Monday, June 01, 2009

No Alternatives, But No War Either

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates says the US isn't looking for an alternative to the current six-party talks on North Korea. The standoff over North Korea's nuclear programme was recently ratcheted up a notch by its latest nuclear test, along with a series of tests of non-nuclear missiles. Mr Gates told his counterparts from Japan and South Korea today that diplomacy remains the way forward, although other options may be considered if that fails.

But here's the thing. Diplomacy won't fail altogether, in as much as there won't be an all-out war. North Korea doesn't want to start another Korean War, let alone a nuclear one. The warnings from North Korea about aiming missiles at the South, or taking even stronger measures if the UN announces further sanctions (as it probably will do this week), are not made with the idea that those threats will ever be carried out.

North Korea's actions are all about old-fashioned power politics. Its interest is in strengthening its position so when it eventually decides to take the negotiations seriously it can get more of what it wants, which probably include things like trade and aid. There's also the personal motivation of the ailing Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Il. With no obvious successor, North Korea faces an uncertain future should he die, and he's surely worried that not only his regime, but perhaps the whole country might cease to exist after he's gone. Having nuclear weapons and showing them off every now and again makes that prospect far more remote.

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