Following the announcement, the international community woke up and said, “Wha…? Our data didn’t show any test.” But upon further inspection, the data did show a test, albeit, a tiny test by nuclear standards. While Russia said it believed NK, France openly scoffed. Soon the U.S. joined in the scoffing. There is much speculation that this was either a faked test using conventional explosives or was a failed nuclear test.
Michael Goldfarb says in this Weekly Standard article that we should not be too hasty in our judgment. He notes that in 1998 Pakistan completed a second nuclear test that was tiny compared to its first one earlier that year. He cites intelligence showing that secrecy surrounded this second test that did not surround the first test, and that the test was attended by many North Korean officials, who left Pakistan following the test. He argues that “the North Koreans could be on the cusp of producing a weapon with an explosive force that would be measured in megatons rather than kilotons.”
It’s difficult to know whether to take NK seriously. AP reported (here) that initial air tests reveal no radioactivity “that would be expected from a successful nuclear detonation.” However, the report also says, “The test results do not necessarily mean the North Korean blast was not a nuclear explosion.” Enhancing confusion, however, AP later reported (here) that another air test indicated radioactivity akin to a nuclear fizzle. While this casts further doubt on whether the test was indeed a successful nuclear event, there are good reasons to take NK’s claims seriously anyway.
NK’s boast has caused a flurry of activity at the UN. Responding in its typical feckless and less-than-worthless manner, sanctions have been proposed. Of course, the proposed sanctions have been watered down throughout the week as our friends Russia and China have unsurprisingly opposed the proposal.
WSJ Editor James Taranto lampoons the UN’s silliness (here – scroll down to Life Imitates 'Team America') with the following quote from the movie, Team America: World Police.
Hans Blix: "I'm sorry, but the U.N. must be firm with you. Let me see your whole palace, or else." Kim Jong Il: "Or else what?" Blix: "Or else we will be very, very angry with you, and we will write you a letter, telling you how angry we are."If NK’s test was indeed a successful test of a nuclear weapon, it appears that NK could have gotten away with it simply by keeping its big mouth shut. Since it broadcast the test (whether real or not) to the world, NK must hope to gain something by this action. What could that be?
While the answer to this seems elusive to many rational minds, it should be quite obvious to those that have studied how communist dictatorships and almost all single leader based states function. This entire episode is simply a ploy to strengthen the regime of NK’s nutcake leader, Kim Jong il.
At home, this will play great to the nationalistic spirit that continually attempts to delude the North Korean people into believing that they are part of the greatest country in the world. On the outside, the Dear Leader and his cronies know that it would be difficult to get any worse treatment from the international community.
This guy ranks right up there with Hitler and Stalin on domestic atrocities. But extra-national actions have been confined to a few missile launches over international waters, espionage, and regular but minor aggressive actions by air and watercraft. There has been no serious attempt to overrun South Korea since the end of the Korean War and NK has remained largely contained. So other nations have been happy to do little more than impose economic sanctions, which have strengthened NK’s ties with undemocratic states while reducing the influence of more democratic states.
Those strengthened ties have led two of the UN’s five permanent veto powers, Russia and China, to prevent any kind of action that could really help the poor people of NK. In truth, China holds NK’s leash. But China is willing to support NK’s craziness as a cheap magician’s trick to keep the international community’s eyes off of its own militaristic buildup and aspirations.
For his part, the Dear Leader is playing a game of high stakes poker. But he knows that even if he has a losing hand in this round, he still comes out ahead. He may be bluffing, but his play has called our bluff. Ever since President Bush labeled NK part of the Axis of Evil, we have resolutely promised to prevent NK and Iraq from going nuclear by whatever means are necessary. If Iran’s Ahmadinejad hasn’t made it perfectly clear over the past year that we are in fact unwilling to back this threat up, Kim Jong il has now proved it for real.
NK’s news release even declared that any effort by the U.S. to prevent NK’s nuclear program, including sanctions, would be considered a declaration of war. Since we have pursued worthless sanctions in the UN, this means that NK has effectively declared war on the U.S. And what are we doing about it? If you answered, “Nothing,” you win the prize.
Whether Kim Jong il has a nuke or not, he must be quite happy with the prize he has already won in this game. For him, it can only get better. Unfortunately, for the reasonable nations of the world, it can only get worse both in the short run and in the long run. It could get better in the long run if we were willing to pursue the problem seriously, but it is abundantly clear that, at least for now, we aren’t.