Politics & Policy

Pyongyang Blues

On the North Korean situation.

You have to face it, the North Koreans are a piece of work. In the last few weeks they have 1) airily announced that they were back at work reprocessing uranium, in violation of the understanding of 1994, which understanding we backed up by shiploads of oil; 2) announced that remonstrances by the United States are merely cover for our imperial designs; 3) declared that they would agree to suspend their nuclear program if the United States concluded a non-aggression pact with Pyongyang; and 4) just now, announced that they were withdrawing from the Nonproliferation Treaty effective immediately.

To withdraw from the treaty “effective immediately” is a violation of the treaty, which requires serving 90 days’ advance warning. The North Koreans drool on such bourgeois bureaucratic objections, advising that when they set out to withdraw from that treaty in 1993, they in effect served the 90-day notice required by the treaty. That 1993 notice was merely sitting there in abeyance, like good wine waiting to be served when mature. There is a mind-boggling fog generated by these averrals. You guarantee A in 1993, suspend A in 1994, renew A in 2002, affirm non-A in 2003: The blur has a way of mystifying thought.

And the only thought one needs to keep in mind is that Kim Jr. is as unreliable as his father and that the feints and threats and digressions mean very little, but that we can parse a strategic design. It is that the North Koreans will use their repository, which may actually include one nuclear bomb or two, in order to press their concerns. These include enfeebling the South Koreans (which could be done by alienating the United States to the point of withdrawing our two divisions there), getting oil, and appeasing China.

We read that an effort by the South Koreans, backed by the United States, is being made to penetrate North Korean ignorance by circulating radios that receive South Korean broadcasts. The radios currently in use in the north receive, like crystal sets, only pre-designated transmissions, in this case, authorized government broadcasters. This means hour upon hour of official propaganda aimed at stressing the need for strenuous military activity as a defensive imperative and as testimony to national integrity. Radios that are sent into the country are emasculated: Solder is used to keep the dial out of reach of external temptresses. I recall a train ride in 1970 from Moscow to Leningrad. We boarded at 7 P.M. and the radio in our private compartment was on. I reached to turn it off, but the knob was not functioning. I called “Ninotchka,” who came in and through her surliness managed to convey that the radio station could not be turned off, nor the volume diminished, that it would cease broadcasting whenever it was turned off by the broadcasting station, which turned out to be about 10 P.M.

But we discovered from the Orwellian USSR that penetration by external news, however important, could not be counted on to change fixed government policies. This was clearest of all in Berlin. In the Eighties it was estimated that 90 percent of East Berliners got their television news from West Berlin: It had become a practical impossibility to block transmissions from the West. But another decade was needed before glasnost set in, and the Wall came down. In North Korea there isn’t that kind of time, and to disengage the North Koreans from 50 years of paranoia and internal terror is going to take more time than we can safely count upon.

Now our official position is that we will not bargain with Pyongyang until it demobilizes its nuclear plants. And we know enough, finally, that only tactile inspection of North Korean nuclear facilities can confirm that the threat is removed. How to get to do this is, of course, the problem. Our weapons are oil, food, pressures on China, antimissile deployment in Japan, and nuclear submarines. We need also, always, to remind ourselves how jejune are treaties with hostile powers that can’t be relied upon to keep them.


The Latest