Zakaria: No time for hot-headed response to North Korea
April 10th, 2013
11:03 AM ET

Zakaria: No time for hot-headed response to North Korea

As speculation grows that a North Korean missile test could be imminent, discussion has turned to the question of whether the United States should shoot down any missile fired, even if it appears heading into the ocean.

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer speaks with Fareed Zakaria to get his take on the latest developments and why China is key to resolving the current tensions.

What do you make of Senator John McCain and some others who say if they launch a missile, shoot it down, intercept it, destroy it – even if it's heading into the middle of the water? Obviously if it's heading toward a populated area in Tokyo or Guam or South Korea, that goes without saying. But just knock it out to make a point?

I think it's a very good example of the difference between what a John McCain foreign policy would be and what President Obama’s has been.

President Obama throughout this has been trying to show some restraint, not to play into the kind of the yank your chain that the North Koreans are trying to do. The North Koreans are desperately trying to get attention, to get some kind of negotiations going, to get concessions. So they have been threatening, clearly like a child who keeps screaming and has not been paid attention to. They're screaming more and more loudly.

They have shut down the joint industrial park with the South Koreans, which was actually in many ways a bigger issue. They're doing more and more things to get noticed. Senator McCain's strategy would play into their hands. What they want is for the West to react to this, and then they can respond to what they would see as an act of provocation.

The trick here is to maintain some restraint, not to play into that dialogue, while at the same time reassuring the South Koreans and the Japanese, deterring the North Koreans. I think it would be precisely the wrong thing. It would be a kind of silly tit for tat that would escalate in an entirely unpredictable manner. I think it would be a kind of hot-headed response, when what we need right now are calm and steady nerves.

What do you make of the so-called New York channel? U.S. officials meeting with North Korean officials assigned to the United Nations in New York. Apparently nothing much came of that last meeting in March.

It's totally meaningless. In a regime like North Korea, the decisions are highly centralized. They are made at the very top. You have to be negotiating with those people.

Look, there are other countries that have representation in North Korea. And the crucial issue is, again, China. The real negotiation that has to take place is between Beijing and Pyongyang. The key person in that is Kim Jong Un's uncle, and that dialogue is one we are unfortunately not privy to.

So I think that the secretary of state going to China, the chairman of the joint chiefs going to China, helps a lot. But fundamentally, the Chinese need to understand that there is now great danger of instability on the Korean Peninsula and, yes, North Korea collapsing would be a big problem for China. It would be a big problem for the region.

But even if North Korea doesn't collapse, there's a danger of instability anyway, and North Korea has now become the driver of that instability. So simply propping up this terrible regime is not going to work. The Chinese still have not come to that conclusion.

At the end of the day, the Chinese believe stability means propping up this regime. What we have to convince them – and this is the task for John Kerry; this is the task for General Dempsey – is to convince the Chinese that stability means in some way resolving this completely weird, irrational, unpredictable regime, reining it in. Because otherwise, it's not just the North Koreans who do something; the South Koreans might react; the Japanese might react. We need to get China on board.

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Topics: China • Military • North Korea • Nuclear

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soundoff (148 Responses)
  1. johnny vistar

    Thank goodness for President Obama's cool head and intelligence. I can imagine horribly what McCain would do if he was President.

    Sometimes you don't need to invade, and destroy a country the Bush Jr way, just to get rid of a few bad apples. All it took was cool head, good diplomacy and intelligence to kill the elusive an enemy like Osama bin laden.

    April 17, 2013 at 10:45 pm | Reply
  2. lweba

    After all the noise coming out of NK, Kim does not sound to me to be suicidal!

    April 24, 2013 at 3:58 am | Reply
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    China has more contracts in the world for it's resources than any other country. It has more honor students than the entire US population. They internally Communist, externally capitalists. They are the greatest power in the world, and the real bigger threat than North Korea.

    April 24, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Reply
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