Saturday, March 01, 2008

Does North Korea Have a Better Reason for Nukes?

Professor Hideshi Takesada, Executive Director of the National Institute for Defense Studies (NIDS) of the Japanese Ministry of Defense (MOD), gave an on-the-record talk on February 29 at Temple University, Tokyo Campus. When veteran journalist Sam Jameson referred to North Korea’s extensive network of underground tunnels and warrens and asked how the US could ever hope to verify any claims and acts by North Korea with regard to its WMD and missile programs under the Six-Party process, Mr. Takesada appeared to agree with the implications of Mr. Jameson’s question and wondered why the Bush administration ever thought that it was doable. He also appeared to favor the interpretation of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program as an integral part of a scenario where North Korea uses a nuclear arsenal as a deterrent against US intervention while it makes a last-ditch effort to unify the Koreas on its own terms by using the threat of a conventional war against its southern neighbor before it loses its (self-perceived?) superiority in conventional warfare by way of its special forces. If we follow the implications of Mr. Takesada's comments to their ultimate conclusion, it means that North Korea can and will continue its WMD program regardless of anything coming out of the Six-Party talks.

Now Mr. Takesada did come not out and issue an outright rejection of Chris Hill’s efforts nor did he offer an unequivocal endorsement of the doomsday scenario. Besides, he is not a government spokesman and, if US military colleges are any indication, his views do not necessarily mirror the majority view within the Japanese defense establishment. Still, at a minimum, his darkly skeptical comments highlight Japanese fears over the North Korean nuclear program. As I’ve mentioned before, there is a difference in Japanese and US interests here that goes well beyond mere nuance. The US fears proliferation; Japan is afraid of an attack. Seen in that light, Japan’s hard-line in the Six-Party talks cannot be explained away as a mere psychological hang-up over the abductees issue. After all, what works for the US may not work for Japan.

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