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North Korea is China's borrowed knife

By Alan Caruba
web posted March 7, 2005

It just never fails to amaze me how, throughout history and, in particular, the last century, nations great and small saw what was coming and yet were unable or unwilling to stop two world wars and an endless spate of smaller, but no less deadly conflicts. Which brings us to today where we peer across the vast Pacific Ocean at North Korea and wonder whether its leader is insane enough to launch a nuclear-armed missile at us or maybe just at South Korea or Japan?

That's the kind of calculus the President has to make every day while the rest of us must depend on the following kind of reporting out of Beijing. It was February 18th and Elaine Kurtenbach of the Associated Press wrote, "China said yesterday it will send a top Communist Party official to North Korea for talks in an effort to break the stalemate over the North's nuclear program, but Beijing urged its diplomatic partners to be patient as it deals with the volatile country, a longtime ally." She went on to say that, "China, the North's biggest backer and major source of aid to the impoverished country, has been wary of openly testing its influence on Pyongyang." Wary?

This is what passes for informed reporting. The only problem is that, when China says, "jump", North Korea says "How high?" Pyongyang is owned lock, stock and barrel by China. It was originally the creation of the former Soviet Union's dictator, Stalin, who picked Kim Il Sung, the father of the current despot, Kim Jong Il, to aid the expansion of the USSR with an audacious attack on the South, on June 24, 1950.

The US paid the price of not fully understanding Stalin's intention to enlarge the reach and grip of the USSR following the end of the World War II. Roosevelt and Truman had already ceded the whole of Eastern Europe to him and, in Asia the US had demobilized its own troop strength and failed to arm the South Koreans for fear they might try to liberate their families and countrymen to the North. Suffice it to say, just like 9-11, the attack came as a complete surprise to Washington, DC.

If you want to know what we're really up against with the Chinese and North Koreans, read William C. Triplett II's new book, Rogue State: How Nuclear North Korea Threatens America ($27.95, Regnery Publishing Co.) Triplett is a veteran national security specialist. If you do read his book, you will discover that North Korean warheads could hit American soil, that North Korea is selling nuclear weapons technology to terrorist states and groups, and that Kim Jung Il is, among other nasty things, training Arab terrorists and others with an eye to sabotaging Japan's nuclear power plants and doing all kinds of other mischief.

Put plainly, Red China will determine what North Korea will do and has, for decades, supported its most aggressive, criminal instincts. The Korean conflict ended in a truce, but only after Red China had committed thousands of its own troops in an effort to turn the tide. Why would we not consider that its desire for hegemony in its part of the world might not also include plans for even greater expansion? History demonstrates that no arms agreement with a rogue state is worth the paper on which it is printed.

However, Triplett warns, "Short of imminent and confirmed threat to the United States or its allies, America should not initiate hostilities in Korea. One strong reason is that North Korea has enough forces in place, particularly missiles and long-range artillery to damage large parts of South Korea."

That's very different advice from the calls to somehow find and destroy North Korea's nuclear weapons facilities, presumably eliminating that threat. The fact is that North Korea has more than one million men on active duty and almost five million reserves. That makes it the fourth largest armed force in the world. It is an army supplied by an extensive and expensive network of underground arms factories and depots.

In recent weeks, Japan, which has long taken a passive, self-defensive stance as regards its military, signaled that, if Red China were to try to make good on its threats against Taiwan, it would join with the United States in defense of that island nation. That is a good thing. It swings the power equation in the right direction and one suspects decisions have already been made to put Japan on an equal military footing with others in its neighborhood. Dependence on the US military power will give way to a renewed sense of nationhood and the need to hold its own in the face of threats by North Korea and Red China. Most certainly, the "One China" fiction that Taiwan should be treated as a non-nation needs to end as official US policy.

North Korea is called "China's borrowed knife" because it is the instrument Beijing can use while hiding behind the mask of diplomacy. It is the Chinese proxy and anything you read or hear about North Korea reflects Beijing's worst intentions. Triplett warns that the Bush administration has "no endgame strategy" to deal with North Korea, does nothing to punish its open aggression and provocations, and has not determined how to link diplomacy with Red China to whatever diplomacy is possible with North Korea.

If history is any indicator -- and it always is -- then sooner or later North Korea will do something just as surprising as it did in June 1950. Right now it is selling ballistic missiles to Pakistan, Iran, and Syria while helping those nations develop their own missile systems. Right now its missiles threaten Japan and South Korea. And they are able to hit the US West Coast. The difference between 1950 and now would be measured in how many would die.

And the news only gets worse. The European Union has announced it intends to sell weapons to Red China, ignoring a long embargo against it.

Just as the Associated Press reporter appeared to think that North Korea was an independent nation over which Red China had little control, this view has its advocates, says Triplett, in the US State Department. Fortunately, the Pentagon has been planning for decades for the possibility of war with North Korea and, if necessary, Red China. For that we will need many more divisions than we currently maintain. Yet that is the only option we have at present other than to wait patiently to find out what North Korea and Red China intend to do.

Alan Caruba writes a weekly commentary, "Warning Signs", posted on the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center. © Alan Caruba, March 2005


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