NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
A Taepodong-2 missile sits on a launching pad in North Korea, fueled and ready for a test flight that's prompted warnings and appeals from South Korea, China, Japan, and the United States. The missile is believed to have the range to strike parts of the United States. And while North Korea is also believed to have nuclear weapons, experts say they probably have not been able to make one small and light enough for a missile - not yet, anyway.
The North fired one of these missiles earlier on a flight over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean in 1998. Since then, its operated under a self-imposed moratorium, which it lifted earlier this week. A statement said that North Korea has every right to develop, test, and sell ballistic missiles, but added that Pyongyang was ready to talk directly with Washington about the U.S. concerns. The United States rejected that offer. U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said, You don't normally engage in conversations by threatening to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles. And he called on North Korea to return to the six-nation talks.
Those negotiations have been stalled for months now, and at this point, it's not clear what North Korea hopes to accomplish by firing, or by not firing, its missile. U.S. officials say there would be a response if a missile was launched, but they don't say what it would be.
Later in the program, former weapons inspector Charles Deulfer on the discovery of chemical weapons in Iraq, and Ariel Dorfman on the world premier of his new play, Picasso's Closet.
But first, the latest round of brinkmanship with North Korea. If you have questions about what's happening and why, our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Green joins us now. He served as a special assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and senior director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council, from January 2004 to December 2005. He's now senior adviser and Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and associate professor at Georgetown University. He's with us from the offices of CSIS here in Washington.
It's not to have you on the program today.
Mr. MICHAEL GREEN (Senior Adviser and Japan Chair, Center for Strategic and International Studies): Thank you.
CONAN: The U.S. said no to direct talks with North Korea. What's the thinking behind that response?
Mr. GREEN: Well, as you quoted John Bolton saying earlier, you don't normally engage in bilateral negotiations after the other side threatens to shoot a missile at you. In the six-party talks, the U.S. delegation has had ample opportunities - and I was involved in some of them - to talk to the North Koreans.
Mr. GREEN: In that context. If the North Koreans are ready to come back to the six-party talks, they can have plenty of discussions with Washington. But the administration is understandably not going to agree to a separate special negotiation for them, because they're threatening us.
CONAN: The theory being, as you suggested, within the context of the six-party talks, there are opportunities for bilateral discussions, if that should be warranted. And do you think that what North Korea is doing here is just trying to open a direct avenue for negotiations with Washington?
Mr. GREEN: Well, it may not have been how it started. I think the North Koreans went down this path of threatening and preparing to launch the Taepodong because they were not happy with where they were strategically. There was a statement out of the six-parties, including North Korea last September, in which everyone, including North Korea, said their nuclear weapons and nuclear programs had to end. I think they're having buyer's remorse.
They're also unhappy, I suspect, that South Korea is not delivering as much aid as they had hoped, and that the U.S. and other countries are cracking down on one of their main sources of cash, which is the export of drugs and counterfeit money.
Mr. GREEN: So looking down the road, they're not happy with where they are. And often, North Korea manufactures more tension and crisis to try to renegotiate the whole deal. If they can get out of it, a bilateral process with the U.S., that's always most advantageous for them. They can use it to argue that the whole problem is the Americans, to try to weaken the role of the other parties in the region who have the real levers, because they trade more and engage more with North Korea.
But I think that that bid is going to fail. You've heard very tough language, not out of Japan alone...
Mr. GREEN: ...which you would expect, but also out of China, Russia, and South Korea. So they maybe trying to back away and try to find some face-saving way out. We'll see.
CONAN: Well, we will see, indeed. What are the range of U.S. options if - and, indeed, its U.S. allies options, as well - if North Korea does go ahead and fire this missile, we suspect over Japan, into the Pacific towards the United States?
Mr. GREEN: Well, militarily, one option was put forward by former Secretary of Defense, Bill Perry, in The Washington Post this morning. He said we ought to shoot the thing and blow it up while it's still on the tarmac. We could do that, militarily. The North Koreans are doing all this in full view of our satellites, because they want to get our attention so we could take it out. I think it would have a very negative affect on the diplomacy in the region and we would end up worse off if we did it, though.
