International Papers

Pyongyang’s Nuclear Bet

What on earth is North Korea up to disabling U.N. surveillance equipment, removing 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods from international control, and unsealing a laboratory that can extract weapons-grade plutonium from the rods? The Pyongyang administration claims it unsealed the nuclear reactor in Yongbyong because it needs to generate electricity to solve its energy crisis, but as the Japan Times observed, the reactor has a “meager” capacity of just 5 megawatts, and “no power cables are installed there yet.” Papers around the world agreed North Korea is engaging in “brinkmanship” in order to get the United States to the negotiating table. The Sydney Morning Herald concluded, “Pyongyang is seeking an assurance of its own continuing existence in the form of an agreement which protects it from the kind of ‘regime change’ the US has planned for Iraq.”

An op-ed in the Australian said, “North Korea is behaving ever more outrageously, hoping to be rewarded for behaving slightly less vilely.” Noting the recent anti-American mood in South Korea, which climaxed with the election last week of Roh Moo-hyun, the piece warned that “given Seoul’s feckless behaviour, some hardheads in the US would welcome an invitation to withdraw US forces from the peninsula.”

Britain’s Daily Telegraph worried that North Korea’s recent actions represent a miscalculation by reclusive President Kim Jong-il, who “does not understand how the West works and, in particular, that President Bush may not behave the same way as his predecessor. During Mr Clinton’s first term in office North Korea secured perhaps the best deal in its 50 years of international blackmail: the 1994 Framework Agreement.”

The Japan Times agreed that North Korea’s actions are irrational—”It seems hooked … on off-key diplomacy that makes a mockery of international treaties and agreements”—but its editorial urged Japan, South Korea, and the United States not to offer any concessions to Pyongyang. The Times of London concurred:

It … falls to the US, China and Russia to demonstrate that North Korea’s tactics will not work. If Pyongyang is given further reason to believe that its policy of irresponsible threat and insincere blandishment can work, then it will continue to pursue its nuclear ambitions to make future blackmail more effective and it will persist in its policy of destabilising East Asia.