By Jason Miks
South Korean media has reported today that two medium-range missiles have been loaded onto mobile launchers along North Korea’s east coast, and that they are ready to be launched. The report comes at the end of another tense weak on the Korean Peninsula that has seen an announcement by the U.S. that it is sending missile defenses to Guam and a North Korean statement that its army has final approval for nuclear strikes against the United States.
In a Situation Room special, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer spoke with Fareed Zakaria to get his take on North Korea’s rhetoric, how serious the latest threats are, and China’s potential role in easing tensions.
Is it time to send some sort of diplomatic envoy to Pyongyang on behalf of the president of the United States?
Well, the Bush administration actually did try diplomacy. They signed two agreements with the North Koreans. Plenty of people did. The problem is that they cheat on them. They've cheated on every one of these.
There's only one country with whom diplomacy would work with North Korea, and that's China. The Chinese make up by some estimates 50 percent of North Korea's food, and about 80 percent of its fuel. There are people in China who literally opened the taps and allowed North Korea to survive.
The problem is the Chinese have never thought that they could put the real pressure on the North Koreans without danger of the regime collapsing. So as for the Chinese, they worry about all this stuff. They don't like this unpredictability of this regime. But they don't want to see a North Korean collapse.
What would that mean? It would mean that millions of refugees would pour into China. But, more importantly, it means almost inevitably the unification of the Koreas, North and South, in the kind of East German/West German style but on South Korean terms. So, here's what you would have on China's border – a very large Korea, with Seoul as its capital, with about 30,000 American troops, a treaty alliance with the United States and nuclear weapons.
The fear is that there could be a miscalculation – even though no one thinks North Korea is suicidal, that they know they would be destroyed if they were to do something drastic. But if there were an incident, and the new government in South Korea responded, who knows what would happen?
That's exactly right. The problem is, imagine that one of these missiles is launched, the KN-08 missiles. They don't have nuclear warheads small enough to put on them, so they would be high explosive. But they launch it into the sky. We have destroyers that have Aegis phased array radars, track them, we fire our own missile, the SM-3, to intercept and destroy it.
Then, the North Koreans feel that they have lost face. They have to do something. They start attacking South Korean patrol boats.
You see, that's the danger. Nobody wants this to happen.
When I heard that Dennis Rodman was going, I couldn't believe it. I don't know about you, but you can't make this kind of stuff up.
You can't make it up. They reportedly wanted Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan, perhaps wisely, decided not to be part of it.
You know what partly this tells you, to add to the complexity of this story, is this 29-year-old boy, Kim Jong Un, is probably not running national security strategy. The guy is a few months in the job. There's a military dictatorship. He's fully in control of basketball policy for North Korea. But national security policy's probably being controlled by very senior generals.
He is the son, though, of Kim Jong Il, the grandson of founder of North Korea, so the power he has potentially is enormous.
Enormous, and it unifies the country, and it keeps the regime intact. But probably behind the scenes there are people actually pulling the strings, which makes it more complicated, because there are probably multiple centers of power here.
Where do you see this going, bottom line?
Bottom line, I think they will be deterred. I think they're trying to get attention. They're trying to get concessions. The Obama administration is probably not going to do it. So we'll probably ride this out. But as you said at the start, there have been miscalculations here.
For more of Fareed's take on North Korea, read his Washington Post column here.