Another option talked about is using our missile defense system, which is still in the testing phase. But we're close enough to being operational that they could stand it up and use it. It's effective, its worked in tests, but this would be the first live option, if you will.
Mr. GREEN: So that has some risk. Really, the best approach is diplomatic. And I think the North Koreans have inadvertently opened up a new opportunity to start pulling the parties together. We have an agreement in principle, that North Korea should dismantle all its weapons, and that we should all, the rest of us, engage them and help them economically. But what we don't have, is what we have in Iran, which is a deadline and some consequences, if North Korea doesn't take us up on it.
And I think what the administration should be doing, and probably will do, is take advantage of North Korea's misstep to start building that kind of timetable; and also consequences, if North Korea doesn't step up.
CONAN: Well, joining us now is Han Park. He's a political science professor and director of the Center for the Study of Global Issues at the University of Georgia, in Athens, author of North Korea: The Politics of Unconventional Wisdom. He's been to North Korea many times. He's with us now from the studios of member station WUGA in Athens, Georgia.
And good to have you back on the program.
Professor HAN S. PARK (Director, Center for the Study of Global Issues, University of Georgia): Thank you for having me here.
CONAN: And in terms of what North Korea is up to and what it hopes to accomplish now, what do you think?
Prof. PARK: Basically, they are trying to accomplish two facts. One, they have the delivery capability, the technology. Not only do they have weapons, but also, they have the delivery capability. That's what they want to establish.
Prof. PARK: Especially by the military faction within the country. On the other hand, the civilian, especially Foreign Ministry people, would like to use this as a leverage for negotiation. So basically, bargaining leverage, and establishing the military capability and let it be known. So these are the main motives.
CONAN: And so they see this as a win-win. They get to find out if their missiles work pretty well. And they get to maybe get a lever to reopen negotiations.
Prof. PARK: Well, if the only sure deterrence would be their less than complete confidence in their technology. If they feel that this launching may end up in some kind of failure, then that would be detrimental to them.
Prof. PARK: So, although, it's a launching pad and all that, actually, I'm not quite sure if they will launch. If they - I don't think they will be deterred by American or neighboring countries' influence. If anything, they will be deterred by their lack of self-confidence in technology.
CONAN: Would it be easy, having set up the missile; fueled the missile; gotten it ready for the test; issued the statement saying we have every right to test this missile; would it be easier for them if they decided to do so, to climb down and not fire it?
Prof. PARK: Then, I think, would be that they will put in a pretty bad situation. Then they're bluffing and they're not really doing, actually, following up their, their threats. So I think they will be hard pressed to actually go ahead and test it. So the - going back to the option situation, I think the destroying - as some other people, Perry, as well others have suggested - and that is going to be a disaster, in terms of regional stability, in terms of American prestige in the region.
I think that that is unacceptable. Furthermore, North Korea has retaliatory capability and willingness to do something about. North Korea is not, militarily, a pushover. And negotiation, I agree with Mr. Green, that that's the only way. In order to have that happen, the Bush Administration must be consider toning down on the issues of counterfeiting and so forth. But that's the only way.
Prof. PARK: But, however, there's a third...
CONAN: How - now what...?
Prof. PARK: ...option. Yeah?
CONAN: Go ahead.
Prof. PARK: The third option is do nothing.
CONAN: And the third option is doing nothing.
Prof. PARK: Doing nothing, and most likely, that option will be played out.
CONAN: The six-party talks were sort of broken off after North Korea objected to, as you said, U.S. statements about their counterfeiting and their...
Prof. PARK: Mm hmm.
CONAN: ...engagement in drugs. Isn't - aren't they involved in counterfeiting and drugs?
Prof. PARK: That is - you know, certainly, they are denying that. We do not have, although we have circumstantial ample evidence - trafficking, possession of these monies and so forth - but we do not have, it seems to me, direct, hard evidence, evidence for North Korean political high level involvement in actual manufacturing of these counterfeit monies.
CONAN: Let me ask Michael Green about that. Would you agree with what Professor Park just said?
