midnight

It's been a little over thirty six hours since North Korea revealed that Kim Jong Il died from an apparent heart attack on Saturday.    It was well known that Kim was in ill health for years but his passing poses a huge risk for the West.   Having dealt with Libya with mostly flying colours and disposing the world of Osama bin Laden, US President Obama now has to figure out how to deal with the new devil inside, whomever he might be -- and it is definitely a he; I can't imagine the military leadership of the PDRK ever taking orders from a woman.    It is by no means clear Kim's youngest son Kim Yong Un, has taken over notwithstanding the state propaganda.   (The country does have a prime minister but the post is as toothless as it was during the pre-Gorbachev USSR).

There's an old saying that danger presents both a crisis and an opportunity.    This may be one of the very few chances we ever get to disarm the North and to make it a democracy.   I have no doubt that one or more of three things will happen in the present uncertainty.   One, the North will detonate another nuclear missile to prove it's a serious world player.   Two, it will finally succeed in launching an unarmed three-stage rocket -- which means it can launch a payload, nuclear or not, at Alaska or Hawaii, making it not just America's business but all of its allies including Canada.   Three, it will go all out and go for what it has long threatened, a land attack at the South.

There can be no question who will win -- the South -- but it would come at a terrible price.   Easily, a million civilians would be "collateral damage" making Iraq II look like a picnic.   Second, the huge sums of money needed to rebuild the North would cripple the South even with aid from the IMF and the World Bank both of which are just about tapped out with the crises in Europe and saving the rainy day money for the inevitable bailout of the United States.

This isn't like when East Germany was annexed by the West or South Yemen by the North (the former in both cases the communist regime).   In both cases, the formerly socialist regimes had relatively well developed infrastructure and a well educated workforce; and both got a huge consolation prize when their respective capitals were ultimately chosen for the reunited country.    Korea is a different beast -- even Mainland China concedes that reunification will eventually have to happen and it will be a Seoul regime rather than a Pyongyang one (if WikiLeaks is to be believed).   Seems the only thing North and South can agree on is when reunification does happen the anglicized spelling of the country will be with a C instead of K (as in Corea).

The North has been rightly called the "hermit kingdom" because a) the people there have literally been starved to death, perhaps two million or more have died because of Mr Kim's zeal for the bomb; b) the North's people are on average four inches shorter than their much healthier Southern brethren; c) the supreme leadership is very much an elective monarchy.

I think that this could be THE issue that tests Obama's foreign policy credentials.   He may have had major successes this year in foreign  policy, but he also needs to avoid having a huge policy failure.    This is one he can't afford to lose.   Indeed the world can't.    A few years back, the "Doomsday Clock" in Chicago had gone all the way back to seventeen minutes to midnight with all the disarmament agreements that stuck.   Thanks mostly in part to the belligerence of three countries -- the US under Dubya in Iraq, an anti-Semitic maniac in Iran, and North Korea's politburo -- we're now at six minutes to doomsday in a proverbial sense.

I still believe we had a chance if the world had gone after Iran, not Iraq, first.   But now, the first order of business is North Korea.   I'm not exactly sure I like anticipating how the next few weeks are going to roll out especially with primary season in the States now upon us.    Canada's role?   Who knows -- we may be one of the few countries with direct ties with the North but even that's been on ice for quite some time, given the nature of the country.

With power comes responsibility.   Especially when your country can make weapons grade material like we in Canada can.   Not that we would ever make a bomb, but the more the number of rogue states that have it, the more legitimate countries will want one as a deterrent.  If more of our allies want one then there will be pressure for us to have our own rather than "hosting" allies' missiles too.   And that will mean open season for terrorists who will seek to attack any nuclear power plant to get the secret fuel to make a dirty bomb.

No comments: