Monday, July 03, 2006

North Korea's Convenience Store Hold-Up Moves Us to DEFCON 3

Anyone who remembers the movie War Games will remember that after hacking into a military computer at NORAD and playing a little "Global Thermonuclear Warfare", Matthew Broderick's character brought us from a nice happy DEFCON 5 to a less than comfortable DEFCON 4, meaning something's up and we're not really all that happy about it.

But Kim Jong Il has worked us up to about a DEFCON 3. (H.T. Drudge)

NORAD actually uses a four-tier system, and right now, we are at a "Bravo-plus", meaning that we're thinking that the conditions for somebody making an ill-advised decision are ripe.

And when we have rhetoric from North Korea of the type that speaks in terms of nuclear war, with missiles capable of reaching the United States preparing for testing, it's the kind of thing that gets our military a little jittery. And it's the kind of talk that really has no place in international discourse unless one is really itching for a fight.

And while the Cold War was a uniquely unpleasant time, and while the Soviets were an ambitious and cruel bunch, they ultimately sought to dominate the world by conventional means. They likely wouldn't have invaded Afghanistan to move south towards a warm water port otherwise. They understood that the world isn't worth dominating if it is an uninhabitable radioactive wasteland, and the hand on the trigger was almost always a steady one. But Kim's calculus is a little different.

Kim cannot seriously aspire to world domination. The nation under his rule is the most closed state on earth. His people are starving while he lives richly and while his nation operates a nuclear weapons program. And his nation is so underdeveloped that he needs to blackmail the civilized world to obtain the supplies he wants. But like a guy holding up a convenience store, he wants real-world relevance and respect. And by threatening a test launch of a missile capable of reaching the U.S., he is doing the equivalent of making a demand for a suitcase with a million dollars, a ride to the airport and a private plane to take him to Mexico. The downside of such a deal is that police generally take a dim view of robbers, and if the opportunity for a shot on the gunman comes, they will often take it to end the standoff, with the troublemaker's blood being on his own hands.

In this case, though, the world community treats outlaws like misbehaving little children who need a time-out, rather than the grown up and dangerous individuals they are. Granted, Kim's threat of nuclear war is pretty laughable. It's one thing to build a nuclear device. It's quite another to mate it to a missile and make it work properly--having rocket science and nuclear science doesn't necessarily mean that you can get them to work together. But it's very easy to imagine that they could use lower tech means of delivering such a device to our ally South Korea. Which means that the gunman in the store has a hostage he really doesn't care about killing. Because the gunman himself is more than just a little crazy.

And while the world and the Bush Administration continue to talk about talks that won't happen, which will have zero affect even if they did, and propose various undeserved and ridiculous concessions that do nothing but reward Kim's blackmail, one hopes that the Administration has a significantly different plan for the resolution of the Kim Jong Il problem.

Because the police aren't afraid to have a sniper take out the gunman to end the standoff. Nor do we owe any particular courtesies to a nation that threatens South Korea, North Korea, Japan, and now our own soil.

And while Kim threatens retaliation in the face of a preemptive strike, a few things are a little hard to ignore: Kim won't be able to respond to any kind of first strike launched by the United States because he won't see it coming, and after a preemptive hit he won't have anything left with which to shoot. But it's a harder thing to stop him once he is in the business of launching missiles. And THREATCON Bravo plus is not the position we want to be in, as we wait for Kim to make the first unpredictable move.

We've been winning the War on Terror because we've managed to address the threats in the places from which they materialized. To treat Kim as anything more than a terrorist, regardless of the technical fact that he is a head of state, is foolishness.

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