U.S. plans for North Korean 'two-step'
Satellite image of site where North Korea is believed to be preparing for a nuclear test. (DigitalGlobe/April 1, 2012)
April 10th, 2012
02:00 AM ET

U.S. plans for North Korean 'two-step'

By Elise Labott

As North Korea prepares to commemorate the 100th birthday of its late founder Kim Il Sung with the launch of a satellite into orbit, the United States is bracing for more drama the day after.

It's what administration officials refer to as the North Korean "two-step," in which one daring act by Pyongyang is followed by another. This time, Washington and its allies are expecting North Korea to conduct a third nuclear bomb test shortly after the launch.

In April 2009, North Korea followed up a long-range missile test with a nuclear test. Then, after North Korea sunk the South Korean navy warship Cheonan in March 2010, it topped itself later that year by shelling South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea off the countries' west coast.

Officials say Pyongyang already signaled it's following the same playbook with the launch. Before he died in December, former leader Kim Jong Il promised that in 2012, North Korea would become a "strong and prosperous nation" - with festivities marking Kim Il Sung's birthday marking its coming-out party. The launch was one of the last edicts Kim issued before he died, and the satellite is named for him.

Since its announcement about the impending launch, the North has also warned intercepting the satellite will be regarded as an act of war that could carry tremendous consequences.

"Part of how we react to this has to be with the near-certainty that this is the first of many provocations in the near future," one senior Obama administration official said.

Even if North Korea is, as it claims, merely carrying Kim Jong Il's last will and testament by feting his father's centennial in style, Washington says the launch helps North Korea further develop ballistic missile technology which could deliver a nuclear weapon anywhere in the world, including the United States. Administration officials and other experts have seen no proof the North Koreans are there yet, but they say a successful launch would be a watershed moment for the North's weapons program and global efforts to stop it.

"If they are able to put a satellite into orbit, this creates a new strategic reality," said Victor Cha, a former Asia Director for the White House and author of the new book Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future. "It means they have intercontinental ballistic missile reach, which could reach Alaska or Hawaii, the first country outside of the Soviet Union and China to do that."

So what happens the day after? While the United States and its allies naturally will embark on a period of chest-beating, and possibly even punitive measures against North Korea, senior administration officials admit the launch probably won't dramatically change the approach to North Korea over time.

Within days of the launch, officials say the U.S. plan to take up the issue of North Korea at the UN Security Council, where Washington will seek action against Pyongyang for violating existing U.N. Security Council resolutions prohibiting North Korea from using long-range missile technology. Coincidentally, the United States holds the rotating Security Council presidency for the month of April and will be in a strong position to "seize the Council of the matter," as diplomats say.

What Washington is able to push through the Security Council is an entirely other matter. Officials say the United States would prefer a tough resolution "with teeth," one that imposes some measures against the North, rather than a more modest presidential statement that merely slaps the North on the wrist. China, Pyongyang's closest ally, is generally allergic to imposing sanctions on any nation and could hold up such a move by exercising its veto.

But even though China has been reluctant to pressure North Korea, fearing a collapse of the country and an influx of refugees across its border, China has made no secret of its displeasure with North Korea's intentions. In rare critical statements, Beijing's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it called North Korea's ambassador in a for a tongue-lashing after the announcement and signaled it could not stop the Security Council from taking action. This could signal that China's impatience with North Korea may spur them into going along with some action.

Since the United States knows Chinese frustration with North Korea will dictate the trajectory of diplomacy, officials say the discussion with Beijing now is about limits.

"We are asking them, what is your absolute limit," one official said. "Is it 10 North Korean nuclear weapons? Is it 20 or 30? What do we have to do to make sure that we never get to that point?"

As for the Leap Day deal with North Korea, White House Spokesman Jay Carney said this week the launch would "make it virtually impossible" to go ahead with shipments of American food aid. But senior officials say privately the administration is debating the level to which the deal would be dead or merely in abeyance.

In an election year in which President Obama has been accused by his Republican rivals of coddling dictators, several administration officials are ready for all engagement with the North to come to a grinding halt. Others advocate trying to salvage any possible diplomatic leverage and not give North Korea an excuse to follow up the launch with a nuclear test.

A complete collapse of the deal with North Korea would also halt the return to North Korea inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency after a three year hiatus, which Washington views as key to getting a better handle on the level of Pyongyang's weapons programs.

"They are going to do it anyway," one senior official said about another nuclear test. "So we are engaged in kind of a Kabuki dance here. But it's good if we can keep some sort of a line open and preserve at least a quarter of a dialogue, so we can come back to the table eventually."

This is the box the United States finds itself in with North Korea.

U.S. policy toward Pyongyang has centered for years around what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calls "strategic patience." Yet the cycle of North Korean antics, followed by condemnation, then followed by a cooling-off period before eventual re-engagement with the North has allowed North Korea to play for time. The longer a delay in reaching a deal with North Korea to curb its program, the longer North Korea has to further develop it.

John Park, a Korea expert at the U.S. Institute for Peace, said the launch offers an opportunity for a new international response.

Until now the United States and its allies, South Korea and Japan, have had a hard time convincing much of the world that North Korea presents a threat to the wider world. But Park notes the planned flight path of the rocket, which could see debris land in busy sea lanes or population centers in Southeast Asia, has seen leaders of Vietnam, Philippines and even in some European countries ringing alarm bells.

"We have an opportunity to try some things we haven't been able to try before," Park said.
While not advocating an attack on North Korea, retired U.S. Gen. Walter L. Sharp suggests the administration start working to support regime change from within North Korea now, before the country's increased capability years down makes such a task more difficult.

"The longer this goes on, the more dangerous this is getting," Sharp, the former chief of U.S. and South Korean combined forces and the U.N. command there, recently told an audience at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"This launch, successful or not, is going to potentially be a real game changer for us to really decide how are we going to force a change in North Korea, so that we don't end up in a place of several years that will be really dangerous to the United States, South Korea and our allies."

soundoff (363 Responses)
  1. studnie bielsko

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    April 14, 2012 at 9:23 am | Reply
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  8. Big Z

    How about every one ignore TOMG, you can't argue with stupid.

    April 11, 2012 at 8:41 am | Reply
  9. political prisoner

    If the launching is unlawful.
    Shoot it down ..simple.
    Doesn't matter where it goes.if it leaves the pad shoot it down..what can they do? I'm a little sick of our government showing the world we are all talk.we talk about n Korea, we talk about Syria, we talk about Iran to Heck with it bring back bush.LOL.after 9/11 he didn't talk of revenge he blew up two countries. Lol

    April 11, 2012 at 8:30 am | Reply
  10. desert voice (troubledgoodangel or Nathanael or Bohdan or Voiceinthedesert)

    I kind of see with disgust that media always portray the U.S. as "waiting for China to do something." Have the U.S. abrogated its leadership to China!? I agree that the North traditionally responds in twos – 1-2 punches. They are effective. But I also learned from Oscar de la Hoya (if anything can be learned from a boxer), that more effective are 1-5 punches! This is what the opponent usually does not anticipate, a 1-5 volley! If we cannot punch North Korea, lets punch China for aiding the North! A UN resolution could be passed against China, for its meddling in Nort Korea and in Syria. This could be followed by a second punch, like the threat of sanctions. The third punch could strive to deprive China of global markets. The fourth punch would bring China on the carpet for the massacres in Tibet. The fifth punch could bring China to the World Court for currency Ponzi schemes against the world. This should be enough to get a technical K.O.

    April 11, 2012 at 7:52 am | Reply
    • justme

      this sounds like God talking. otherwise must be an idiot.

      April 14, 2012 at 7:07 pm | Reply
  11. Hannibal7

    Don't worry... Presdient Obama will save the world. He will promise more Obama Bucks to North Korea (he prints $50 billion a day! – free money to Obozo) if they just act nice. He will even invite the little fat guy over for a beer. Hillary will be in a French maids uniform – yuk. Pelosi will be pole dancing (double yuk) and Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid will be blaming Bush (nothing new here) and making eyes for each other. WIll someone ask why President Bill Clinton ever gave the North Koreans so much rocket technology? Don't worry... a beer summit with Barry O will save the world. Keep drinking that cool-aid libs. Bottoms up.

    April 11, 2012 at 6:27 am | Reply
  12. the shadow

    Here we go again.Time and time again has shown that negotiating with no. Korea is a waste of time.One minute they will shake your hand the next minute stab you in the back.It's time to stop playing their game.Let them launch their rocket get all the intelligence we can ,then when all is said and done take the missile and or the satellite out.Sure they will have a hissy fit but it's time to draw the line.

    April 11, 2012 at 5:06 am | Reply
  13. lulzbob

    Who the hell cares? Really? This isn't news, NK is a sovereign country and can do whatever it wants within
    lawful constraints. Not every country in the world bows to US Fascism .

    April 11, 2012 at 4:28 am | Reply
    • bk

      Two things, first the launching of a nucular cabable veichle into earth orbit is outside of "lawful constraints" set by the UN, which the world agreed upon. The second thing this "whatever" thing you refer to has the explicit capability, and purpose, of destroying entire cities. Reasonable people find that to be a problem.

      April 11, 2012 at 5:52 am | Reply
  14. hoapres

    We can keep the food as we have enough Americans that are going hungry. Let China handle North Korea as we have enough problems.

    April 11, 2012 at 4:22 am | Reply
    • Hangry Birds

      Enjoy your meal while it last. Those rockets if proven successful, is intended to drop in the USA. And when America start to retaliate every North koreans is already inside China waving their dirty finger on you.

      April 11, 2012 at 4:48 am | Reply
      • Rg

        What could the US have possibly done to have the missiles pointed at them?

        April 11, 2012 at 8:55 am |
  15. Nevermind

    North Korea=rogue nation

    April 11, 2012 at 4:13 am | Reply
  16. Albuquerque, Turkey

    If they launch who cares. As long as they don't lauch at their neighbors nothing will happen. If they did something that rash they would be in alot of trouble.
    If they do launch it means that they spent alot of resources to !@#$ off western nations that are against this. Primarily the U.S.
    Also you wonder why china supports these guys have you seen the new U.S military bases in south korea. They're insane but pretty cool not gonna lie. If we need to blow up china or most of eastern asia all we need is in south korea.

    April 11, 2012 at 2:55 am | Reply
  17. venze

    All the talks and anticipations of the North Korean launch. One would like to see how the world powers will react this time if the launch takes place. Sanctions? Retaliation? (mtd1943)

    April 11, 2012 at 12:50 am | Reply
  18. political prisoner

    World war part three ..has begun

    Coming to a city near you June 2012

    April 11, 2012 at 12:35 am | Reply
  19. Lala

    I heard north koreans are beautiful and smart guys...
    Hope they come out from their there and see better world.

    April 10, 2012 at 10:45 pm | Reply
    • Hangry Birds

      Oh yeah, and wait for their bomb to drop on your kinky head.

      April 10, 2012 at 11:06 pm | Reply
  20. Lala


    April 10, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Reply
  21. TOMG


    April 10, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Reply
    • Hangry Birds

      Get an education charcoal face.

      April 10, 2012 at 10:31 pm | Reply
    • Hangry Birds

      And Kareem Abdul Jabbar is Bruce Lee's mothafucka bitch! Is tha wha yo mean brotha.

      April 10, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Reply
    • think tank

      TOMG need to get u a job

      April 10, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Reply
    • wavejump1100

      tomg where are you from? please dont say the USA.

      April 10, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Reply
    • Jm

      Think about.... Learning engrisha!

      April 11, 2012 at 5:23 am | Reply
  22. Hangry Birds

    America has no knowledge of asian culture, China is using Nokor as a middleman to harass the whole world. Its a Chinese old age practice in doing their business. The only way for the puppet master to lose the control of his puppet is to cut the strings that connects them.

    April 10, 2012 at 10:09 pm | Reply
  23. Frank

    If he joinned democratic society he could launch all kinds of satelites working with nasa! That way nooene would fear north since thier past actions have showed hostility, instigative actions and was it his dad that fired on south and blowing up a boat that sunk that killed 30,40 something people? How blind and ignorant can they be? feed us or we test nuclear bomb, or feed us or we won't test but now we did,feed us south was a threat so we blew up ordestroyed thier little military base, south boat is a threat so we sunk it ...feed us or we send satelite into orbit? sine you been relying on world to feed you it should be clear usa isn't a threat! Not only that by being part of the world community you would get more food or help in better managing your resouces etc! Stop being dummies!

    April 10, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Reply
  24. Hangry Birds

    America Should act now or it will be too late. Strike while Nokor has no capability yet, and don't rely on China that they will talk Nokor to back out of it's plan. It was China who provided Nokor all it's nuke technology, and China is using Nokor as a proxy state to intimidate Asia and Pacific countries. And America should not be blind and dumb on these.

    April 10, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Reply
    • TOMG


      April 10, 2012 at 10:07 pm | Reply
      • Hangry Birds

        Then stop shitting on your floor.Use a toilet, or if you don't have any just drown yourself bumhead!

        April 10, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  25. Observer

    North Korea is more dangerous than Iran -- if we have intentions of destroying Iran's nuclear enrichment facility, we better consider taken out North Korea's as well --

    What does President Obama say? He doesn't know about this? Tell him it is the countrynext to South Korea. No, not China, the other one. NO Mr President. flexibility after the election will not help you here.

    April 10, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Reply
  26. Wth

    Hmm...well n.korea takes each step further. First declaring it's actively seeking to pursue nuclear weapons with no response from the world...then process with nuke testing...then missile testing...then attacks s.korea once...now twice...now launching a satellite to coordinate icbm weapons....and still the world sits idly by. It's like the frog sitting in a pot of water which never realizes it's getting boiled bc the temperature rises too gradually. Looks like n.korea's playing it smart...while the rest of the world gets slowly boiled.

    April 10, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Reply
    • Lala

      I heard northkoreans are smart guys... Let the guys coming out from north korea. They have to see reality..

      April 10, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Reply
  27. concerned citizen

    I will not vote for any president that sends even one bushel of food aid to North Korea, only an idiot would fall for thier lies again. We have effectively been financing thier military program including the building of nukes that would only be used against us or our allies. Enough of this ignorance. No more aid of any kind, let them eat their nukes and missles that we paid for them to build.

    April 10, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Reply
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