Mr. GREEN: Well, I think the evidence is quite strong that the state is involved. Manufacturing the $100 super note is something that only a state, with its apparatus, with its ink and its dyes, and so forth could do. And the fact that North Koreans are involved, and that countries are worried about it, I think is clear in the Chinese willingness to let our people go into this one bank in Macau and investigate the records and so forth.
I'm not sure how - you know, we have to enforce the law. It's not really an option for an American government to say we're going to give North Korea a pass on drug exports and counterfeit money. But there are options to send positive signals. And in addition to getting other countries to press North Korea, I think Professor Park is right, in that we do need to find some face-saving way for them to come back into the talks after they come under pressure from the other parties to do so.
CONAN: But is that...
Mr. GREEN: I don't think it's in the area of the drugs and counterfeit money.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Go ahead.
Prof. PARK: The - yeah, the drugs and counterfeit money, all these issues are serious and international crimes. But what is involved in here is some $15 to $20 million counterfeit monies we're talking about. If North Korea is to take part politically at the highest levels, this is too small an amount for them to work with. Of course, it - we can deal with, but this should not be confused with the bigger issue of nuclear problem. So I think this should be tabled and this should be discussed separately.
CONAN: And Professor Park also mentioned an op-ed piece by former Secretary of Defense, William Perry, and his former assistant, Ashton Carter, who did suggest a strike to knock down, knock out the missile on its launching pad before it begins. The administration officials asked about that said, well, it's technically possible, but that they see diplomacy right now as, by far, the best option.
We're going to take more - take some of your calls on this question when we come back from a short break. If you'd like to join us, the number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK; the e-mail is email@example.com. I'm Neal Conan. This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
North Korea readied, fueled, and threatens to launch a long-rage missile capable of reaching parts of the United States. We're talking about what North Korea may be trying to accomplish with this new round of brinksmanship, and how the world, and especially the United States might respond.
Our guests are Han Park, a political science professor and Director of the Center for the Study of Global Issues at the University of Georgia, and Michael Green, who worked on national security affairs at the White House, earlier in the Bush administration.
Of course, you're invited to join us, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK; e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. And let's get a question in from Christine, Christine's calling from St. Louis.
CHRISTINE (Caller): Hello?
CONAN: Hi, you're on the air, Christine. Go ahead, please.
CHRISTINE: Oh thank you. Yes, I was wondering: we have tested missiles on - or weapons - I'm sure, in the past, and is testing a weapon con - does that constitute an act of aggression, as it's been framed by Secretary Bolton?
CONAN: Ambassador Bolton, but anyway, Michael Green?
Mr. GREEN: Technically, there are things you're supposed to do if you're launching a peaceful space vehicle. You notify various international agencies and so forth. North Korea tends not to do those, and it's not clear whether they would this time or not. But in this case, North Korea has announced it has a nuclear deterrent. It's not afraid to use it. It is demonstrating it. So it's clearly taking a belligerent and threatening tone, which puts it outside of the pale, and beyond, I think, comparisons to other weapons tests by other countries where people abide by the international rules you have to follow, and clearly, you know, are - take diplomatic efforts to not cause tension by doing some.
CONAN: A glance at the map suggests that there's almost no way North Korea can launch this missile towards the Pacific without sending it over Japanese territory. And is - does that comprise a violation of any sort?
Mr. GREEN: The Japanese have an agreement with North Korea that they won't launch any missiles. So it would violate a pledge that Kim Jong-Il made twice to Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan. And the effect in Japan will be huge. There'll be - they're already mad at North Korea because the North Koreans have abducted their, you know, children...
Mr. GREEN: ...off of their streets, and so forth. And this on top of that will really have an effect in Japan.
CONAN: Han Park, the South Korean capital, Seoul, is within range of North Korean artillery. They don't need missiles to reach it. What would be the effect of this missile test in South Korea?
Prof. PARK: Well certainly, they side with the United States on the -politically on that issue. However, to this date President Roh Moo-hyun has not issued any statement with this, with regard to this missile situation.
CONAN: His defense minister did, yes?
Prof. PARK: Defense and foreign minister, they did. But South Korea - to South Korea itself, it is more political than military. As you said, North Korea doesn't have to use missiles or weapons of mass destruction, for that matter. So politically, South Korea will be situated in an extremely embarrassing position.
As we all know, South Korea has tried to improve relations with the North, under the banner of, Sunshine Policy. As we speak, quite active economic interactions and personality exchanges. But with this, of course, the South Korean government will be in hard, hard position. And inter-Korean relations will be adversely affected.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Christine, thanks very much.
CHRISTINE: Thank you.
CONAN: Let's talk now with Tyler, Tyler's calling from Minneapolis.
TYLER (Caller): Hello?
CONAN: Hi, you're on the air.
TYLER: Hi, I was wondering what the significance of North Korea was for China, and why China is not as hard on North Korea as other countries are.
CONAN: Michael Green?
Mr. GREEN: China, of course, was a military ally of North Korea during the Korean War, and Chinese officials for a long time described their relationship as being like lips and teeth. As China plays more and more of a role in the world - that is expected by other countries to be a responsible player, or responsible stakeholder - they're coming under more pressure to do something about their neighbors, who they do support with a lot of trade and aid.
The Chinese view is that North Korean nuclear weapons are bad for China because it could cause Japan, or Taiwan, or Korea, or other countries to proliferate, and they worry about that. But they also worry about stability in the North. And when push comes to shove, they prefer to quietly warn the North Koreans and publicly try to calm everyone down and keep things stable. Because they worry about, you know, refugees pouring across the Yellow, into their own territory, and so forth. That's why you tend to hear a softer voice out of Beijing than out of the other countries. But this time, Beijing has been pretty tough.
CONAN: And, Professor Park, what do you think on this?
Prof. PARK: The regional arms race is something that North Korea is most afraid of. Once Japan goes nuclear, and China will respond to that, South Korea, Taiwan, and all these regional, regional economic powers will be engaged in, or driven into a regional arms race, with North Korea. The kind of economic base cannot compete with these. And, therefore, it seems to me that North Korea has vested interest right now. And they realize that this is the optimal time to cash in, so to speak, and then try to use this nuclear chip...
Prof. PARK: ...as a bargaining strategy. So I think they're willing to give up or give it away, nuclear programs away, if the price is right.
CONAN: If the price is right.
Prof. PARK: Right.
CONAN: They have also asserted in their statement earlier this week that they believe they have every right to sell ballistic missiles in the international market. They have done it before. Is this part of a marketing program?
Prof. PARK: I think, so far, the most lucrative source of foreign currency earning has been sales of military weapons. So I am - I have no doubt that they will try to look for buyers.
CONAN: Here's an e-mail question.
Tyler, by the way, thanks for the call.
TYLER: Thank you very much.
CONAN: Here's an e-mail question from Kathy in Meridian, Idaho:
Does the United States have missiles capable of hitting North Korea? Is there any place out of range of our missiles?
Mr. GREEN: That's an easy one. We have more than enough to deal with North Korea, should it come to that. But as you heard from the administration officials, the focus is on diplomacy.
CONAN: All right, let's see if we can get another caller in before - John, John calling from Grant's Pass in Oregon.
JOHN (Caller): Thanks. Shouldn't the Bush Administration welcome the Korean missile launch, as a chance to prove the billions of dollars we've poured in the Star Wars system has not been totally wasted?
CONAN: Michael Green, a set of interceptors has been installed in Alaska and, I think, one or two more in California?
JOHN: And isn't it more likely that if it's destroyed on the ground, the U.S. would destroy it in order to avoid another Star Wars failure embarrassment?
CONAN: Well why don't we take one question at a time, John?
CONAN: All right.
Mr. GREEN: Well, I think it's, you know, while Secretary Perry - the former defense secretary is very respected - I don't think the administration's going to follow his advice to attack the missile on the ground. Whether or not they decide to deploy and use the missile defense system out there now, I don't know. It is in the testing phase. It has, on several occasions, knocked missiles out of space, flying at several times the speed of sound. It works.
CONAN: But it's - still some scientists, as you know, question the validity of those tests.
Mr. GREEN: Well, they argue that if you had a more advanced Chinese missile where they could use decoys and other things it would be hard. But frankly, against North Korean missile, it would not be, technically, that much of a challenge. Their only real problem is that it's still in the testing phase and not fully operational, so you have to decide whether you want to, you know, roll it out and use it.
But the North Korean missile test, you know, it - I think it does reinforce the arguments of those who say we need, in addition to all the other defensive systems we have, something to deal with missiles launched by countries that are irrational and dangerous actors in the system.
CONAN: And John, at least citing the op-ed piece by Secretary Perry and former Assistant Secretary Ash Carter, their purpose for saying hit it on the ground, as opposed to knocking it down once it flight, is that if you hit it on the ground, the North Korean engineers don't get the feedback on the success of their rockets, or it doesn't help them build more rockets in the future. I guess it would have the ancillary benefit of not testing the ballistic missile defense system.
JOHN: What's the chances of the Koreans destroying it themselves and then blaming the United States as a propaganda tool?
Mr. GREEN: Well you know Professor Park made an interesting point earlier, which is that the North Koreans are not probably entirely confident whether this thing take off. And, you know, it's possible this thing could blow up on the runway and it would not be out of character for them to blame us...
GREEN: ...for it if it happened.
CONAN: Han Park?
Prof. PARK: Yes, if I may make a comment on the caller's concern. And that is, I suggested that nothing properly by the Bush Administration may be done. That was because the desire to have missile defense system is so high, especially among the military circles in the United States, that North Korea has been and will continue to be used to justify the enormous amount of spending for missile defense system. So it is, in a way, in the interest of some circles in the -this country for North Korea to be where it is.
CONAN: By the way, thank you very much, John, for the...
JOHN (Caller): Love your program, Neal, thanks so much.
CONAN: Okay, thanks for the call. And Michael Green, I know you've got to run. We thank you for your time today.
Prof. GREEN: Thank you.
CONAN: Michael Green is now - served as Senior Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council from January 2004 to December 2005. He is now Senior Adviser and Japan Chair for the Center for Strategic and International Studies and an associate professor at Georgetown University, with us today from the offices of CSIS here in Washington, D.C.
One of the difficulties in trying to interpret what's going on in North Korea is just how opaque that country is. Professor Park has been there several times and joining us now is Hazel Smith, a professor of international relations at the University of Warwick in England and author of, Hungry for Peace: International Security Humanitarian Assistance and Social Change in North Korea. She joins us from the university studios in England. Thanks very much for taking the time to speak with us tonight.
Prof. HAZEL SMITH (Professor of International Relations, University of Warwick; Author, Hungry for Peace: International Security Humanitarian Assistance and Social Change in North Korea): Pleasure.
CONAN: You lived in North Korea between 1998 and 2001. I know you've traveled back and forth as well. You were last there in 2003. From your experience and from what you hear from colleagues, what now is life like for most North Koreans?
Prof. SMITH: Well, life is pretty tough because there's still not enough food in the country and because since the market economy has come to North Korea over the past 10 years - not political change but certainly a market economy -you've got what happens in all markets; there's a lot of inequality, a few people are getting rich. And now, of course, because there's no money coming into the country, overall, there's no money for medicines or for the education system. So the poor stay poor and the rich are getting a bit richer.
CONAN: How much can outsiders actually see about what's going on in North Korea?
Prof. SMITH: Well, if you live there, you can see a great deal. I mean, I had a North Korean driving license. I took my test in Pyongyang and I could drive all over Pyongyang and the west coast. You can't go to the east coast unaccompanied, but then my Korean isn't really good enough to do that. And working all over the country, stayed two or three weeks at a time in the sub-offices for the World Food Programme, for whom I was working. And so over a period of years, if you go there over years - and many of the international visits for the international organizations did go over a period of years - you develop relationships, the same as you do in any other country, with North Koreans who are colleagues and friends. And if you travel with people over a period of time, you talk to people, you can get to know a lot.
I'd like to say that on the previous discussion, I was slightly alarmed with the lack of perspective that I felt was coming out of this discussion. North Korea has only - I'm not a defender of the North Korean government, but it's only launched two missiles - long-range missiles since 1993: one in 93 and one in 98. My country launches test missiles all the time, because we have a thriving arms industry, as does the United States. And secondly, it's legal. It might not be something we want to support, but it's legal to test missiles. All the major countries do it all the time. Even if, of course, they did do it, it would cause a lot of problems politically.
But what really concerned me was this talking up the crisis. It's not true to say that they're - as one of your previous speakers said, that the North Koreans have said that they're going to launch a missile at the United States. That's a gross exaggeration; it's inflammatory. They have said they will launch a missile and they've got the right to do a test. Now, as I said, this is politically something we wouldn't support. It's not going to be helpful in the diplomatic process. But it's a very different matter from saying that North Korea has announced that it's going to fly a missile at the United States tomorrow.
CONAN: If somebody did say - you're right, that was misspoken - toward the United States, toward the Pacific Ocean, which is, of course, quite wide. I think that's accurate to say.
We're talking with Professor Hazel Smith and Professor Han Park and you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
And, Han Park, you've been to North Korea of course many times as well.
Prof. PARK: Right.
CONAN: How opaque is this society? What are you able to learn about it?
Prof. PARK: The - I have visited North Korea each and every year for the last 15 years, mostly recently just March, this year. The - there are two things nowadays that stick out. And that is number one, military first politics. The country's entirely military, culturally, socially, structurally. The people should follow the lead of the military, and that is very pervasive in the country. And also policies, of course, when we hear policies, most likely the military is behind it.
And second, quite intriguing and welcome situation was that the food shortages do not seem to be as acute as ever been. I don't know, probably the informal assistance from China or South Korea. But their food shortages have been largely alleviated.
CONAN: Is that - do you think that's right, Hazel Smith?
Prof. SMITH: Well, what the Food and Agricultural Organization materially showing and what the South Korean agricultural association is showing is that they're still a million tons short, which is 20 percent of their food requirements in terms of their production. But China and South Korea are making up the aid bilaterally. But in terms of what they would need to lead a decent life, we're talking about a couple of million of tons more. What we do know is that the levels of malnutrition among children are now about the same as some of the poorer countries in Southeast Asia. We're no longer in a famine, as we were in the mid-1990s. And we're about the level of Laos and parts of Indonesia and parts of India. And so, yes, there is no famine but still there is all sorts of malnutrition that you see sadly in many poor countries.
CONAN: And in terms of political repression, defectors who come out of North Korea, at least some of them, report very grim conditions in camps in North Korea. Is there any reason to believe or disbelieve them, do you think? Well, first you, Hazel Smith.
Prof. SMITH: Well, no foreigner, as far as I know, apart from the one or two that have been in them as prisoners, which has happened quite a few years ago, have been inside the camps. But what we do know is that if you live in the country, if you live in a mining area or if you live in a poor agricultural area, life will be very tough indeed without being in a camp. First of all, you don't have fertilizer and imports since the agriculture. Secondly, the weather is so bad in the weather that without heating and cold, if you're hungry, you will probably suffer all sorts of diseases and illness. And so when I lived in North Korea, we used to say it was tough enough anyway if you were poor and living in parts of North Korea in the winter without having to be sent to a special camp. So yes, life will be very tough if you're anywhere where you're not receiving proper rations, which you won't be in a prison.
CONAN: Han Park?
Prof. PARK: Yes. The - I agree with that. One problem with the passage of information on North Korea is in fact exacerbated by the fact that we are rich amount of information coming out of the defectors. And the defectors, they have a vested interest in portraying North Korea in certain ways. So I think it's a some - I don't think it's an entirely distorted view, but I think it's over-skewed view. So that the - in totality, that's a society. There are rich people and poor people. I wouldn't say middle class. But it's a diverse society. It's not the kind of monolithic society we are led to believe. You have different interest groups for example. Even if we cannot call it a civil society, but there are religious organizations. So the information is not only poor, but also they are misguided.
CONAN: Han Park, thanks very much for being with us today. Han Park, Director for the Center for the Study of Global Issues at the University of Georgia in Athens; author of North Korea: The Politics of Unconventional Wisdom, with us today from WUGA in Athens. Also our thanks to Hazel Smith, professor of international relations at the University of Warwick in England, and the author of Hungry for Peace. More after a break. This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.