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May 25th, 2009
09:09 AM ET

Analyst: More sanctions against North Korea won't matter

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="International security analyst Jim Walsh speaks to CNN's Kiran Chetry about the North Korean nuclear threat."]

North Korea delivered on its threat Monday, conducting a second nuclear test that angered governments around the globe. The North had threatened to do so unless the U.N. Security Council apologized for imposing sanctions on it following a rocket test on April 5.The secretive communist state also apparently test-fired a short-range missile on Monday, the White House said.

Jim Walsh, an international security analyst at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says more sanctions against North Korea will not work. He spoke to Kiran Chetry on CNN’s “American Morning” Monday.

Kiran Chetry: What does this claim from North Korea about the nuclear test and short-range missiles mean?

Jim Walsh: If you're just waking up on Memorial Day and you look at the headline, you say, my gosh, North Korea has had a nuclear test does this mean war, does this mean military conflict? The answer is no… We've had a previous North Korea nuclear test. It did not result in military conflict. And I don't think that's what’s going to happen this time either. What we're really talking about are not military consequences but political consequences. Both inside North Korea, which is undergoing some sort of transition, and regionally with Japan, with China, with South Korea. So it is an unwelcome event, I have to underline that, but there's no reason for panic or fear.

Chetry: If we're trying to understand what's going on with that nation, what does North Korea want, what does North Korea want to prove with these tests?

Walsh: Well, if I could answer the question, what precisely does North Korea want, I would be a wealthy man and I’d be on an island somewhere, not in the studio right now. Because at the end of the day, we don’t know that much about North Korea. Anyone who says they're 100% sure, you know, I wouldn't trust what they say. But we can have some guesses. One theory, a popular theory for some time, is North Korea does this sort of thing in order to improve its bargaining position. By taking a provocative action, suddenly people scamper and want to do something to ratchet back the tension and it also has the effect of dividing the countries in the six-party talks. Japan tends to get quite upset about these things; China, less so.

That divides the parties, improves the country's leverage. That's the traditional theory. There are some, and I'm starting to move to from the traditional theory to this alternative notion, which is this is less driven by external events and bargaining and more by internal concerns. Again, Kim Jong-il had a stroke. There's no clear line of succession. They are now in the process of trying to establish some sort of order for a new leader in North Korea at some point and when that sort of thing happens, governments often have shows of strength and that's not unusual for North Korea in particular to do that sort of thing when there's domestic change at home.

Chetry: North Korea has ignored U.S. warnings against conducting a nuclear test in the past, the White House released this statement this morning:

“By acting in blatant defiance of the United Nation’s Security Council, North Korea is directly and recklessly challenging the international community. Such provocations will only serve to deepen North Korea's isolation. It will not find international acceptance unless it abandons its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.”

Chetry: That’s a pretty strongly worded statement from the White House this morning, but ultimately how much power does America have in reining in North Korea's nuclear ambitions?

Walsh: Right now, I would say the answer is all the countries involved have limited leverage. If it’s a fact, again we don't know, but if it's a fact that what is driving this right now are issues internal to North Korea then it really doesn't matter what the outside world is doing. And it certainly doesn't matter if we're going to slap on some more sanctions. This is a poor country that's already as sanctioned as any country in the world. Sort of tweaking the sanctions isn’t going to matter at all. I think what the U.S. is going do in the short term is you’re going to see it's going to reach out to Japan, its treaty ally and try to reassure the Japanese public that we've got your back, that we're on your side. That's probably the most important thing the president and secretary of defense will be doing over the next week.

Filed under: North Korea
soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Steve Block

    Washington has threatened to use these weapons over two dozen times since first dropping them on Japan in 1945. The entire world learned from the Saddam and North Korean experience. Sadam was attacked because he lacked the ability to resond in kind. North Korea, by contrast, was not attacked because they have a WMD arsenal always at the ready, locked and loaded. Steve, World War2

    May 26, 2009 at 7:50 am |
  2. Roger

    The Japanese are not too thrilled about North Korea because they understand the history in that region. They know NK is pulling these tricks to become the regions bully. We aren't going to avoid a war. We just have to choose what weapons they develop before they use them on our troops. Japan is gonna have a panic attack. Either wanting us to turn them loose or have us pound them. North Korea with nuclear arms in that region in non-negotiable and they can't be trusted. The Obama administration is going to do nothing, but wag a finger these days when we need him to get gangsta on their kimchi. Now that the cowboy is out of office and we are trying to make good on our image, we're the world’s number 1 chump. I say use the next generation of weapons on them to hinder their military abilities and define their inferiority. Might as well when China is still flipping the bill. They won't attack us if they can't make back their money and chinese adhere to one simple rule. Stay in China. How do you stop a bully from picking on you? Tell him/her, "stop or I won't be your friend!!!!"

    May 25, 2009 at 4:37 pm |
  3. Keith Donellan

    The last thing the world needs right now is North Korea, or any other nation with hatred toward the United States, like Iran or Afghanistan, to have a nuclear weapon! Sounds to me like Kim Jong-il, with his little Napoleon Complex, might consider selling it to one of these Anti-Western nations, or worse: terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda! God help us all if Osama Bin-Laden gets his grubby little paws on a nuke! By the way, why has he not been found? Why hasn't he, the most notorious criminal of our time, been captured and made to stand trial for the destruction and murder he caused back in 2001? Oh, but it's okay! The big, bad United Nations is here to save us all from a nuclear disaster with its resolutions and sanctions, which only work for those countries that follow the rules anyway. Bullies only understand one thing, and that's action. North Korea hasn't had its little nose bloodied in a while and seems to have forgotten how to play with the rest of the world. This CANNOT be ignored! Nor can we ignore the threats posed by other hostile powers pushing to go nuclear. This whole fiasco just goes to prove how utterly useless the United Nations, as a whole, has become. To Blazes with U.N.! Go in, get the nukes, and remove that diminutive little troll Kim Jong-il from power! The same needs to be done with Iran, too, by the way! "Unwelcome event?" "No reason for panic or fear?" Jim Walsh, you don't seem to be doing your job well. With some one like you as a security analyst, the only nuclear threat I feel safe from is Godzilla!

    May 25, 2009 at 4:30 pm |
  4. Ray

    Well said Fred Robinson. Seems like we (America) has lost its' backbone.

    May 25, 2009 at 4:20 pm |
  5. Fred Robinson

    Good Morning Cinderella:

    A litle despot like this needs more than sanctions. The United States needs to walk softly and carry a big stick. Either the testing stops, or else blow up the ones that are left to smitherens. Be sure he is in the same room.

    Have a good day.


    May 25, 2009 at 10:04 am |