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Gordon Cucullu- Contributor

Former Green Beret lieutenant colonel, Gordon Cucullu is now an editorialist, author and a popular speaker. Born into a military family, he lived and served for more than thirteen years in East Asia, including eight years in Korea. For his Special Forces service in Vietnam he was awarded a Bronze Star, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, and the Presidential Unit Commendation. After separation from the Army, he worked on Korea and East Asian affairs at both the Pentagon and Department of State as well as an executive for General Electric in Korea. His first major non-fiction work, Separated at Birth: How North Korea became the Evil Twin, is based in large part on his extensive experience in Korea and East Asia as a governmental insider and businessman. [website] [go to Cucullu index]


Separated at Birth : How North Korea Became the Evil Twin
Gordon Cucullu

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Chinese Checkers
North Korea and nukes
[Gordon Cucullu] 7/21/04

By now it ought to be no secret that North Korea is a serious contender to join the exclusive international nuclear club. It has huffed and puffed and threatened to blow the house down for years, repeating such cheerful thoughts as consuming Seoul’s 12 million citizens in ‘a sea of fire.’ We know that this has been going on for a long time. Decades ago the first North Korean dictator, Kim Il Sung had been dabbling in nuclear research and development, nagging first Stalin and the Soviet Union then Mao and the Peoples Republic of China for assistance.

Kim was uniformly turned down and discouraged from pursuit of a nuclear weapon by both of his communist allies. The Soviets had no wish for a surrogate to be able to match them in quality of firepower if not quantity. Maybe Kim could not have threatened Moscow but he certainly could have damaged Vladivostok and other Soviet Pacific port cities. Not that he necessarily would have ever been so overtly hostile to his mentor but in military planning capability always outweighs intent. The presence of nuclear weapons in Kim’s hands was an uncomfortable contingency that Stalin and his successors did not want to confront.

Similarly the Chinese were adamant about a non-nuclear North Korea. Equally with the Soviets the idea of an uncontrollable dictator like Kim Il Sung – and more recently his son and successor Kim Jong Il – having nuclear weapons was extremely uncomfortable for them. China looks down its nose at North Korea anyway, seeing its existence historically as a necessary but noisome player in the delicate balance of power in Northeast Asia.

Additionally the Chinese have been concerned about a resurgent Japan. For decades they have protested the gradual rearmament of Japan, and have grudgingly accepted the inevitable. But unlike Americans, Chinese have long memories. They recall not only WW II but the 1895 Sino-Japanese War and previous centuries of invasion and destruction at the hands of the ‘Eastern Pirates,’ one of the few printable terms of reference Chinese use for Japanese. The ultimate Chinese nightmare would be to be surrounded by hostile nuclear states. They already have the Indian nuclear bomb on their southern borders and the Russian arsenal to the north and west. A nuclear Japan would be a severe potential blow to their plans for peaceful expansion of influence in Asia.

Why would Japan go nuclear? And could it? Japan is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. It lives on the cutting edge of research and development and is always quick to purchase any foreign technologies that it thinks could have an immediate application. Japan is also one of the most far-thinking countries in that its industry will purchase technologies that it has no immediate use for but would prefer to own it and keep it out of the hands of possible competitors.

Given this mind set of proclivity for and acquisition of advanced technologies along with a strong desire to checkmate the competition it follows logically that Japan would not sit still in regard to nuclear technology. Does Japan currently possess an atomic weapon? Unlikely. Does Japan currently have the technology to construct a nuclear weapon, and perhaps have the separate components already build and stored away for contingency purposes? Highly likely. Recall that in Japan form trumps substance culturally. So that if all the component parts to build an automobile are stored in a garage unassembled the owner can truthfully tell friends ‘I don’t have a car.’

What China fears, with good reason, is that the threat generated by a thoughtless expansion of North Korea’s nuclear program will force Japan to build a device and adopt a public stance admitting possession of nuclear weapons. After all, from Japan’s point of view, how long can it be expected to stand still for such unchecked arrogance from Kim Jong Il? Outrageous threats combined with missile ‘testing’ with Japan in the downrange fan would try the patience of a country far less proud than Japan.

At some point – and that point is growing closer by the minute – North Korea will cross a line that will force Japan into the open with nuclear weapons. That move will be a cataclysmic diplomatic and military tsunami that will engulf East Asia as well as most of the world. A conventionally rearmed Japan fits well into self-defense and the free world strategic lineup. An openly nuclear Japan is suddenly a serious military competitor and poses a ‘capability’ threat.

A nuclear Japan means that almost immediately South Korea and Taiwan would accelerate and announce their own R&D programs if not their own weapons. After all, these things are frighteningly simple to manufacture and all of these countries possess extensive nuclear power generating facilities, high tech laboratories and advanced military systems capable of delivering a nuclear device. The prospect is so chilling and discouraging that most of us would rather not deal with it. But we must.

So what is the line in the sand that the North Koreans had better not cross? So far the bluff and bluster have been generally accepted in a ‘sticks and stones’ manner by North Korean’s neighbors. The flagrant missile testing designed to intimidate raised hackles in Japan and irritated the Chinese. Sales of missile components to rogue countries such as Iraq, Syria and Iran are straining the tolerance of many who fear indiscriminate proliferation of these weapons into irresponsible hands. But what act might be the break point for the Chinese?

In a recent seminar at the Asia Society in New York City, former Ambassador to both the Peoples Republic of China and South Korea James Lilley addressed this issue in response to an audience question. Outwardly, he said, China will continue to support North Korea. But internally the Chinese leadership is chafing impatiently at continued North Korean intransigence.

The Chinese recognize that the utility of North Korea as a counterweight to US presence in the region has just about lost its value. America does not pose the same threat to the Chinese that they perceived thirty years ago. Economic ties are so extensive with America and with Japan and South Korea that China now takes a jaundiced view of North Korean misbehavior and disharmony. ‘Late in the evening over drinks,’ Lilley recounts, ‘tough, old Chinese generals say that the North Koreas are pushing the limits.’ If the North Koreans test a nuclear device, Lilley says, the Chinese generals say that they would ‘take appropriate action.’

We may have seen the suggestion of such an action two months ago when a still unexplained explosion devastated a North Korean village near the Chinese border. Kim Jong Il’s private train had passed through the junction just hours previously. And reports that later emerged from the scene recounted soldiers and workers in full bio-chemical protective garb removing bodies reported to be Syrians from the wreckage. When international workers arrived the immediate area had been sterilized. [See Deadly Connections]

It would not require much imagination to think of this as a Chinese warning shot across North Korea’s bows. This week North Korean Peoples Armed Forces Minister Kim Il Chol takes a delegation to China to confer with his counterpart minister. This follows on the heels of a Condoleezza Rice visit to Beijing last week. While the North Korean trip is ostensibly to celebrate the 43rd anniversary of a mutual treaty of friendship, the timing could be right for an unfriendly message to the North Koreans: cease and desist with your WMD program or risk the consequences.

[Further information see Endgame, by Paul Vallely and Thomas McInerney and the soon to be published Separated at Birth: How North Korea became the Evil Twin, by Gordon Cucullu] CRO

copyright Gordon Cucullu 2004




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