Monday, March 26, 2012

Obama Looks for Allies against North Korea

This week Obama met with Hu Jintao and talked with Demitri Mevedev, trying to convince them to ratchet up the pressure on North Korea.

Obama hopes an increase in pressure from China and Russia will deter the young Kim Jung-un (or whoever is now in charge in North Korea) from making good on his promise to launch a missile laden satellite next month. However, how likely is it that Obama's attempts to sway China and Russia (who have been less than helpful in Syrian and Iran) will have an impact on the situation? Well that depends on how one measures impact.

If impact means having the two line up behind the United States' tough rhetoric, the answer is "not at all." China and Russia have long denounced the United States' self proclaimed "international police officer" status. While neither country particularly likes the idea of North Korea flaunting its capabilities, any successful opposition to US attempts at coercion undermines the US claim to hegemony in the region.

If impact means it will increase the pressure on North Korea, at least behind the scenes, the answer is "somewhat." While Russia has proven intransigent in its support of rogue states, China has at least made overtures to playing along with the western world. Last month it voluntarily cut imports of Iranian oil, providing extra teeth to US led sanction effort (although Obama has recently removed most of the other teeth). When Chinese and US policy goals align, as they do in this case, China may be willing to change its tactics somewhat to show it is a good faith actor in the world order.

If impact means Obama's attempts will have an effect on North Korean decision-making, the answer is "likely." Knowing full well the unlikelihood of major policy changes from Russia, and China's hesitance to participate in the sanctioning process, Obama likely meant the meetings as signal to the young Korean leader. Engaging Russia and China, shows US resolve on the issue. Not only are they willing to talk tough but the United States is willing to incentivize two countries which North Korean security and economics count on to join in on the effort.

No comments: