Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Woke up this morning to find that our friends in P’yôngyang have test launched a number of missiles. The early reports couldn't seem to decide on exactly how many--three? five? seven? ten?--or on the exact nature of each (although the consensus appears to be that the long-range Taepodong failed soon after launch).

One obviously significant question is why did the powers that be in North Korea want to do this? Here's what one expert concludes:
"North Korea wants to get the U.S. to direct bilateral negotiations by using the missile card," said Paik Hak-soon, a North Korea expert at the Seoul-based Sejong Institute. "Timing the launch date on July 4 is an attempt to apply maximum pressure on the U.S. government."

Those who watch Korea have heard this all before. They have probably also taken part in discussions about whether the current six-party or direct bilateral talks are more likely to avoid a confrontation and perhaps even lead to a solution.

The question I have this morning is: "Why would North Korea prefer direct bilateral talks to the current six-party ones?" It is evident that both South Korea and China have played a role in restraining or resisting the hard-line impulses of the Americans. So why would P’yôngyang want to go tete a tete with the very group that appears least willing to compromise?

As to the ‘why,’ I think I have a good idea; disengagement, that is, they don’t want talks to continue and cannot accept concessions under the conditions that would be attached to those concessions (invasive inspections, etc.).

How the dynamics of the cult aspect of the regime affects decision making does require some detailed explanation, the main gist being that the cult (foundation of the regimes authority) would be threatened by the amount of outside information (ideological contamination) that would be expected with the conditions that would be attached to any realistic ‘package deal’ that might be hammered out. For the regime, that is unacceptable (unlike the no-strings-attached ROK aid), hence a policy of ‘strategic disengagement.’ It’s a long post, but fully explains the theory (will get an update within the next week).

With those two posts as background, I judge the launch to be a complete failure (in addition to the technial issues) as it was unnecessary, gave U.S. intelligence data, and may have hurt their missile export business in the long run (actually many of their export missiles have know issues and are not as prized as once believed – the TD-2 failure can only reinforce that, even if completely different systems).
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