« Another Travel Day | Main | Tidbitty Goodness, 10/9/06 »

October 09, 2006

Who's Next?

Hey, North Korea's got the bomb! But don't worry, Americans, you know that the Bush Administration and their apparatchiks are on the job to do what is undoubtedly the most important thing now for the good of the country and the world: Find a way to blame it on Bill Clinton.

Yeah, I know, cynical of me. But, look: Who among us honestly believes that this is not what the Bushies will try to do? And then Bill Clinton will get on TV somewhere, warm up that pointing finger of his, and note (as my classmate Josh Marshall already has) that the bomb used in the test was probably made with plutonium from a plant his agreement had closed down, and which was opened up again after Bush kicked the Clinton agreement to the curb. And then this will all be about Bush and Clinton again, not about the fact that North Korea has got the friggin' bomb. I would like to think that we might actually focus on that.

If the bomb turns out to be the plutonium variety, I think the Bush folks do bear some responsibility in the matter, but let's not be stupid about this: The North Koreans have been gunning for nukes for a long time and I suspect sooner or later would have done this damn fool sort of thing, regardless of treaties and agreements. As much as it would be fun to say this was entirely the fault of the Bush response to North Korea, I think that's a faulty appraisal of the situation, because it's predicated on the notion that North Korea is an honest broker; it's not and never has been. Its plan was always to acquire nukes come hell or high water. What the Clinton agreement did, in my opinion, was simply buy us and the rest of the world some time to figure out what the hell to do with a nuclear North Korea; when Bush scrapped the treaty, he shortened that amount of time.

Well, folks, time's up. What do we do with a nuclear North Korea? Because, see, this is the real problem: Given the total disarray of the US diplomatic response to everything else in the world, I rather seriously doubt we have any sort of coherent plan at all. Now, this Time article suggests that perhaps there's not much that could have been done anyway, and maybe that's correct. But I would at least like the feeling that the US and the current administration had wargamed this scenario beyond "make stern declarations," and I don't have that feeling. I'll be interested to see what happens next, but I'm not actually confident what comes out of our end of this will make any sort of sense.

Bush and his administration aren't to blame for the North Koreans having nukes; that's all about the North Koreans. But unless we see some attempt at a rational reponse from them, like, now, they can be blamed for blowing yet another major foreign diplomatic crisis. That's not going to be good news for him three weeks out from a national election, and no amount of blaming his administration's inadequate response on Boogeyman Clinton will make a difference.

Update, 2:30pm: Or was it a nuclear device at all? There are apparently doubts (or, if it were a device, perhaps it didn't work as planned). If it turns out to have been just a really, really big conventional explosion, that certainly puts a new wrinkle on things, doesn't it -- North Korea would have just shot its wad for no good effect, and the rest of the world won't look too kindly on it for having done so. Yes, this is interesting stuff, indeed.

Posted by john at October 9, 2006 10:03 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Steve Buchheit | October 9, 2006 11:11 AM

(it's the Sound of Music version of the news)
Ohhh, how do you solve a problem like North Korea?
How do you catch a (fallout) cloud and pin it down?

Steve Buchheit | October 9, 2006 11:13 AM

On a serious note, say goodbye to a "Peaceful by Constitution" Japan.

Eric | October 9, 2006 11:14 AM

What the Clinton agreement did, in my opinion, was simply buy us and the rest of the world some time to figure out what the hell to do with a nuclear North Korea; when Bush scrapped the treaty, he shortened that amount of time.

Oh, it's far worse than that, you give him insufficient credit--the Bush Administration not only shortened the time, they squandered what time was on the clock by refusing to play North Korea's traditional games, engaging in moral posturing, and generally refusing to do anything useful that might have added a few minutes to the clock, given us any degree of leverage with Kim, or strengthened our position with the other countries in the region with whom a united front would be useful in trying to keep the country in a relatively manageable position.

For a brief overview, see this 2004 piece by Fred Kaplan in Slate: http://www.slate.com/id/2102963/

>At least I can take some consolation in the fact that the North Koreans don't have a particularly good delivery system and I live on the other side of the planet from Seoul. Accordingly, I can push North Korea to the bottom of my angst bin and instead obsess over disgraced former Congressmen who, in a stunning proof of a quantum mechanical paradox, is either a Democrat or a Republican depending on whether the observer is watching Fox or not.

Joe Hass | October 9, 2006 11:15 AM

The most amazing thing from this post: you went to school with Josh Marshall? Did you know he'd become so cool and smart (just like yourself, I might add) when you went to school with him?

Oh, yes...Bush bad, they'll say it's Clinton's fault, we're all gonna die, film at eleven.

Steve Buchheit | October 9, 2006 11:21 AM

But on the plus side, we may get to have a live fire test of those interceptor missles up in Alaska. How does "it should give us 70% chance of disabling the incoming missle" feel now (also considering they've never passed a fair test fire either)?

WizarDru | October 9, 2006 11:31 AM

Steve Buchheit said: "On a serious note, say goodbye to a "Peaceful by Constitution" Japan."

I'm not sure I'd go quite that far. Yes, the new prime minister is even more for beefing up the security forces than the old one...but a nuclear North Korea isn't going to suddenly prompt Japan to upgrade their military. After all, if they were that concerned, they'd probably start by ejecting all of the North Korean laborers from the country, for a start.

Never mind that it's highly unlikely that any amount of military presence is going to prevent a nuclear launch from NK from doing it's damage. The amount of time to stop an incoming missle from NK to, say, Honshu is what...a matter of a minute or so?

Now, South Korea on the other hand....

Tor | October 9, 2006 11:31 AM

To me, responsibility is secondary. The most important issue is to determine what we do now. Stern words are not enough - N. Korea has finally put itself in a position where a country which is run by a batshit insane dictator with nuclear weapons is basically untouchable.

While his forces were simply conventional, war between North and South Korea would have been devastating, but survivable for most citizens. The 'strangulation' strategy has now become a means for N.Korea to invade South Korea and beyond.

"our people are starving, our children are dying, and it is because the West will not allow us the food and medicine we need."

Not necessarily true, of course, but plausible enough to go to war over. N. Korea's conventional forces would not have the reserves to go to war for very long at this point, but at this point, they have missiles that can reach Tokyo and Seoul, and that provides all the civilian hostages they need.

Who's going to step up to the plate now? Is China going to risk having a bomb launched at them? The only country that has the means and the motivation to get involved is the one that has pissed away all the credibility it had.

Yeah - it would be nice to sit around and talk about how much better it would have been with Clinton or Gore, and I have no doubt that Bush will seek to spread the blame elsewhere (if the media even understands what has happened) - but the really depressing thing here is that I feel us sliding down the slope to damnation, and the people who's responsibility it is to prevent it is alterately ignoring reality and praying for armageddon.

John Scalzi | October 9, 2006 11:34 AM

Joe Hass:

"The most amazing thing from this post: you went to school with Josh Marshall?"

Yup, both members of the Webb School of California class of 1987. Josh has always been politically oriented, so it's not entirely surprising he's doing what he does now -- although he should get quite a bit of credit for transforming his blog into a place of actual news reporting, not just yet another opinion blog.

Cassie | October 9, 2006 11:34 AM

Being three weeks out from an election, you know there's going to be fingerpointing.

gerrymander | October 9, 2006 11:36 AM

A rational response would be to call for an complete embargo of at least North Korea (and likely also Iran), with "ongoing bad behavior" as the justification. Be definition, an embargo would require full support from the rest of the international community.

While a failure to call for an embargo would be a Bush administration failure, it's hard to see how a failure to globally enact one could be placed on his shoulders.

Chang who lives on Bagels | October 9, 2006 11:37 AM

I know it will never happen but I'd love to see China go in and invade NK as a pre-emptive measure. Then annex it. I imagine we'd never get to see it from the inside, but can you imagine a joint US and Chinese force in NK? Yikes.

This is seriously troubling. I'd hoped it would end with Kim Jong Il dying and his sucesor opening the borders and saying somehting liek "OOp! Boy that guy was a jerk! You wouldn't believe the shit he did." But I know that won't happen. It's gonna be war and it's gonna be bad. And then we'll get the real story on all the horrors and deprivations the people of North Korea have suffered. That will be even worse.

Tor | October 9, 2006 11:47 AM

A failure to properly enact an embargo would fall on Bush's shoulders, and he is unlikely to call for one because of it, because if the precedent he set with Iraq. Sanctions don't work, embargoes don't work - when you have a dictator who is seeking to possess WMDs, you have to invade rather than sit around and wait for the international community to do something.

To call for further sanctions would further illustrate the hypocracy of Iraq - something that Bush is unwilling to do. Therefore, we must stay the course and continue to ignore NK.

Tim Walker | October 9, 2006 11:47 AM

My two (?) cents' worth: What happens next vis-a-vis North Korea depends primarily on what the Chinese leadership decides happens next.

Nathan | October 9, 2006 11:49 AM

The Bush administration has consistently painted rosy pictures of what it's policies would create and just as consistently failed to plan contigencies for any unhappy outcome.

I agree that this moment was inevitable under any administration, a question of when, not if. Hopefullly, there's some rational plan that can be dusted off from previous administrations and modified.

gerrymander--I'm not sure an embargo is the right reponse. It might be just the "provocation" that nut-job needs to start lobbing missiles. I might be totally wrong, but just sayin'.

Dave | October 9, 2006 11:52 AM

Yup, both members of the Webb School of California class of 1987.

Ah, that explains it. I originally assumed that he went to Chicago, and was totally surprised. His writing just doesn't have that wierdly-precise-but-aggressively-forthright 'I can go all dialectically Leopold-and-Loeb on your sorry Aristotle-deprived ass any time I want' feeling that I'm used to in my fellow alums.

Steve Buchheit | October 9, 2006 11:53 AM

WizarDru, actually there's already been talk in the Japan's Diet about repealing Article 9 (I think that's the correct one) of their Constitution which limits their military to defense. Those forces working to change that just got a big boost. Also, I think it was only two years ago that North Korea was finally forced to admit they kidnapped Japanese Citizens. The Japanese weren't very pleased with our broken promises of sharing anti-missle technology. The Japanese show a very reserved face, but I think there is a deep swelling of support to go back to their "dynastic" roots.

John Scalzi | October 9, 2006 11:56 AM


"His writing just doesn't have that wierdly-precise-but-aggressively-forthright 'I can go all dialectically Leopold-and-Loeb on your sorry Aristotle-deprived ass any time I want' feeling that I'm used to in my fellow alums."

Well, he went to Princeton. Which is an okay school, I guess.

Adam Rakunas | October 9, 2006 11:58 AM

Yeah, put me in the "China's going to do something heavy, and soon" column. Beijing isn't going to tolerate this kind of bullshit in their backyard, and they know diplomatic leaning can only go so far.

Oh, and Steve Buchheit wins for starting the thread off with a laugh.

Dave | October 9, 2006 12:05 PM

Well, he went to Princeton.

That explains much.

Which is an okay school, I guess.

Eh. I don't automatically bin resume's I get from there (unlike Yale), so I guess I can't disagree too strongly.

Eric | October 9, 2006 12:05 PM

I don't think an embargo would help. We've had economic sanctions in place for years as it is. If all other countries in the world joined in--and that seems unlikely--the most likely outcome I can think of would be an invasion of the southern peninsula.

One problem with sanctions or an embargo is that they (theoretical) success assumes rational economic actors. A leader who is willing to starve his people and blame the rest of the world is likely to find that embargoes strengthen his position. A second problem (especially applicable to N. Korea) goes back to the old saying that "nothing is as dangerous as a nation well-armed and bankrupt at home": a successful embargo would leave Pyongyang with nothing at all left to lose in invading the south, and the possibility of a great deal to gain if it looks like China will stay on the sidelines and the U.S. remains overextended because of the Iraq occupation. The possibility, it should be emphasized, is all that matters: North Korea going to war based on a perception of possible gain would be a disaster even if N. Korea's attack was swiftly crushed.

I don't know that there is a solution to the problem, frankly. I am afraid that there is some relevance to the "blame" issue, however, insofar as the next administration--Republican or Democrat--will (if it's not too late) have a great deal of work to do to repair the damage Bush has done. That work may include offering some carrots that we wouldn't have offered if the Bush administration had worked harder on America's Asian diplomacy instead of taking the posture that America's relative might in the world means never having to negotiate or say "sorry." "Blame" may also be relevant to the extent that Bush's administration is an unfortunate object-lesson in how not to conduct foreign relations and how not to contain a bellicose, paranoid-xenophobic, willfully-impoverished, heavily-armed regime.

Now I'm angry and sad. Dammit.

Dean | October 9, 2006 12:09 PM

I don't seem much changing, frankly. There'll be a bunch of running around and shrieking, but nuclear weapons aren't useful as offensive weapons unless you're the only guy who has them, and NK well knows that offensive use of its weapons on SK or Japan would bring a devastating nuclear response. Kim is crazy, not stupid.

This does guarantee, though, that nobody is going to invade.

Dave | October 9, 2006 12:15 PM

This does guarantee, though, that nobody is going to invade.

That's been gauranteed for the past forty years. North Korea has had the capacity to make Seoul disappear in a rain of artillery shells for at least that long. No one besides China has the capacity to invade North Korea, and China has shown nothing like having the intention to do so. The nuclear test changes nothing in that regard.

Marc | October 9, 2006 12:22 PM

Whatever the Government Response, it will be behind the power-curve. I believe the problem is that due to a lack of political will- from both sides of the American political stream as well as within the international body politik.
The US threatened North Korea, and the North Korean's ignored it. In response, Bush saber-rattles, stating that the test was unacceptable, and that if the nuclear technology was transferred to another country (read Iran) or a non-national entity (read Terrorist), North Korea would be held responsible. What does that mean? This is a continuation of the vague, threatening pap that has been coming out of Washington for decades regarding this region of the world. As for what else we could have done- I do not think anything- militarily, we are spread too thin in Irag and Afganistan; without a draft, and a significant increase in defense spending, we cannot increase our troop levels. We could destroy North Korea with conventional weapons, but China and South Korea wouldn't allow it. We could depend on the Security Council to coordinate the fight, but it hasn't voted for a police action since the first Korean War, and only when the Soviets were absent.
So, my opinion? Get the K-Y jelly and bend over- because we are going to get it from Bush, the Democrats, the North Koreans or someone.

Jon Marcus | October 9, 2006 12:23 PM

John, it sounds like you're saying that nukes have been the North Koreans' goal. I'd disagree with that. Nukes been a tool they've used to attain their goals. They were perfectly willing to use the threat of them as a bargaining chip. When that didn't work out, they made good on their threats. (Very unlike what we did. See Fred Kaplan's article from a couple of years ago: http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2004/0405.kaplan.html)

This isn't just fingerpointing or an academic argument. Diplomacy was not doomed from the start. It can work, if done correctly. Figuring out how to get it right is pretty important for our dealings with both NK and Iran.

Robert Rummel-Hudson | October 9, 2006 12:29 PM

So the Axis of Evil Scorecard currently reads:

Iraq: Did not have the bomb. We invaded anyway, just to make sure. And look, mission accomplished! No bomb!

Iran: May have the bomb one day. We are rattling our sabers and making scary "gonna getcha!" faces.

North Korea: Has the bomb and perhaps the craziest leader of the three. We are, you know, concerned.

John Scalzi | October 9, 2006 12:41 PM

Jon Marcus:

"John, it sounds like you're saying that nukes have been the North Koreans' goal. I'd disagree with that. Nukes been a tool they've used to attain their goals. They were perfectly willing to use the threat of them as a bargaining chip. When that didn't work out, they made good on their threats."

Well, I agree that they were happy to use the possibility of nukes as a threat as well -- cheaper than the real thing -- but I also think that even under the Clinton agreement, NK was still doing work toward having a genuine nuclear option (apparently they were still fiddling about with a uranium solution). So I'm not convinced the NK's were simply happy to just go along.

Where the Bush administration went wrong was in using that as an excuse to scrap the Clinton agreement, thus depriving the government of a tool it could use to slow down the uranium development further, and giving the NK's an excuse to crack open the plutonium.

I certainly agree that diplomacy can work, and should be used, and in this case could have extended NK's research time in this regard to a length which might have exceeded the crisis. I don't think NK would have abandoned its nuclear research entirely, however.

Adam Ziegler | October 9, 2006 12:47 PM

You went to school with Josh Marshall?

Funny that your blog and his are my top two for checking each day.

What's it again, the Webb School of Awesomeness?

John Scalzi | October 9, 2006 01:12 PM

Yes. Yes, that's exactly the name of the school.

Jose | October 9, 2006 01:29 PM

The finger pointing is well underway in the blogosphere. My favourite is that it's all Clintons and Carter's fault.

Everyone's saying that it's a crazy move on North Korea's part but I'm not certain this is the case. I'm not glad that North Korea has the bomb but from their perspective it might be more of a boon than a liability.

Hilary | October 9, 2006 01:48 PM

This one is firmly in China’s court. I would hope that the east and west will simply turn off the spigot completely. No food, no water, no energy, no travel, oh and yeah and kill Kim. Suggest it is time for a North Korean Revolution and provide party favors. Incentives $100 million reward no questions asked beamed in via radio, TV, satellite, and bubble gum wrapper; every country signing and saying “get this guy, dismantle the nuke program and here’s a chicken in every pot.” Could probably even save some money by sending them pigeons; after all when was the last time there was a chicken in NC (sorry those people of NC have had it rough).

Japan does not need to go nuclear, but, where are the ninja’s when we need them? I like Chang’s solution. Seriously, a really strong effective response is required, Iran may take note. And unfortunately, I think John’s scenario is right on the money.

PixelFish | October 9, 2006 01:49 PM

I don't think you can blame Bush for North Korea having nukes....but his administration sure as hell burned through our political capital concerning the rest of the world and placed us in a worse position to deal with it.

And as you point out, given the way Bush has dealt with everything else, I'm not overly confident that his administration can formulate a plan to deal with this.

(Somebody needs to sit Mr. Bush down with a game of Civilization at Emperor mode, get him a little way up the tech tree, and then have him attack four different countries at once, and see how well he fares.)

Buck | October 9, 2006 01:58 PM

I'm sure that "North Korea detonates atomic bomb" was met with the same dread worldwide as "Bush reelected" was.

I'm sure this is going to embolden Iran. Who knows, maybe Chavez in Venezuela will announce a nuclear program next.

The problem is that Bush and Ahmadinejad (I always have to look up the spelling) are scary True Believers, Chavez is a puffed up street thug trying to fill Castro's shoes, but Kim is really, unpredictably crazy.

There's no credible threat to the US at this point, but South Korea is pretty much screwed.

Considering how discredited and over-committed the US is right now, I sure hope Japan and China can work together to try and rein in this nutjob.

The sad side story is that South Korea has spent the last 50 years improving the material existence of its citizens, whereas the North has devoted all its resources to its royal family and their millions of palace guards.

And, of course, let's not forget to add that other Democrat, Truman, to Carter and Clinton on the list of those really responsible...

A.R.Yngve | October 9, 2006 02:08 PM

To quote Cleavon Little in BLAZING SADDLES: "Can't you see this is the last act of a desperate man?"

China can easily starve North Korea by stopping its food shipments. (It's not like the Chinese have any tender feelings for the Koreans.)

Like others have stated, China has the ball now. It's entirely possible the Chinese are going to put the squeeze on the Dear Leader. And if Jong-Il then does something really stupid, like trying to intimidate China with his nuclear capability, he would find himself scattered into the stratosphere very quickly.

The worst that could happen is that a cash-starved NOK regime sells nuclear weapons to anyone who pays.

(And if I had a dollar for every time an American shouts "'It's Armageddon, we're all doomed!" when there's a geopolitical crisis, I'd be rich... enough with the Armageddon schtick already!)

Jon Marcus | October 9, 2006 02:11 PM

John and Pixelfish,

Yes, NK was working on nukes, and might've gotten there eventually...or might not have. But there's no doubt that they wouldn't have had them *today* if it weren't for US actions over the last 5 years.

There's a difference between a concealed program to create weapons from non-optimal materials, and a brazenly open program to package up ready-made plutonium. The latter is what we were dealing with.

Also John, I'm not quite sure I understand your comment about NK being an "honest broker." I assume you just mean they aren't trustworthy, since they're not acting as a broker or middleman here? If so, that seems kinda naive. Nations do what's best for them. Diplomacy assumes that. So you "trust but verify." You offer incentives to do "be good" and threats against "being bad."

And very importantly, if you make threats, you back them up. Our policy had long been that using that plutonium would "crossing a red line." Then the North Koreans did that...and we attacked Iraq.

Jon Marcus | October 9, 2006 02:15 PM

Or maybe the test was actually a dud?



Claude Muncey | October 9, 2006 02:17 PM

There are reports coming out that this may not have been a sucessful test afer all. Some of the estimates of the seismic intensity are now well below Richter 4, with a corresponding weapon yeild of, say, a half kiloton.

