China, Iran and North Korea – A Radioactive Stew

March 13th, 2013

By Dan Miller

It’s being prepared for our dinner. Should we eat it? How would it affect us and what should be done instead?

Atomic-BombRelations between China and North Korea seem, cosmetically, to be getting chillier. China joined the unanimous U.N. Security Council vote for sanctions in response to North Korea’s most recent nuke test. However, that vote was taken after China had successfully demanded that they not be too hurtful and that further negotiations be the principal objective. Even when China had in the past agreed to sanctions it aided in their violation — particularly as to the luxury goods that matter to the Kim Regency.

In response to the sanctions, North Korea terminated the 1953 armistice that had signaled the end to (or rather postponement of) much of the shooting. Neither China nor the other signatories agreed to North Korea’s unilateral termination and, according to this article, that might make the armistice null and void. Will we, South Korea and China sue North Korea? That seems unlikely, although if Attorney General Eric the Red Holder has nothing more useful to do he might mention it to Valerie Jarrett.  

Domestically, North Korea has been

evacuating some citizens into tunnels with emergency provisions and putting military camouflage on buses and trucks, the South Korean Defense Ministry said Tuesday.

The South Korean officials characterized the moves as feeding a war fever — a tactic that North Korean leaders have used in past times of tension, suggesting their country is under imminent threat in order to build support among their people.

The threats on both sides of the border have been intensifying in recent weeks, after the North’s third nuclear test and resulting international sanctions. The North has gone further than it has in the past — saying it could stage a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the United States and Seoul.

“All the enemies quite often playing with fire in the sensitive hot spot should be thrown into a caldron once I issue an order,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency quoted its leader, Kim Jong-un, as saying Monday during a visit to a front-line artillery unit that faces South Korean marines on a nearby island. “Once an order is issued, you should break the waists of the crazy enemies, totally cut their windpipes and thus clearly show them what a real war is like.”

The South, under the new government of President Park Geun-hye — the South’s first female leader — has also issued tough statements, saying that if the North proceeded with nuclear attacks, its government would be “erased from the earth.”

In addition, there has been a surge in North Korean Air Force sorties.

North Korean jet fighters have flown an “unprecedented” number of sorties in recent days in apparent response to a joint South Korean-US military exercise, a report said Wednesday.

The number of sorties by fighter jets and helicopters peaked at 700 on Monday, the same day the “Key Resolve” exercise was launched, Yonhap news agency cited a military source as saying.

The volume of flight missions “is seen as unprecedented in scale”, the unidentified source said.

The South Korean Defense Ministry declined to confirm the report, but reiterated that the North’s army, navy and air force were carrying out drills ahead of an expected state-wide exercise.

“Key Resolve” is an annual, largely computer-simulated exercise, but still involves the mobilization of more than 10,000 South Korean and 3,500 US military personnel. About 28,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea.

I wonder where North Korea got the necessary fuel and other petroleum products, the scarcity of which had in the past significantly limited its training flights.

North Korea also threatened to make the United States vanish in a puff of North Korean glory.

A spokesman for the North Korean foreign ministry suggested the United States “is set to light a fuse for a nuclear war.”

As a result, North Korea “will exercise the right to a preemptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors and to defend the supreme interests of the country,” the country said in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

Similar threats have been directed at Seoul, only a few dozen kilometers south of the DMZ and hence a task of which it is more likely capable. The theme seems even to have entered into North Korean modern dance.

Source: American in North Korea

In response, China cautioned against mistaking North Korean rhetoric for North Korean reality and asked for calm on all sides.

China’s rationality

China’s foreign policy is rational: China does and says does what its leaders deem best for the Chinese Government. If that means bending to the breezes as does a supple willow, rather than get blown over or broken in two as might a stiff pine, China bends. If rigidity and firmness seem best, that’s what China does. That has been part of Chinese military strategy at least since the days of Sun Tzu-wu’s and his Art of War. Many quotes from translations of his text are available here; some are probably authentic, others probably are not. One of the most often quoted, and more often rephrased, is “All warfare is based on deception.” China is a world-class grand master of deception; North Korea? Not so much, despite being cloaked in a black hole of her own making.

Although North Korea is her closest and most dependent neighbor, China has more important matters to attend to elsewhere in the South China Sea:

The South China Sea is a marginal sea that is part of the Pacific Ocean, encompassing an area from the Singapore and Malacca Straits to the Strait of Taiwan of around 3,500,000 square kilometres (1,400,000 sq mi). The area’s importance largely results from one-third of the world’s shipping transiting through its waters, and that it is believed to hold huge oil and gas reserves beneath its seabed.

It is located

south of mainland China and the island of Taiwan,

west of the Philippines,

north west of Sabah (Malaysia), Sarawak (Malaysia) and Brunei,

north of Indonesia,

north east of the Malay peninsula (Malaysia) and Singapore, and

east of Vietnam.

