Friday, October 21, 2005

North Korea Takes Less Aggressive Stance

North Korea's willingness to discuss their nuclear weapons program fluctuates more than the stock market. Their latest position appears, at least on the surface, to be an agreement to abandon their program. That announcement was hailed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, although he did still cite grave concerns over the rogue nation's continued development of a long-range ballistic missile delivery vehicle capable of striking parts of the US. (ABC: U.S., S. Korea Hail North's Nuclear Pledge).

Tensions on the Korean peninsula continue to ebb and flow, however at no time would the situation there be described as calm. The US currently maintains 37,000 troops in South Korea, however about 8000 of those have been withdraw or repositioned so as not to decimate defense forces in the event of an invasion from the North. Despite North Korea's apparent willingness to concede their nuclear program, there are still grave concerns in the region that they may attempt to reunify the two Koreas.

The US has pledged full support to both South Korea and Japan in the event of an attack by the North. The full might of the US nuclear arsenal is being used as a deterrent against any aggression in the region, and to date that deterrent has been effective. Indeed, the real danger in that region may not be North Korean aggression against the South, but rather China's aggression against Taiwan. Rumsfeld criticised China yesterday for their rather cold response to various US overtures and suggested they were sending mixed signals regarding the type of relationship they want with the West. (Washington Post: Rumsfeld Chides China for 'Mixed Signals').

The real powder-keg there is pledged US protection for Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion, something that seems increasingly likely. Reports that China may be understating their defense spending by 70%, China's recent joint military exercises with Russia, and a recent statement by a Chinese general that they may launch a nuclear strike against the US should we shield Taiwan in an invasion, all add tension to an already strained relationship.

North Korea is the likely pawn in the more complex US-Chinese relationship. China has long been North Korea's only ally and even intervened in the mid '50s Korean War following US involvement. It would hardly be surprising if Beijing were controlling the level of Kim's aggressiveness in negotiating with the US. In the grand scheme of foreign policy maneuvering throughout Asia, it is ultimately not North Korea that will be the catalyst for conflict or peace, it is China. They are the ones really pulling the strings. The sought after prize for them is not a reunified Korean peninsula, but rather a Chinese controlled Taiwan. That goal poses the greatest danger for the US since we have already pledged to intervene on the island nature's behalf.


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