Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Week 6 Reading Responses

Hey all,

We're going to be covering issues of nuclear security with respect to the U.S., China, Iran and North Korea. Find the readings below, and post your reactions to one or more.

Q&A: North Korea Nuclear Talks,” (BBC), December 20, 2010.

Solomon, Jay and Entous, Adam. “North Korea Nuclear Fears Grow,” (WSJ), November 21, 2010.

Harrison, Selig. “China's North Korea Calculations,” (NYT), January 6, 2011.

US and Iran clash at nuclear talks,” (BBC), May 4, 2010.

Powell, Bill. “China's Iran Dilemma,” (TIME), February 22, 2010.

Bajoria, Jayshree. “North Korea-Iran Nuclear Cooperation,” (CFR), December 14, 2010.


  1. I doubt whether it makes sense to lump Iran and North Korea together as nuclear proliferation threats. Iran, notwithstanding its firebrand president, is actually a relatively stable pseudo-democratic state. It has a pretty decent economy and lots of oil. In other words, even when (when, not if) they get a nuke, they know better than to do anything crazy with it -- they have too much to lose. It seems that they mostly want it to sort of enhance their status as the major regional power in the Middle East. North Korea, on the other hand, is hanging on to its nuclear program for dear life because that and the ever-present threat of invading South Korea are the only bargaining chips it has. In terms of isolation and economic development, North Korea and Iran are not in the same class at all.

  2. North Korea is widely regarded as a rogue state in the western world and its government doesn’t really care about the economy or even its people. China, being the largest investor and trading partner of North Korea, is sometimes viewed as North Korea’s biggest ally. However, China’s “support” for North Korea is more due to the need to maintain the stability in the Korean peninsula, which is critical for the stability of China mainland as well.
    I think China’s international reputation to a large extent depends on how China handles this problem. While China has made some progress in the form of organizing 6-party talks, the progress so far has been limited. I think in order to really have an impact, China should take a firmer stance to North Korea and rein in its nuclear ambition.

  3. Its quite clear to me that North Korea does pose the preeminent nuclear threat both to the US and to the world more broadly. The possibility of military engagements on the Korean peninsula is obviously quite real and nuclear war--scarily--is never too far from being a reality if engagements are followed by escalating retaliation.

    With respect to Iran, I definitely agree with the post above. Iran, although perhaps a threat to some US allies, does not actually possess nuclear capability at this time and has a track-record of behaving far more rationally and in accord with international norms/law than the North Korean regime.

  4. North Korea's nuclear capabilities is definitely a threat, especially considering the murky intelligence we often receive after the fact. If North Korea returns to six-party talks, which it must be strongly pressured to do so, more stringent protocols need to be implemented to ensure North Korea's compliance. Perhaps a system of progressive incentives and sanctions could be used to prevent North Korean stalling?
    I was also interested by the point made in "China's North Korea Calculations" regarding Korean nationalism in Chinese regions. I hadn't thought of that minority as a threat. If this group develops national consciousness, I think it could pose a problem for China, but would probably be less organized and fervent as ethnic conflicts in Xinjiang or Tibet.

  5. China is now having to face the responsibilities of being an influential country, and to make difficult choices that will drastically affect the entire world. In both cases of Iran and North Korea, China seems to be facing a lose-lose situation.

    In Iran, agree to press sanctions, and its economic interests will be affected. Be the only country to veto the sanction, and possible confrontation in Middle East will be even more disastrous.

    The case with North Korea is a bit different. While North Korea's vast mineral ores fuel China's growth, economy is only a small portion of the issue. Also, no one really wants to attack North Korea.But despite being more influential with North Korea than with Iran, China loses here too. China can either stop its aid to the dictatorship, and see the country implode or claimed by South Korea, or it can keep the dictatorship and risk nuclear activity by N.Korea. In some ways, Chinese support of North Korea mirrors past American support of dictators in the Middle East for different national interests. If only North Korean dictatorship wasn't so impulsive ... perhaps an internal regime change maneuvered by China?

  6. I also agree that North Korea and Iran should be treated differently in this space. Notably, China has legitimate tactical and defense reasons to "support" NK (or at least to not want the government to become a US ally). Having said that, Iran is a different story. Investing in Iran could certainly help China (both in receiving oil and in increasing their presence in the middle east), this does not as directly affect the country. For these reasons, I think the US has a more legitimate reason to expect China's help.

    Again as mentioned above, however, Iran is certainly less of a threat at this point. If they used a nuclear weapon in war, they know the consequences, and these consequence should, realistically, deter them from using them. NK on the other hand has shown lack of reason many times in the past, and so they pose a much larger threat in possession of nuclear weapons.

  7. In one of the articles, a former Bush admin North Korea expert said "It's a travesty and tragedy that we didn't stop this program when we had the opportunity."

    But should the U.S. entirely rule out the possibility of surgical airstrikes to eliminate North Korea's nuclear program and ballistic missile capability?

    A surgical strike could effectively disable North Korea's nuclear and long-range missile program. The first result would be to substantially mitigate a key source of nuclear proliferation and potential terrorism before the DPRK’s programs become too advanced. North Korea’s ability to develop, test, or miniaturize a weapon to attack South Korea and other U.S. allies would be curtailed, as would the potential to target the U.S. with a long-range ICBM. North Korea would still possess its current stockpile but would be less likely to sell its only remaining nuclear material on the black market.

    Second, it would reduce the DPRK’s bargaining power, since the nuclear program has provided significant leverage to secure diplomatic concessions. Third, the attack would send a strong signal to Iran and others that the U.S. is willing to prevent irresponsible nuclear programs with force, and it would reduce the likelihood of Japan and South Korea developing nuclear weapons in the future to counterbalance North Korea.

    Of course, there would be a danger of serious North Korean retaliation. However, such an option shouldn't necessarily be off the table.

  8. There is no doubt that North Korea is a big threat to its neighbors and the whole world as long as it holds the nuclear weapon, which could be blew at anytime without any prediction. From China's point of view, I assume the best solution for status quo is to leave North Korea alone and not get involved with any dangerous move that might happen over there. Considering the communism connection and millions of Korean living in north of China, I do not think the government would want to give any pressure to the dictatorship in NK, even if the whole world know the leader is doing a terrible job in running the country. From the US's point of view, it is all about the nuclear power, which has the potential to cause enormous damage to the world for legitimate reasons, and the safety of Japan and South Korea who are allied with US. I do not see any possible solutions for the problem of NK right now that can get a better result than just leaving it as the way it is. We might feel sorry for people in that country who are suffered from dictatorship and life threat, but the point is, we never know if Pyongyang has a plan to change its current situation for a better future, or a plan to destroy its own country. With so limited information we can get from the NK side, it is way to early to make any conclusion.