Generally, unless you are able to get a hold of more sophisticated designs, your first couple of tests are usually somewhere near what is called 'nominal' yeild -- the normal yeild of the minimum nominal weapon simply assembling or imploding a critical mass of U235 or Pu239. That usually comes in at around 15-25 KT. (YMMV) The early Pakistani tests, for example, measured around 40KT, which indicated successful implementation of a good design -- confirming the stories of Pakistani access to design data.

NK is using Pu239, which requires a rather precise implosion to work. (As most of you probably already know, figuring out how to do that was the last major technical hurdle faced by Oppenheimers team at Los Alamos.) A half kiloton yeild sounds more like a fizzle caused by serious problems in reprocessing the plutonium or a bad implosion implementation.

Kim Jong Il may have been in too much of a hurry.

Jon Marcus | October 9, 2006 02:25 PM


"The worst that could happen is that a cash-starved NOK regime sells nuclear weapons to anyone who pays."

Oh is that all? So we'd only lose a few cities to terrorists. What a relief, I thought this might be something serious...

John Scalzi | October 9, 2006 02:29 PM

Jon Marcus:

"Yes, NK was working on nukes, and might've gotten there eventually...or might not have. But there's no doubt that they wouldn't have had them *today* if it weren't for US actions over the last 5 years."

This, I think, is not in dispute.

A.R.Yngve | October 9, 2006 02:38 PM

Jon Marcus:
"So we'd only lose a few cities to terrorists."

You mean you would lose a few cities. I'm Swedish. (Just kidding, folks! Only being cheeky. Not serious.)

Flippancy aside... if you really are worried about "loose nukes," you should lie sleepless at night and think about Pakistan... or Russia:

Steve Buchheit | October 9, 2006 03:01 PM

A.R. Yngve, where do you think N. Korea got their tech from? Mostly Pakistan (our partner in the war on terror), but some from the Russian black market (the Russian stuff was low-level equipment, the Pakistan stuff were things like centrifuges).

Josh Jasper | October 9, 2006 03:32 PM

a country which is run by a batshit insane dictator with nuclear weapons is basically untouchable.

Hey, we resemble that remark!

Josh Jasper | October 9, 2006 03:46 PM

Seriously? Expect the US to offer some major sweet deals to China on trade in the next few months. Then expect China to make noises about annexing Taiwan. They have us by the short and curlies, much in the way that Pakistan does.

Regionally, China can now try bullying around the area much more effectivley if it promises to hold NK in check, and makes good.

Hilary- If nothing else, NK is adept at supressing counterrevolution with ruthless effeicency. Treating these people like idiots is a mistake we're already regretting.

Eric | October 9, 2006 03:48 PM

Hey, we resemble that remark!

That's it! That's the solution! We send them Donald Rumsfeld as some kind of "technical military advisor/grand poobah" guy! If they take the bait, North Korea will end up with a demoralized and over-extended army, a quagmire in the Middle East, and an incoherent mess of military acquisitions based on a hackneyed theory of "re-deployment" that leaves the North Koreans' ability to actually face any legitimate threat to their interests in question! It's perfect! All we have to do is figure out a way to get Rummy on a plane while convincing Kim to accept him as an advisor.... Hm....

This could... just... WORK!

A.R.Yngve | October 9, 2006 04:30 PM

Will the current crisis produce any memorable science fiction, I wonder.

SF writers are of course welcome to write novels and short stories about the future fate of the Korean peninsula (why be stuck in the fleeting present?)...

...but don't write a scenario about American hegemony over Asia and expect to be taken seriously.

Scorpio | October 9, 2006 04:48 PM

Yeah, someone has already blamed ol' Bill.

Scorpio's Corollary to Godwin -- he's a loser.

Hilary | October 9, 2006 05:19 PM

Josh Jasper no argument there. The thing is the guys at the top are the ones who get good at plotting this sort of thing, so to have one of them turn is not impossible. There was a very large explosion in NK a while back that took out a train station, and a lot of nearby kids. Kim just happened to not be on the train, at the last minute. The media hinted that is was an assignation attempt.

These people are not idiots, and they are brutal. Embargos and sanctions have not worked because they were not sanctioned by China. If Beijing gets out in front of this then we have a whole other pot of Kim chi.

Claude thanks for the info, I had wondered if the test were a large underground fuel air bomb, though I imaging that would be detectable in the rise time of the seismic data. News reports displayed a Google Earth map with several possible test locations. I wondered if they were all connected, thus providing a large area underground test vessel. Much cheaper than making a nuclear weapon.

Brian Greenberg | October 9, 2006 05:23 PM

I know that there are folks out there looking to place blame on Bill Clinton for just about everything, but that doesn't mean that nothing that happens today can be accuratley linked to something that happened then.

I'm not saying that Clinton is repsonsible for North Korea having nukes, that would be North Korea, of course. But Clinton did go out on a limb in 1994 and got himself badly burned. If you Google this, you find many sources. Here's one:


The key dates in the timeline are as follows:

10/21/94: The United States and North Korea signed a formal accord called the Agreed Framework. Under its terms, North Korea would renew its commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, lock up the fuel rods, and let the IAEA inspectors back in to monitor the facility. In exchange, the United States, with financial backing from South Korea and Japan, would provide two light-water nuclear reactors for electricity (explicitly allowed under the NPT), a huge supply of fuel oil, and a pledge not to invade North Korea.