China can’t be excessively protective of North Korea without making accomplishment of whatever might be her other objectives more difficult. Hence, she bends or stands tall in the breeze as she thinks best. Unless China wants to endure masses of starving North Korean illegal aliens undocumented immigrants crossing into China, she needs to maintain at least minimal living standards for the North Korean peasants, sanctions or no sanctions. Meanwhile (assuming the provenance of the video below), North Korea tells its people how very much worse off people are in America, compared with the easy and idyllic lives they are privileged to lead in their own happy land of milk and honey.

NOTE: sadly, the brilliant video has been removed from YouTube due to “copyright claim.” That was pretty quick. It might, for all I know, even be a sick attempt at humor. It does seem still to be available here.

What about North Korean nukes and Iran?

North Korea has some and has tested three of which we know. She also has, and has tested with eventual success, a satellite launch mechanism capable of terrestrial use as an intercontinental ballistic missile. Sanctions were applied in response to both, without evident success in limiting further efforts along comparable lines.

Cooperation between North Korea and Iran in both areas has been on-going for several years and they recently signed a formal agreement on exchange of the relevant technologies, equipment and materials. As I wrote on January 30th,

North Korea is an enigma hiding in a black hole. Ample light enters but none escapes sufficient to illuminate its intentions. In consequence, the North Korean leadership has ample but unreciprocated access to what’s happening in the “free world.” Hence, the best that I can do is to make some guesses. Based on the above, here they are:

North Korea will soon attempt another nuclear test.

It will involve an underground explosion.

Radiation will be detected.

Iran will participate, probably to the degree that it will be at least as much an Iranian as a North Korean test.

The United Nations will issue another harshly worded resolution about North Korea, in which China will probably join, and additional but equally ineffective sanctions will again be imposed on North Korea.

The United States will continue to negotiate with Iran and eventually acquiesce in up to twenty percent Uranium enrichment. Iran will “reluctantly” agree, claiming to do so because her people (particularly the little children) must no longer suffer from unjust sanctions.

Regardless of whether Iran abides by or violates the agreement, enrichment beyond that point will continue to be carried out for Iran in North Korea.

I seem to have been wrong about radiation being detected; it has not been yet. That suggests that the tunnel in which the test took place (as seismic readings demonstrate) had been well sealed prior to the blast.

Negotiations with Iran

Meanwhile, we continue to diddle around with Iran. Preliminary discussions have been held and an Iranian “technical working group” is preparing for lower lever meetings to follow.

Financial and other sanctions have harmed nearly every aspect of Iranian life — except the development of the nuclear weaponry at which they have been directed. The results suggest a high a degree of naïveté on the part of the Western negotiators, and superior negotiating prowess on the part of the Iranians, who spring from long lines of Persian rug merchants. If negotiations had been held with starving Iranians instead, the results might well have been different; they were not and have not been. Neither, for that matter have our negotiations with North Korea over food and humanitarian relief for starving North Koreans involved starving North Koreans, who just conceivably might prefer a little more rice and perhaps even an occasional morsel of meat rather than the greater glory and deification of (the current) Dear Leader Kim and continued dominance of his regency.

According to Reza Kahlili, the pseudonym of a former CIA operative in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards,

Now that negotiations over Iran’s illicit nuclear program have concluded, the Islamic regime is positive the West will start easing sanctions, not because Iran will halt its nuclear activity, but rather owing to a belief that the West has reached the end of its ability to pressure the regime.

As I’ve written several times over the years, Iran has long thought that the West, particularly America, will do everything it can to avoid a military confrontation, leaving negotiations and sanctions as the West’s only options. It thinks that eventually the West will realize that Iran’s nuclear program cannot be stopped and, therefore, will look for a way out of this dilemma by reducing sanctions and finally accepting a nuclear-armed Iran. …

“Before the U.S. election, [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu visited the White House for a meeting with Obama, and President Obama had taken him to a U.S. Army veterans hospital and told the Zionist prime minister that [the veterans] were the face of the war, and the American people cannot tolerate such a situation anymore,” Gen. Safavi said.

This belief was underscored by last week’s talks in Kazakhstan between Iran and the 5-plus-1 countries — the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. The 5-plus-1 for the first time accepted that Iran could continue to enrich uranium up to 20 percent, a level needed only for its so-called medical nuclear research reactor.

One might wonder why a nation that can produce lots of oil needs uranium to generate electricity; perhaps they believe the warnings of St. Al the Gored about cataclysmic climate change and just want to do their own little part to make the horrors stop. One might also wonder why a nation that can no longer feed her own people needs to develop radioactive isotopes for medical research. If a top Iranian gets cancer, there is always Cuban medical care, apparently the best in the world, as the now deceased el Presidente Chávez may have mumbled as his (inaudible beyond “Please help me; I don’t want to die) dying words.


