N. Korea loses its allies in effort to fill nuclear role

North Korea detonated a nuclear bomb underground Monday that Russian scientists said was comparable in power to those that obliterated Nagasaki and Hiroshima in World War II and followed up Tuesday by firing three short range missiles off its western coast.
International condemnation was widespread and included warnings from China and Russia, the only two nations of consequence to support North Korea’s anti-Western rhetoric and oppose strong U.N. sanctions in the past.
U.S. Ambassador Sus-an Rice, who represents the U.S. in the United Nations, pointed to China’s growing concern with North Korea’s nuclear bluster as a key to reining in Kim Jong II and his generals.
Food and other essentials pour across the Chinese border to the North Koreans because, some say, the alternative would be a flood of North Korean refugees fleeing into China to stay alive.
China can, therefore, put effective pressure on Kim to stop his nuclear and missile tests. For much the same reasons, South Korea has more leverage against the North than do other nations. It, too, continues to trade with its Communist cousins despite the thousands of rockets aimed from the highly fortified border. However, South Korea’s aid to the north was sharply reduced last year to pressure Kim to back off his nuclear program.
In a significant change, South Korea agreed last week to join a maritime web of more than 90 nations that intercept ships suspected of spreading weapons of mass destruction — a move North Korea warned would constitute an act of war.
North Korea’s nuclear test raises worries that it could act as a facilitator of the atomic ambitions of other nations and potentially even terrorists.
In an article in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, Gordon Chang, author of “Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World,” argues that Kim is flaunting his nuclear abilities to drum up business. Chang argues that Kim’s goals are:
“ ... he wants the international community to recognize his nation as a nuclear weapons state. Second, the regime seeks to destabilize the South Korean government of President Lee Myung-bak, who has taken a much tougher approach to Pyongyang than his two predecessors. Third, Kim wants additional assistance from international donors to alleviate the hardship caused by a turndown in the North Korean economy. And, as always, he hopes to bolster the popularity of his regime among hungry North Koreans and the senior generals whose backing he needs. .. “
Chang is only repeating the accepted wisdom among scholars of the region. What appears to be different this time is that North Korea has lost its primary supporters, Russia and China, and that South Korea has dropped its conciliatory stance and joined those determined to prevent Kim from selling nuclear technology to the highest bidder and, if necessary, to starve his regime into a full retreat.
The days ahead will give the United States and its Asian allies an opportunity to make dramatic progress on the challenge that Kim presents them all.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.