1994: Congress balks at the financial commitment and does not fund the nuclear reactors (although their approval is not required, as it is not a formal treaty)

1996: A North Korean spy submarine lands on South Korean shores, and South Korea withdraws funding. "Somewhere around this time, we now know, [North Korea] also secretly started to export missile technology to Pakistan in exchange for Pakistani centrifuges."

9/17/99: President Clinton agrees to first major easing of economic sanctions against North Korea since the Korean War's end in 1953.

mid-2000: Kim Jong-il invites Clinton to Pyongyang, promising to sign a treaty banning the production of long-range missiles and the export of all missiles. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright makes the advance trip in October.

early-2001: Bush makes clear his view that "to negotiate with an evil regime would be to recognize that regime, legitimize it, and--if the negotiations led to a treaty or a trade--prolong it."

1/29/02: Bush labels North Korea (along with Iraq and Iran) a member of the "Axis of Evil"

September, 2002: The CIA reaches the unescapable conclusion that North Korea has been acquiring centrifuges for enriching uranium since the late 1990s, most likely from Pakistan.

10/4/02: James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for Asian affairs, confronts the North Koreans with evidence that they had been violating the Clinton agreement since 1996. The North Koreans admit that it's true.

10/20/02: President Bush announces that the U.S. was formally withdrawing from the 1994 Agreed Framework.

Adam Rakunas | October 9, 2006 05:25 PM

After reading Jon's links, I'm starting to think it wasn't a bomb test after all. Dear Leader just got the entire country to jump at once to celebrate his birthday.

(And, yes, I know that wouldn't register on a seismometer. But can't you see Kim Jong Il doing something that crazy?)

Armchair Anarchist | October 9, 2006 05:25 PM

Yeah, I know, cynical of me. But, look: Who among us honestly believes that this is not what the Bushies will try to do?

Courtesy Jeremy Lyon (my editor at Futurismic), evidence that they went straight for Billy-boy from the get-go:


Just goes to show: sf authors really *can* see into the future...

Nate Trost | October 9, 2006 05:35 PM

Jon Marcus:

"Yes, NK was working on nukes, and might've gotten there eventually...or might not have. But there's no doubt that they wouldn't have had them *today* if it weren't for US actions over the last 5 years."

Actually, they probably had enough material 5 years ago to perform the test they did yesterday.

Even when the IAEA was operating in NK, they were unable to verify exactly how much plutonium had been produced, much less secure it.

I have a feeling that part of what drove this test was a desire to 'save face' internationally by demonstrating some prowess following the utter failure of their long-range missile test a few months ago.

There have never been any concrete ways of dealing with North Korea, regardless of the administration. Kim is willing to starve millions of his own people in the face of famine and cut food aid. Any military action would result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of South Korean civilians in Seoul.

Perhaps Bush should have sent Kim more blondes from the San Fernando Valley and coke, even that wouldn't have been a sure bet to prevent something like this test.

My reference links of the day:

http://www.cdi.org/nuclear/nk-fact-sheet.cfm http://www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/MediaAdvisory/2002/med-advise_052.shtml http://www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/News/2003/inspectorsrecall20030103.html http://www.isis-online.org/publications/dprk/currentandfutureweaponsstocks.html

Martyn Taylor | October 9, 2006 05:39 PM

Hilary - an 'Assignmation' attempt that demolishes a whole railway station. Now that's what I call a hot date.

North Korea having nuclear weapons is not a good idea, but can anyone tell me what moral right any of us have to tell them they shouldn't have them. After all, we have them - hell, the USA even used them. Do as we say or we'll kick your head in isn't much of an intellectual argument - and that's what our entire attitude towards North Korea has been for quite some time. Guess what? It hasn't had any effect on the regime there.

What other much trumpeted foreign policy does that resemble?

So, what's the game, making the world sage or looking good on media controlled by our right wing friends? Sorry, you don't have to answer that. Res ipsa loquitur, as we say in legal circles.

Jon Marcus | October 9, 2006 05:57 PM

Martyn, I certainly wouldn't want to make the world sage. Perhaps rosemary or thyme?

Okay, apart from picking on typos, how does having a "moral right" enter into foreign affairs?

NB, I object strenuously to immoral acts by my country. But that's very different from saying foreign policy requires moral underpinning. "This is good for us" is the policy that's been followed by nations pretty much forever. I've got no problem with us doing the same.

Nadai | October 9, 2006 07:53 PM

The worst that could happen is that a cash-starved NOK regime sells nuclear weapons to anyone who pays.

Actually, if North Korea is willing to sell, I don't see why we couldn't just buy the things ourselves. It'd be a hell of a lot cheaper than going to war.

Eric | October 9, 2006 08:11 PM

I don't think Martyn was saying foreign policy requires moral underpinning--if I understood his point, I think he was saying that the U.S. can't argue from a position of moral superiority (as we have traditionally been able to when it comes to addressing a foreign country's electoral fraud or judicial corruption) and the threats of force that have been a preferred position for the Bush Administration (do what we say or else) isn't necessarily a persuasive argument. (In N. Korea's case, threats weren't working even before America's failure to adequately address the occupation of Iraq made it clear we'd hyper-extended our military might and sprained something.)

There have been times in American history where America's influence as a "moral" player was helpful--it may not have been enough by itself to seal a deal, but it helped to be able to take the high ground and point to our standard of living, our scientific achievement, the transparency of our electoral system, the impartiality of our courts, and our Constitutional ideals; to be able to say, "Be like us, and you can have these things, too. Help us, and share in the benefits of democracy, etc."

