North Korea tests an A-bomb: Now what?

As I said on Democracy Now! this morning, North Korea’s test of a nuclear bomb is a monumental event that makes the DPRK the world’s eighth nuclear power (Note: I should have said nine – Israel has the bomb, but has never publicly acknowledged it).

The test marks the final collapse of the Bush administration’s Korea policies. Since taking office, Bush has refused to speak directly with the North Korean leadership and bucked advice from Russia, China, South Korea and many of his own advisers (such as former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage) to negotiate with the government of Kim Jong Il. Instead, he has counted on China to pressure Kim and pinned US hopes on six-party talks that have gone nowhere. China doesn’t want to carry Bush’s water, and even though Beijing issued a very strong statement today condemning Kim’s nuke test, it’s doubtful that China will go along with economic or even military sanctions against its ally. According to one of China’s most astute political analysts, Shen Dingli, China views North Korea as a nuisance but also as a country that helps protect its southern flank. Shen, who is director of the US Study Center of China’s Fudan University, published his analysis last week on the website of the Nautilus Institute, a global think-tank on Northeast Asia. Here’s a piece of what Shen wrote:

To a certain extent, the DPRK helps China divide the military threat of the US military forces in the Asia-Pacific region. As an ally, the DPRK also helps our country defend the main gate of China’s Northeast regions. As the DPRK believes that it contributes to China’s national security, it is therefore impossible for China to abandon the DPRK and it is absolutely impossible for China to adopt comprehensive sanctions against it if the DPRK conducted nuclear tests.

Shen’s piece has been picked up by many publications, including Newsweek. It’s worth a read, particularly as the US media, led by the New York Times, puts out the administration line that the so-called “China track” has failed. To read some of my earlier posts on Korea, click here.

Update: Bush is sticking to his outmoded approach.

Update/2: DefenseTech calls it a dud. US intelligence says it was “extremely small.”

Update/3: A little strange: US rejects South Korean request to upgrade surveillance alert.

Update/4: Wise words from former National Security Advisor (and CIA Station Chief in Seoul) Donald Gregg: “First: Don’t panic. Kim Jong Il’s objective is survival and eventual change in North Korea, not suicide.” Read his opinion here.

Update/5: Here we go: US proposes sanctions. Ain’t gonna work.


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