I Thought Groundhog Day was Last Week

So North Korea continues its streak as the only country that has tested a nuclear weapon in the past fifteen years.

The official English statement that was released by KCNA is interesting for two reasons. The first is that Pyongyang elegantly stated that the weapon that it tested yesterday was a smaller version (“miniaturized” per the Korean language version) of the weapons that were tested in 2006 and 2009. This of course is a thinly veiled statement directed towards those worried about the DPRK building a bomb that could fit snugly on top of a Taepodong rocket. Pyongyang’s answer is “si, su puede.”

The other interesting part of the statement is North Korea’s claim that its nuclear deterrent has become “diversified.” The most orthodox interpretation of this is that North Korea now possesses a bomb different from those that it tested earlier: namely, one of the Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) variety. This would be alarming in many respects: it means that the DPRK has, despite the myriad of sanctions lodged against it, acquired this technology. It means that the DPRK, with this technology, can continue to produce HEU type weapons en masse: since if there’s anything that’s remotely abundant in North Korea, it’s uranium. It also means that there has been some sort of cooperation between the DPRK and someone, whether it be China, or Pakistan, or Iran. Read the rest of this entry »

Sympathy for the devil – how best to deal with North Korea, by Spencer Kim

[Spencer H. Kim is chairman of CBOL Corporation, a California aerospace company. Specializing in the sale of aerospace products, CBOL markets to customers located in the United States, Europe, South America and on the Pacific Rim. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a non-resident fellow at Harvard’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. In addition to his business interests, Mr. Kim serves on the leadership team with the Cal-Pacific Conference of the United Methodist Church and as a member of the Commission on Race and Religion.  He also serves on the Board of Directors of The Korea Society headquartered in New York. He is a founding member of Pacific Century Institute, a non-profit foundation, dedicated to improving understanding and developing greater communication among peoples of the Pacific Rim nations. He serves as an advisory board member of the School of Public Affairs at UCLA. This article originally appeared in the Korea Times on 26 December 2012. It is a particularly refreshing take on the dilemmas facing the international community on how to deal with the DPRK, pointing to opportunities that it would be foolish to miss. –CanKor]

Spencer H. Kim croppedNorth Korea has successfully, sort of, launched a long-range missile. We are outraged. We want more sanctions; we want to pressure them till they say uncle or collapse. We wonder how China could be so perfidious in failing to make Pyongyang behave. We find it morally odious to talk to a regime that spends for rockets and nukes but allows it people to starve and puts others in concentration camps. Only when they agree in advance that they will knuckle under will we talk to them.

But indignation, however righteous, is often the enemy of wisdom. Reflection is a better ally. Yes, North Korea is difficult to deal with and its regime treats its people unspeakably. But if we are to deal with it (and, let’s face it, the place is not going to go away) we need to at least try to understand their viewpoint and understand our own weaknesses. Let us ask some probing questions of ourselves and perhaps even look at history a bit from the other guy’s eyes. Read the rest of this entry »

Rethinking the Goal Posts: Engagement

The never-ending argument of humanitarian aid to the DPRK has grown into a crescendo in the past few weeks. As articulated at CanKor, several voices have piped up on both sides of the issue: those who advocate aid cry for the depoliticization of aid itself, while arguing that the regime has had no qualms behind starving a million or so of their own citizens. On the other hand, those who are against sending aid to North Korea argue that as defector surveys show,  aid does not go to intended recipients and that aid enables, and perhaps even sustains Pyongyang.

Regardless of which side of this argument you fall on (and despite my own views on the subject, I do believe there are merits to both sides), the issue of humanitarian aid is only a subcomponent of a larger meta-issue regarding our own behaviour towards the DPRK: to engage, or not engage?

With the assumption that most readers of CanKor are already familiar with these arguments, I’d like to explore a particular aspect of engagement that has been lost in a vortex of “North Korea Creep”: if we are to engage Pyongyang, what are the goals that we ourselves have set for engagement? Why are we engaging with North Korea? And when do we know when we’ve been successful?

Read the rest of this entry »

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