(Please don't take this as a rosy-eyed post: the discrepancies between out aspirations and our achievements have often reached the level of epic tragedy. Our courts have often been injust, our elections purchased, our economy built on broken backs--but diplomacy is often about perceptions, not cold truths.)

I live in the U.S.--obviously I have a personal stake in "This is good for us." The problem is that we have to get along with other nations who are also saying "This is good for us." If the U.S. isn't able to reach a compromise or force capitulation, we end up not getting what we want. And that's often bad for us. A failure of the current administration has been an attitude that we're the only players at the table--that we don't have to compromise and that other players will capitulate out of fear of our massive economic and military might. The payoff for that posturing has been that we've alienated many of those we could compromise with and risked a perception that those who we need to be scared of us have less reason to be--meanwhile, we specifically haven't gotten what we wanted with regard to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea. This is, obviously, a problem.

jeff | October 9, 2006 08:20 PM

I'm So Ronery
I'm so ronery
So ronery
So ronery and sadry arone

[The rest edited out because posting all the lyrics to a song violates copyright. Please don't do it, folks -- JS]

jeff | October 9, 2006 08:22 PM

song from team america - sorry should have explained that

Nathan | October 9, 2006 08:35 PM

I thought it was "I'm so pretty" (in a round hole square peg kind of way).

jeff | October 9, 2006 08:37 PM


Dave Klecha | October 9, 2006 09:45 PM

I know it's probably been bandied about quite a bit, but... I thought Bush's process of insisting on six-nation talks was precisely the sort of action that his critics had picked on him for not taking with Iraq. Involve the neighbors, get diplomatic, that kind of thing.

So, Bush insists and refuses to give in to bi-lateral talks which effectively excludes the wishes of the nations who are most likely to suffer from a nuclear North Korea, and he's criticized for not taking the sort of unilateral action that he was criticized for in Iraq.

Not that I like Bush all that much, but the contradictions in standards that he's being held to is a bit boggling. Unless there's some more culpable aspect to his behavior that I've missed.

Mark | October 9, 2006 10:23 PM

Yeah, he's ronery. I think this whole bomb scheme has been a ploy to get the light of his life, Madeline Albright, back to NK.

Michael Puttre | October 10, 2006 07:47 AM


The criticism of one US political party's North Korea policy by other party begins:


I see that regardless of our political stripes we're all united as a nation against the world's number one enemy: representative democracy.


Michael Puttre | October 10, 2006 09:33 AM

By the way: Egypt's going to get one, too. Just to use on you know who...

Martyn Taylor | October 10, 2006 10:47 AM

The typo was, of course, 'safe', although sage is never a bad ingredient to bring to the stew of international relations.

Actually, I'm an innocent and believe that morality should play a part in foreign policy. I've even got a Prime Minister who agrees with me - Tony Blair wants an 'ethical' foreign policy (not that 'moral' equates with 'ethical' but that's an argument for another time) Whether he's doing much of a job on this is, of course, open to debate.

I would also argue that a 'sage' diplomat might look down the track a bit and consider what might happen when the alpha male grows old and decrepit and finds the new guy holding him by the fur and drawing back a big fist to knock his head into next week. History is littered with good examples, and as we all know, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

When the big stick doesn't work - as it hasn't here - the 'sage' man might think about trying diplomacy before picking up a bigger stick and annoying the hell out of that 1000 lb gorilla next door.

MikeB | October 10, 2006 11:16 AM

Now you must realise that if North Korea had oil reserves none of this would have happened...

Nathan | October 10, 2006 11:38 AM


I'm going to apologize in advance because I suspect I'm going to articulate this poorly.

Mostly, I'm in agreement with you. I can remember momentarilly (and we're talking very briefly here), putting myself in the Iranians' positions and thinking "Who the hell does the US think they are, telling me what I can and can't have?"

I got over my empathy jag pretty quickly. I think all foreign policy should be ethical, but I'm less convinced on the morality side. While it would be immoral to ship disease-riddled blankets to the NK's in care packages, what's immoral about preventing them from having the bomb?....by almost any means?

There's no situation under which having more countries possess the bomb is a GOOD thing. Even if it's a country that is currently stable, and considered "one of the good guys", what happens when there's a change of government. Not that the USSR was such a dandy neighbor, but as a result of the breakup, there are stories of unaccounted-for nukes from the former republics. India is something of a US Ally, but they always seem to me to be on the verge of a social/political meltdown.

My attitude is that when it comes to nuclear non-proliferation, its one area where I'm a little less concerned about the US bending some noses out of joint if it results in less nukes in more hands. Its too bad that any moral high ground the US once possessed has been so deeply eroded.

Hope that all came out how I meant it to.

Smurf | October 10, 2006 04:26 PM

I blame Truman for not letting Mac bomb the Chinese back into the goddamn Stone Age. It was all downhill from there.

Now, our next war with them will undoubtedly involve a nuclear attack on our best troops there, followed by us having to fight our way onto a radioactive Asian Cape Cod.

Too bad Israel isn't closer to NK. They love that pre-emptive sh*t.

Although, we may be worrying about nothing. On his My Space page, Kim said he only got the bomb to intimidate Mongolia.

Anonymous | October 10, 2006 08:48 PM

Michael Puttre:

"By the way: Egypt's going to get one, too. Just to use on you know who..."

So Israel's getting tense,
Wants one in self defense.
"The Lord's our shepherd," says the psalm,
But just in case, we better get a bomb!
Who's next?

From the Tom Lehrer song "Who's Next?"


Nathan | October 10, 2006 08:57 PM

Political Science
by Randy Newman

No one likes us-I don't know why
We may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try
But all around, even our old friends put us down
Let's drop the big one and see what happens

[The rest edited out because posting all the lyrics to a song violates copyright. Please don't do it, folks. Also: Come on, this is the second time I've had to do this in this thread. -- JS]

George E. Martin | October 10, 2006 08:57 PM

Didn't mean to be Anonymous above.

If anyone would to see the Lyrics to the Tom Lehrer song "who's Next" try here:



Nathan | October 11, 2006 11:21 AM

Oops, Sorry

Smoke | October 12, 2006 12:43 PM

John Scalzi:

"Clinton... shut down..."

He was responsible for building light water nuclear plants there in the first place. How do you 'postpone' something when that happens?
Please don't try to defend that so-called administration, you just show your true colors even stronger. Try not to paste such a blindingly florescent target on yourself. Maybe admit at least your a strong liberal, no less an independent.

Your dam right there is going to be finger pointing.

Try to criticize a democrat once in a while for some balance please, this has gotten stupid long ago. You don't want to look like Michael Savage now do you. Independent, conservative(you would be Liberal or radical with the gay marriage) only votes Republican, The environment doesn't exist since Bush hasn't mentioned, it regardless if the EPA says there is global warming.

Let's get real I am not going to let you talk types get away with this.

John Scalzi | October 12, 2006 01:00 PM


"Please don't try to defend that so-called administration, you just show your true colors even stronger."

Uh-huh. And for your part, Smoke, try not to be as ignorant as a damn chicken when you're on my site, because your feculent self-satisfaction offends me. If you were anything other than an ignorant reciter of talking points, you'd know that the US never provided the light-water nuclear reactors, so your jackassed assertion that we did just goes you show how little you know, and how little you're worth listening to.

Now get the hell off my site and don't come back until you have even the slightest idea what the hell you're talking about.

Martyn Taylor | October 12, 2006 06:32 PM


Pretty good job of expressing yourself there, and not a lot I can disagree with, except to come back to my original point - without the moral highground, the task of keeping such weapons out of the hands of regimes almost everyone here would not wish to have them is reduced to waving a big stick. Fine when you've got the biggest stick.

The trouble is that history shows that ownership of the biggest stick doesn't remain in the same hands for long. A century ago, the British could have sent a dreadnought up the Potomac and suggested to the Congress that they all 'jump'. The only question would have been 'how high?'

Times have changed. Times always change. It is the one thing - other than death and taxes - we can be sure about. Project economic growth rates a few years forward and the USA won't be in a position to play any sort of economic card against PRC or India. You already cannot play any credible military card against China.

I don't know about you, but the notion of a Chinese world does not thrill me.

Without the moral highground, states like North Korea and Iran can turn around when told THEY can't have those nice nuclear toys and say 'Fuck you, we're as good as you, if we want to join the club we're going to.' The only rational solution is to close the club.

Of course, history also shows that no state has ever rid itself of any weapon, however absurd, however counterproductive, however ludicrously expensive. So I guess I'd better go out into the cold, starry night and howl at the moon,

Nathan | October 12, 2006 07:20 PM


"A century ago, the British could have sent a dreadnought up the Potomac and suggested to the Congress that they all 'jump'. The only question would have been 'how high?'"

This is the only thing in your post I'll take exception to. I never read about any jumping taking place during the War of 1812. Just some Limey butt-kickin'. lol

Nathan | October 12, 2006 07:22 PM

Then again, I went for 200 years ago. Yeah we would have been pussies in 1912.

mds | October 13, 2006 08:47 AM

I never read about any jumping taking place during the War of 1812. Just some Limey butt-kickin'. lol

Yeah, as Dolly Madison fled the burning White House. On the other hand, at least the US's invasion of Canada that started the whole thing was successful. Wait, so what good will it do to move there when McCain is elected president?

mds | October 13, 2006 08:49 AM

I never read about any jumping taking place during the War of 1812. Just some Limey butt-kickin'. lol

Yeah, as Dolly Madison fled the burning White House. On the other hand, at least the US's invasion of Canada that started the whole thing was successful. Wait, so what good will it do to move there when McCain is elected president?

Nathan | October 13, 2006 09:29 AM


fleeing is an honorable tradition and holds none of the stigma of jumping on demand, you silly kaniggit.

Minstrel: [singing] Brave Sir Robin ran away...
Sir Robin: *No!*
Minstrel: [singing] bravely ran away away...
Sir Robin: *I didn't!*
Minstrel: [singing] When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled. Yes, brave Sir Robin turned about, and valiantly, he chickened out. Bravely taking to his feet, he beat a very brave retreat. A brave retreat by brave Sir Robin.

Post a comment.

Comments are moderated to stop spam; if your comment goes into moderation, it may take a couple of hours to be released. Please read this for my comment moderation policies.
Preview will not show paragraph breaks. Trust me, they're there.
The proprietor generally responds to commenters in kind. If you're polite, he'll be polite. If you're a jackass, he'll be a jackass. If you are ignorant, he may correct you.
When in doubt, read the comment thread rules.

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)