Wake up, Hugo, our Savior! Come back to us!

This is a major shift from the prior 5-plus-1 position of wanting a total halt to the 20 percent level. At that level, uranium could be further enriched to weapons grade within weeks, should the regime decide to do so. It will.

“We are of the opinion that sanctions will no longer be intensified but from now on we will witness the gradual lifting of sanctions,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told Iranian media after the talks. He said the Islamic republic had managed to circumvent all sanctions and reduce the effects of the sanctions, “wearing the enemy away.”

After several years of negotiations, the demands of the 5-plus-1 have changed dramatically from requiring Iran to ship out its enriched uranium, to accepting its right to nuclear energy, to accepting its enrichment to 5 percent for peaceful purposes and finally, to accepting its right to produce at the 20 percent level for medical research.

Meanwhile, the regime has successfully bought time to master the enrichment technology and add thousands of centrifuges to increase output while working on its nuclear bomb program at several secret sites.

A recent analysis in Keyhan, the newspaper mouthpiece of Ayatollah Khamenei, refers to the West’s demands over the past decade as not allowing Iran to have a handful of centrifuges for research, to the current situation in which the West “has knelt” in front of Iran as more than 10,000 centrifuges now enrich uranium.

“During the last decade, the resistance front and Islamic Awakening (Arab Spring) led by the Islamic Republic of Iran have managed to defeat the power of Zionist Christians in four corners of the Middle East and have forced America to beg for negotiations,” the analysis said, adding that the future is bright for Iran and that America is hopeless.

“Hopeless,” perhaps, but not helpless if she awakens from her drugged slumbers.

Officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency in their visits to Iran in January and February failed again to get the regime to allow inspections at several secret sites, including the Parchin military site, where it’s thought tests on nuclear bomb components took place. In its Feb. 21 report, the U.N. nuclear watchdog also talked about a lack of cooperation by the regime on its Arak heavy-water plant, which is set to go into full operation in 2014 and could produce plutonium, providing Iran with a second path to building nuclear bombs.

Those who promoted negotiations and reached out to the Islamic regime in hopes of changing its behavior have not only failed, but also have created a dangerous situation that could haunt the world for many years to come. (Emphasis added.)

The main thing that puzzles me is why we continue to focus on Iran’s uranium enrichment. Is Iran (again) playing us for suckers? North Korea is fully capable of enriching uranium for Iran (or for anyone else) and would doubtless be happy to enrich as much as may be desired in exchange for the hard currency freely available to Iran if it were only to cease its own enrichment. North Korea needs the money and is not likely very particular about its sources. Just as our sanctions have not impacted Iran’s enrichment capabilities significantly, neither have they impacted those of North Korea. Perhaps we may awaken before it’s too late and notice Iran playing its Korean hole card in our high-stakes poker game.

Conclusion and Wild Speculations (You decide which is which)

The United States are still, even now, a great and perhaps the greatest nation in the modern world. Yet we persist in trying to negotiate from positions of weakness with rogue nations while they rub our noses in dog poop and as others snicker into their handkerchiefs. Neville Chamberlain, who for all I know to the contrary gets little notice these days in school history classes, did the same with Herr Hitler; the results of his diddles with Herr Hitler may now suffer the same neglect in our history classes.

Nevile Chamberlain

Hi! Remember me? I thought not.

We seem unlikely to use surgical strikes to eliminate North Korea’s threats as a nuclear power or — worse, in my view — as a nuclear supplier for other more dangerous rogue nations such as Iran and even for non-national terror groups. That should be easier than going after Iran’s nuclear facilities, if only because there are no countries in the way likely to deny use of their airspace and because North Korea’s defensive capabilities are likely to be marginal at best. We would not have to use nukes to do the job and significant radioactive fallout from the destroyed facilities could (probably) be contained within North Korean borders.

If, as I strongly suspect, no military action directed at halting Iran’s development of  nuclear weaponry — or even at its containment — will be used either, what’s to be done? I haven’t been able to think of anything workable beyond this:

Surgical removal of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities may be the only viable option, coupled with sanctions on Iran directed “surgically” toward diminishing its uranium enrichment, nuclear and missile technology development activities by eliminating its sources of supply. Such sanctions would, of necessity, include inspection of every ship, vehicle and aircraft entering Iran. Easy? Of course not. Easier than the alternatives? Probably, and considering the money we throw at Egypt and other nations in the Middle East, perhaps necessary cooperation could be bought. It might, and should, include collaboration with Iranian dissidents who prefer full bellies and possibilities of bits of freedom to shortages and oppression approaching (or worse than) those in Venezuela.

We can hope until the (mutant) cows come home, and the only changes we are likely to see will be for the worse. That’s easy to do, but appealing though it may seem that has never been enough.

(This article was also posted at Dan Miller’s Blog.)

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