North Korea, China, Canada and BMD

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While we weren’t looking, North Korea got a lot more dangerous

The Globe and Mail Monday, Oct. 21 2013

While we focus on Iran and Syria, pay attention to North Korea. It possesses the full arsenal of weapons of mass destruction: chemical, biological and nuclear as well as cyberwarriors.

The Kim dynasty – grandfather Kim Il-sung , father Kim Jong-il vKim Jong-un – is dangerously unpredictable. Tales from the Hermit Kingdom evoke Game of Thrones.

In the purge following Kim Jong-un’s taking power, the former Army Minister was dispatched by a mortar round. The family of Kim’s former girlfriend was forced to watch her execution then trucked off to the gulags.

The regime is also a regional menace.

North Korea was behind the assassination of the mother of current Korean President Park Geun-hye, the bombing in Rangoon that killed many in the South Korean cabinet, the abduction of Japanese citizens, and the sinking, by submarine, of a South Korean frigate .

Systematic human rights violations in North Korea remain “widespread”, reports Amnesty International. The annual report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights observed that the “use of political prison camps, frequent public executions and severe food shortages, coupled with the extreme difficulty of gaining access, make DPRK [North Korea] singularly problematic.”

Unanimous votes of concern in the UN General Assembly and by the Human Rights Council have had no effect. The UN Special Rapporteur has never been allowed to investigate.

Having withdrawn from the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, North Korea developed a nuclear weapon in tandem with a ballistic missile capacity. It recently reactivated a plutonium-producing nuclear reactor in Yongbyon.

North Korean missiles threaten North East Asia and they could potentially reach the west coast of North America. After a third North Korean nuclear test in February, the U.S. will spend a billion dollars to place additional interceptors in Alaska.

North Korea has been an exporter over several decades of conventional arms, nuclear reactor technology and ballistic missiles. Its client list has included Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Pakistan, and Yemen.

All of this activity violates UN Security Council resolutions. The decade-long Six Party talks that involving the two Koreas, Russia, Japan, USA and China and was aimed at curbing North Korea stalled out in 2008.

Recently, the Chinese have made efforts to both revitalize the talks and rein in North Korea. The Chinese, who chair the Six Party talks, hosted an informal session last month in Beijing. Importantly, the Chinese have now imposed export controls on materials that could contribute to North Korean weaponry.

China bears a lot of responsibility for the problem but it also has the leverage to effect change. Leading the effort to denuclearize North Korea would demonstrate that China’s new leadership is becoming more than a passive international participant.

China is far more averse to instability on its border than in the more distant Middle East. It would be more motivated to act (even militarily) on matters relating to a potential conflict with the client state on its front door.

But China will not act by a timetable dictated by the West.

Different from the West, China takes longer to re-assess what is in its best interests and to adjust policy accordingly. We need to remember this and to persist with patient diplomacy.

China is now the sixth largest financial contributor to peacekeeping operations and is currently fielding 1769 peacekeepers ( in contrast to Canada’s 157). Active Chinese involvement in sustaining and reforming international architecture is an essential guarantor of global peace and security.

For Canada, the North Korean threat has a couple of implications.

First, our growing commercial aspirations in Asia underline the need for secure sea lanes to ship our goods. This means getting on with our new warships. It also underlines the value of our submarines as key assets in sustaining maritime order in the Pacific.

Second, changing circumstances mean that we now need comprehensive ballistic missile defence (BMD) insurance.

We are effectively integrated into BMD through NORAD’s Integrated Tactical Warning and Attack Assessment mission. We also benefit from US policy to defend a two hundred mile band beyond the U.S. border in order to protect U.S. cities against fall-out.

But we would not be in the room when the decisions to launch are made. Nor do the current algorithms contain protection for Canadian cities like Calgary or Edmonton. Full participation in BMD would fix this.

We live in a world of changing perils and shifting poles of influence. This puts the premium on diplomacy that encourages all parties’ active participation. It also obliges us to look to our own security with the necessary hard power to back it up.

A former diplomat, Colin Robertson is vice president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and a senior advisor to McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP.