Montag, 24. Mai 2010

Remember the USS Pueblo? - North Korea's Misjudgement

About five weeks ago I was blogging on North Korea, recommending Barbara Demick's "Nothing to Envy. Ordinary Lives in North Korea" and arguing that the country's collapse is overdue. In the meantime, it turns out that it was in fact a North Korean submarine that sunk the South Korean corvette "Cheonan", killing 46 sailors. I would, therefore, expand the thesis on North Korea's inevitable collapse. It seems to me that the closer North Korea gets to its collapse, the more it tries to gain leverage by using its weapons for some rogue actions that we cannot possibly respond to in kind. Its a punk state, really.

I still wonder why North Korea would decide to provoke the South in such manner. Is it really a lack of attention by the rest of the world? Is it just another round of blackmailing us into feeding its population so that Kim Jong Il can allocate more of his scarce resources to buy weapons? Is it about South Korea at all or is the incident just another part of North Korea's ongoing internal power struggle on who is replacing the "Dear Leader"? Was the sinking of the "Cheonan" deliberately ordered by the North Korean leadership or was it a rogue action by one of his commanders (in a country like North Korea this option is not totally out of the question; we know little about North Korea's current state of civili-military relations)?

In the United States the debate is on: Secretary Gates refused to call the sinking an act of war and the Washington Post is making a big deal out of that. And Republicans call the administration weak in its response, which is true but then again there hardly are alternatives. Now, I do not need to be an expert in the field of international relations to know that the sinking clearly was an act of war. But I also know that calling it an act of war is a bit stupid since legally - and technically, I suppose - we are still at war with North Korea.

The South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, meanwhile, is trying to draw a line. Speaking in South Korea's national war memorial, he said that any further violation would immediately draw a response. That South Korea would vigorously exercise its right of self-defence. So the world is safe for now. On the other hand, again, I do not need to be an expert in international relations to know that the North Korean leadership will certainly try to test the South Korean stance. And the question therefore remains: How much appeasement can we afford?

So all eyes are on the Chinese. And here, finally, is the point where the North Korean leadership is misjudging its position. The Chinese are fed up with North Korea. I was blogging about that before, but I dare repeat what I was writing months ago. I was in China last year, on an international conference on international security problems, organised by the Adenauer-Foundation and the Chinese International Institute for Security Studies, a think-tank of the Chinese defence departement. Now, most of the Chinese decision-makers on that conference were crystal-clear that they regarded the North Koreans as a school-child that repeatedly displays its ill-bred behaviour. In the past North Korea was driving a wedge between the West and China with its behaviour, but with China's rise that has changed considerably. The Chinese haven't figured out what to do about North Korea, but one thing seems certain: The North Koreans might be right thinking that we'll let them get away with this, they are wrong, however, in thinking that the Chinese will allow that to happen forever.

Keine Kommentare: