Playing the same song (I was going to say record) over and over again gets old. And quoting oneself is lazy for a writer, but North Korea’s latest missile launch is so similar, in geopolitical terms, to its 2009 foray into the rocket business that I couldn’t help myself.
From a May 27, 2009 NYT op-ed “North Korea Misfires”:
Sooner or later the regional pendulum will shift and the Kim regime, or some variant of its successors, will feel confident again through this recent display of relative military might. They will inevitably realize that talks are the best alternative among a rapidly diminishing set of options to achieve the security and recognition they crave.
A wave of international condemnation and UN paper threats followed the missile test in 2009. Since then North Korea has installed a new leader despite projections of regime failure should Kim the father pass away without a well established heir (he did, the regime didn’t). Myanmar, one of it’s few allies has reformed bringing a wave of new investment into that country. Iran remains isolated. China has a new leader. Re-joining the Six Party Talks never materialized despite the perennial famine outside the capital and a wave of more intense international sanctions.
North Korea, in the greater constellation of world affairs remains as isolated as ever, but surviving like always.
Longer-range missile capabilities do little to change the military balance in the region. A war, any war, would be devastating to both North and South Korea (due to short-range missiles that can destroy either country’s capitals within in minutes.)
While China has not taken a hard enough line to influence Pyongyang towards talks rather than demonstrations of military prowess perhaps new leader Xi Jinping will realize that this problem country on his border needs to wake up to progress in the rest of the world. Hope springs eternal, but hope is not a policy (and neither is waiting out the regime hoping it will collapse).
The rest of the world has been unable to curb if not stop altogether North Korea’s ability to test missiles. Visitors to Pyongyang have commented on the seemingly better life, relatively speaking, in the capital. Trade with China continues. While a minor threat to the world-at-large this latest missile test helps the new Kim demonstrate to his father’s generals that he too can defend the nation (even from fictitious enemies always on the ready to strike).
Perhaps he has finally earned his stripes and can now turn to more important matters like economic reform and opening.
If that were to happen the U.S. should be ready to talk starting with a simple gesture, say an invitation to the North Korean orchestra well after this latest missile test (renewed attention can’t be a reward). That closes the loop on the NY philharmonic visit to Pyongyang in 2008. Throw in a jazz concert at Lincoln Center for good measure.
North Korea returning to its de-nuclearization pledge as a precondition for any talks is a non-starter. An all-or-nothing approach has failed to achieve results. Start small and move on to the more difficult talks later. But find a reason to talk.
For more Klein’s Commentary sign up for email updates or connect via Twitter @brianpklein.
- CNN Article – Will Kim Jong-un’s Leadership be Music to U.S. Ears?
Resources on North Korea:
- 38 North -from the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS
- Stephanie Kleine-Albrandt’s analysis of China’s policy on North Korea.
- International Crisis Group on North Korea.
- Peterson Institute on International Economics (blog by Marcus Noland and Steph Haggard)
Photo: North Korean soldier on the NK side of the Yalu River.