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How About Adding a North Korea Crisis to the Mix?

Things on the peninsula are getting ever more dire, and we know the president won't act with any urgency.

by
Dan Miller

Bio

February 26, 2011 - 12:00 am

With much of the rest of the world — Egypt, Iran, Libya, and others — in escalating turmoil and with other potential hot spots getting hotter, events on the Korean peninsula may well be getting less coordinated attention from the Obama administration even than they normally do, and even than they got when the still simmering Korean mess erupted late last year.

More recently, the Obama administration found itself wallowing in bad intelligence and conflicting administration statements as to Egypt. That deficiency continues even as to Libya, the current hot spot de jour; the worldwide economic consequences of the situation there may be very great. As noted here:

No direct condemnation of the Qaddafi regime. No expression of support for the demonstrators. No hint of action on our part — no immediate economic embargo, no threats against any individuals involved in the atrocities, no call for a U.N. Security Council meeting, no sign of possible NATO enforcement of a no-fly zone, no demand that the border be opened for humanitarian aid. Instead, the State Department is trying to “convey a message” to the Libyan government.

This is your State Department at work. Surely there are some in the White House — I think there are some — who are cringing at such an absence of moral clarity on the part of the U.S. government and at such a failure of American leadership. Let’s hope they persuade the president to step forward very soon to overrule the State Department, and to put the United States, in both speech and deed, strongly and unequivocally on the side of decency and freedom.

The dithering must stop; whether it will is unknown and unknowable.

The situation in Pakistan is now heating up with probable consequences greater than potential embarrassment over recent unofficial confirmations that Raymond Allen Davis — for whom Pakistan had refused to honor diplomatic immunity demanded by the United States — “had been working as a CIA security contractor for the U.S. consulate in Lahore.” Further protests in Pakistan have resulted and the already shaky United States-Pakistan alliance seems to be fraying perhaps beyond repair.

Venezuela may become another hot spot before very long. When might the situation in Israel explode into an open and declared war? That situation is continuously exacerbated perhaps beyond redemption by the mixed signals the Obama administration continues to give; that is the only consistency it has shown. Is the “administration simply too incompetent to understand the significance of its actions”?

Now is the time actually to pay attention and to anticipate further unrest in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea). The rulers of the DPRK are malign; they are not stupid and seem more adept at seeing out than we are at seeing in. Their slaves don’t know much about the world beyond the borders, but the rulers do. As the situation in the DPRK continues to descend into anarchy, its temporary avoidance will likely require dramatically increased military excitement. While the Obama administration’s fleeting attention to Asia is further diminished by developments elsewhere, it may become too late. Even the glorious mess in Wisconsin might have to get along without further help from the Obama administration.

While continuing to enhance its already firm relationship with Iran, the DPRK continues to experience increasing difficulties, most self-inflicted. Widespread starvation was and remains bad but now there is also rampant hoof and mouth disease, which will lead to even more starvation. It began in Pyongyang, and “a guard post between Pyongyang and Pyongsong is preventing vehicles from entering the capital. … Pyongyang was the first location where the disease broke out”:

As pig farms in Pyongyang run by the party and the Army’s Guard Command were among those affected, the regime was reluctant to admit the outbreak, RFA said. It tried to contain the disease only with pesticides and lime, leading to rapid spread to neighboring provinces such as Hwanghae and Gangwon.

“Koksan in Hwanghae Province is home to many military pig farms,” a North Korean source said. “If the area has been affected the military must have suffered a great deal of damage.” The North in the report said vaccination efforts with a homegrown vaccine made little difference.

However, there are claims that the outbreak is giving North Koreans an opportunity to eat meat. RFA said as soon as a pig was spotted drooling or staggering in Gangwon Province, residents immediately culled it for sale in the market. That caused a drop in pork prices in the province, leading to an influx of buyers from as far afield as South Pyongan Province, it added.

Free North Korea Radio said that on leader Kim Jong-il’s birthday last Thursday, meat from infected cattle and pigs was distributed to residents in Daehongdan, Ryanggang Province. A North Korean defector who was a veterinarian said when livestock contract FMD in North Korea, they are not buried but eaten.

Animal hoof and mouth disease is different from human foot and mouth disease and the diseases are not transmissible from animals to humans or vice versa. However, the responsible viruses may mutate and, in any event, humans can carry highly contagious animal hoof and mouth disease to other animals. For that reason and others, it is necessary to dispose of the animal carcasses in ways likely to minimize spread of the contagion; distributing the meat and other body parts for sale, consumption, and other purposes throughout the country will only accelerate the spread of the disease.

Previously, it had been reported that the boundaries of the area within the capital city of Pyongyang had been redrawn to reduce the area dramatically; that had been attributed to food shortages and to the strain of providing the extra benefits normally given to Pyongyang residents. “About 500,000 people were excluded as Pyongyang citizens who have been relatively well-fed despite chronic food shortages.” The sudden diminution of the miserable “well-being” of the already very poor can have great destabilizing consequences.

“Global warming” appears to be harassing North Korea’s west coast and in consequence deliveries (presumably from China) have been infrequent for about forty-five days; the problem is expected to continue for another ten days or so:

The North’s state media reported last month that temperatures in December and January had been markedly colder than usual, causing hardship for “the people’s lives.”

South Korean humanitarian aid groups that maintain contact with the North said the harsh conditions had severely compounded existing malnutrition and shelter problems.

Pyongyang has reportedly stepped up its calls for aid from the international community in recent weeks amid what the aid groups consider a worsening humanitarian situation.

Despite or perhaps because of these conditions, North Korea has moved about half of its three hundred Kong Bang hovercraft south to a port close to disputed islands near South Korea. Each carries a platoon of soldiers, about thirty, and “can travel about 250 kilometers, at a speed of about 80 kilometers an hour”:

Lack of fuel and spare parts limits training for these hovercraft, so any combat use would essentially be with poorly trained and inexperienced crews. Originally intended for delivering commandos quickly, the hovercraft are fast, but noisy and very vulnerable to any kind of gunfire or explosives.

A base for “about 70 hovercraft is reaching completion at Koampo, South Hwanghae Province, 50 to 60 km from Baeknyeong Island in the West Sea.”

Meanwhile, and probably as a way to ransom “humanitarian aid,” the DPRK is completing a tunnel needed for another nuclear test. It is in North Hamgyong Province, the site of two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, and has progressed “to a depth of 800 m. Another 200 m is all that is needed to conduct a third nuclear test. The DPRK has also completed a new missile launch pad in Tongchang-ri in North Pyongyan Province”:

Pyongyang is probably surprised by the steadfast stance of the South Korean and U.S. governments since the launch of the Lee Myung-bak administration, despite its provocations. As a result, it may well be cooking up a scheme that it hopes will shock Seoul and Washington. In other words, the next provocation could be the worst one so far. Experts speculate North Korea could attempt multiple attacks simultaneously including a nuclear test, a terror attack on a South Korean city and property, and assassination of a South Korean official.

Admiral Robert Willard, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, recently warned of more DPRK military provocations within the next few months, and on February 18 South Korean Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik issued a similar warning. The DPRK’s defense minister last month demanded direct two-party talks with the United States and in doing so warned Secretary of Defense Gates of a nuclear catastrophe should they not occur. The DPRK military seems increasingly to be calling the shots in foreign relations. China has continued to push for six-party talks and has also been blocking efforts to have the United Nations Security Council publish a report on the DPRK’s nuclear program. China, as is customary, is far more concerned about her own problems than those of others and will do just about anything she can to avoid hordes of North Koreans crossing the border to attempt to resettle in China.

The situation in North Korea will almost certainly continue to worsen for the “little people” there as long as the Kim regime remains in power. Under a purely military regime it seems unlikely to be noticeably better, and in either event further military attacks on South Korea, further nuclear development, and further bomb and missile tests are quite likely. Provision of “humanitarian aid” and amelioration of economic sanctions, in place due to long continued and now expanding nuclear development and nuclear weapons testing, would help the “little people” only very temporarily and marginally if at all while rewarding the regime and extending its lease on life. That consequence has been demonstrated multiple times and now, when there are at least some small signs that popular revolt may be brewing, is not the time to give it another shot while hoping for change for the better. Nor is it the time to do whatever China tells us — her debtor — to do.

Whatever happens in North Korea seems unlikely to wait until 2013 when we may have a new and far better president of the United States; it will come much sooner than that. New and wiser heads than are now leading advising an uninterested President Obama, who cares far more about his domestic initiatives, must caution against continued dithering and stumbling aimlessly down the path of least resistance toward political expediency. Of equal importance, they must tell him how and try to push him in the right direction. Unless these cautions and advice have the desired effect those advisers must resign and their advice must be revealed candidly and ventilated without reservation in House and Senate hearings.

Being a community organizer is pretty easy; despite President Obama’s best efforts to bring to the presidency such talents as he developed in that capacity, it’s really tough being the president. The keys to making it less tough and less dangerous for the United States and her allies are available to President Obama. It is up to him to use them; if he fails to do so, it is unfortunately up to others to try in the only lawful ways at their disposal to force his hand.

Dan Miller graduated from Yale University in 1963 and from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1966. He retired from the practice of law in Washington, D.C., in 1996 and has lived in a rural area in Panama since 2002.
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