Friday, November 26, 2010

Korean Joint Exercises in Futility

The government in Seoul is frustrated: "With Limited Options, South Korea Shifts Military Rules." (At Memeorandum.) It's a war footing, frankly. And think about the implications of this passage amid calls for increased diplomatic engagement:


North Korea has already weathered years of economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation. In fact, the tough economic conditions appear only to give the North motivation to continue its brinkmanship, to extract aid as it faces a winter of food and fuel shortages. Some analysts say the North is also using the provocations to burnish the military credentials of Kim Jong-un, the youngest son of the North’s leader, Kim Jong-il, and his heir apparent.
Now reports indicate that North Korea is escalating the tensions. Pyongyand launced a provocative volley of artillery fire following the visit of U.S. Gen. Walter L. Sharp at Yeonpyeong Island. Mainstream outlets suggest the peninsula's on the "brink of war" (at Christian Science Monitor and New York Times, via Memeorandum). Meanwhile, domestic criticism of Seoul's response is growing:
Hundreds of South Korean veterans demonstrated in the border town of Paju today, accusing the government of being too weak.

"The lazy government's policies towards North Korea are too soft," said Kim Byeong-su, the president of the association of ex-marines.

"It needs to take revenge on a bunch of mad dogs. We need to show them South Korea is not to be played with."
I criticized the futility of diplomacy earlier. See, "Regime Change North Korea." As noted, the threat to use force should be backed with international support embodied in a U.N. Security Council resolution. Interestingly, the administration has rebuffed such calls, for example, earlier this week from Japan, "Washington Spurns Tokyo's Demand for Reprisal Against North Korea":
Washington roundly condemned the North Korean Nov. 23 artillery attack on the populated South Koreanislandof Yeonpyeong on the Yellow Sea border, calling on North Korea to halt its belligerent action and abide by the terms of the 1953 armistice agreement. But the Obama administration was clearly not about to meet Japanese pressure for joint military action in support of Seoul or reinforce its fighting forces on the peninsula – even as a deterrent. Two South Korean marines were killed and 17 soldiers and 3 civilians injured as the flames engulfed the targeted island.

A Pentagon spokesman also said it was too early to discuss redeploying US tactical nuclear arms to South Korea, a possibility raised by South Korea's Defense Minister Kim Tae-young Monday when North Korea's parade of its uranium enrichment and light water plants came to light.

The Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan's second demand in his call to President Barak Obama after the North Korean attack was to convene an urgent UN Security Council meeting. That too went unheeded. The session France announced would take place Tuesday night was indefinitely postponed.

The Japanese prime minister maintained to Obama that North Korea must not be allowed to get away with two armed attacks on the South in the space of eight months without a military response. On March 26, North Korean torpedoes sunk the South Korean Cheonan cruiser. At least 46 seamen were lost.
And at the conclusion:
... Obama's lack of response to the Japanese call, despite the presence of 28,000 US troops on the Korean Demilitarized Zone border – even with limited military action - is bound to devalue the defensive umbrella against North Korea the US has pledged South Korea and Japan. U.S. unresponsiveness is already resonating loudly in the Middle East and Persian Gulf which is beginning to take it as betokening feeble resolve in dealing with Iran and its nuclear weapons aspirations.
Of course, the administration thinks appeasement will lessen tensions in those regions, and according to reports out today, the White House is worried about China. See WSJ, "China Protests U.S.-South Korea Exercises." But see Stephen Hayes comments on U.S. deference to Beijing, "The Sixty Years War":
It is up to the White House to break the cycle of futility ....

For years, U.S. policy on North Korea has been outsourced to China. Successive presidents have asked that Beijing use its muscle to control its combative ally. It hasn’t worked, because the Chinese believe that the status quo is preferable to escalation. The Obama administration needs to flip that equation by making the status quo less acceptable. Rather than asking China politely to do our diplomatic spadework, why not use our diplomatic and economic leverage over China to demonstrate that there are consequences for Beijing’s recalcitrance?

In the short term, we can reimpose the tough sanctions that were unwisely lifted by President Bush in the summer of 2008, and immediately return North Korea to the list of state sponsors of terror. The administration could also urge South Korea to end its participation in the Kaesong Industrial Complex—a zone of joint economic cooperation with North Korea in which South Korean companies provide capital and North Korea provides labor. Beyond that, America can aggressively seek to interdict North Korean ships suspected of carrying illicit materials, and increase the number of regular, high-profile joint naval exercises we conduct with South Korea.

No doubt, it will be tempting for President Obama to take the easier path—to pursue meaningless nonproliferation agreements, to offer platitudes about a nuclear-free world, to restart the six-party talks and otherwise seek dialogue about disarmament with regimes committed to nuclear weapons. But as French president Nicolas Sarkozy reminded Obama at the U.N. Security Council last year:
The people of the entire world are listening to what we’re saying, to our promises, our commitments and our speeches. But we live in a real world, not a virtual world. We say: Reductions must be made. And President Obama has even said: ‘I dream of a world without [nuclear weapons].’ Yet before our very eyes, two countries are doing the exact opposite.
And what have the repeated offers for dialogue produced? Sarkozy answered his own question.

More at USA Today, "N. Korea: Joint Exercise Pushes Countries to 'Brink of War'." (And Memeorandum.)