Gadhafi to Kim: North wont give up nukes
So it’s come to this.
A wave of public protest washes across North Africa and the Middle East, toppling some dictators, giving others a serious case of the vapors and then receding ― but leaving hopes for democracy in its wake. Naturally, there is a holdout. As the bodies pile up, a defiant Libya ― or more precisely, Colonel Moammar Gadhafi ― faces off against the world.
The strategy of the global community (as far as I can discern it) seems to be to: take Gadhafi out with air strikes; hope the aerial bombardment convinces a hitman within his inner circle to put a bullet through the colonel’s skull; or perhaps use the bombs to soften up Gadhafi before wading in on the ground.
Whether any of these will eventuate is unclear, but there is one thing the now-defunct and much-lambasted Bush and Blair administrations should be thanked for: London and Washington negotiated Gadhafi out of his most effective deterrent against state military intervention.
A gentlemanly agreement in London’s Pall Mall club resulted in the denuclearization of Tripoli in 2003. The invasion of Iraq had been the stick; the lifting of sanctions and the opening of the global community’s doors to Tripoli, the carrot. Foreign investors, eager for oil, flooded in. Critics cried foul ― “How can we do business with this thug?” ― but the future looked promising.
Then, from out of nowhere, came the tsunami of popular protest that has rocked Middle Eastern capitals. The democracies’ support for Gadhafi evaporated as events showed that the colonel had not changed his stripes (And he is willing to fight to the last drop of Libyan blood to prove it.)
Yet while critics lash the Blairites and Bushies for shaking hands with this murderous man, at least they removed his most murderous tool. And that has limited Gadhafi’s retaliatory options against the states arrayed against him.
As any student of military history knows, air power does not win wars: Only infantry can take and hold terrain. The longer this situation goes on, the more likely it will be that foreign boots (probably size 10, special forces, mark 1) will indeed, land on Libyan sand.
I suspect the Pentagon is dusting off its operational reports from the 2001 toppling of the Taliban, one of the most brilliant military campaigns of modern history.
Though U.S. airpower was credited with the win, it was the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance ― buttressed with embedded U.S. and U.K. advisors, setting strategy and calling in air strikes ― who actually took the ground. Could a similar strategy work with the Libyan rebels in place of the Northern Alliance? We shall see.
Let us shift our attention eastwards. No wave of popular protest is likely to appear against Kim Jong-il, for North Korea is a far more successfully repressive state than the other Asian pariah with which it is frequently compared, Myanmar. There, Aung San Suu Kyi was disempowered and kept under house arrest for years, to the righteous indignation of her supporters and the global community.
In North Korea, no opposition figure even exists. Ergo, nor does support for one.
Given the lack of either a grassroots anti-regime movement or a charismatic figure who can lead one, the chances of an uprising in Pyongyang appear remote, if not impossible. So what is the Dear Leader thinking as he sits watching Gadhafi’s defiance of the world play across the TV set in his command bunker/wine cellar?
I’d imagine he is congratulating himself on his iron-fisted control of his populace. And I suspect he is patting himself on the back for another reason. If ― very big “if” ― his grip did slip and an anti-Dear Leader movement did, somehow, arise, the chances of green berets and stealth bombers being deployed to assist it are almost nil, for unlike Gadhafi, Kim has maintained a top-tier deterrent.
Kim’s nuclear arsenal obviates any significant military action against him by other states. Pyongyang’s current technological backwardness ― it has not yet developed a true intercontinental ballistic missile, nor, is it believed, has it managed to warheadize fissile materials ― is no restraint: Kim, a brilliant player of asymmetric poker, does not require missiles to deliver his nukes.
Should the U.S. or its allies institute serious military moves against him, Kim can simply ship a pile of fissile materials aboard a trawler or submarine and detonate it in the East Sea. A warning like that would almost certainly force a terrified world to cease and desist.
Of course, the above discussion is largely moot. Despite the hundreds of thousands of diplomatic man hours, the oceans of ink and the miles of celluloid expended on this issue, I know of not a single North Korean expert who believes that Pyongyang will, or ever has, seriously consider giving up its nuclear weapons, regardless of what the world offers in return. The unfolding Libyan saga is only likely to further cement Kim’s belief in the wisdom of his strategy.
The broader question for the rest of the world, which we will likely see an answer to (or not) in coming weeks, is this: “How does one depose a deeply entrenched dictator without plunging his nation into bloody chaos and/or civil war?”
Alas, the point where that might have been possible has, in the Libyan case, probably already evaporated.
Andrew Salmon is a Seoul-based journalist and author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.