Less than 48 hours after the North Korean missile launches, our erstwhile freinds in Beijing and Moscow are (predictably) being less-than-helpful on the issue. When the U.N. Security Council took up the matter yesterday, both Russia and China quickly reiterated their opposition to tough action against Pyongyang.

Beijing, which has long been North Korea’s closest ally and biggest trading partner, issued a statement that avoided direct criticism of Kim Jong-il regime. Instead, China appealed for “calm” (apparently, the required first statement in any official PRC announcement on any global crisis), while expressing “serious concern” about “what had happened.” (Yawn).

The language from Moscow was equally benign. Russia’s UN envoy, Valery Churkin, called the missile tests a “deplorable development,” but stopped short of supporting new sanctions against North Korea. Instead, both China and Russia reportedly favor a U.N. presidential statement on the issue. Presidential statements are non-binding, and are considered even weaker than UNSC resolutions. I’m sure the boys in Pyongyang are positively quaking in their boots at that prospect. Lest we forget, a long line of dictators, thugs and despots have ignored scores of U.N. resolutions against their regime. Given the likely “impact” of such toothless actions, a U.N. presidential statement literally isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

Meanwhile, countries in the line of fire from North Korean missiles have more useful ideas on what ought to be done. South Korea has suspended humanitarian aid to Pyongyang, a move that may have more impact than first thought, since much of that assistance winds up in the hands of the North Korean military. Japan has responded by proposing tougher financial measures against the DPRK, and is pressing for immediate development of a ballistic missile defense system to protect the Japanese homeland.

In the interim, the U.S. has agreed to deploy advanced Patriot PAC-3 missiles to U.S. bases in Japan, and Aegis-equipped U.S. naval vessels already operate in Japanese waters. Both systems can provide a limited defensive capability until the Japanese system is fully operational. The Japanese Navy already has Aegis-equipped destroyers, and in the wake of Wednesday’s North Korean missile test, it seems likely that the U.S. will approve the transfer of SM-2 Block IV missiles and the software upgrades to give the Japanese vessels an advanced BMD capability.

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Japanese cooperation on financial issues can have a more immediate impact on Pyongyang. Millions of ethnic Koreans still live in Japan, including members of the Chosin Soren, a group with close ties to Pyongyang. Members of the Chosen Soren funnel millions of dollars to North Korea every year; crackdowns against the group and its quasi-legal activities will deny Pyongyang badly-needed revenue. Japan can also play a useful role in cracking down on North Korea’s counterfeit activities, which net the DRPK an estimated $100 million a year. Hat tip: Captains Quarters.

Russia and China could take similar steps within their borders, but there’s no indication that Moscow or Beijing will play ball. The reason? For starters, their “tolerance” of North Korea and its antics give both countries additional leverage with the U.S. If Washington wants Russian and Chinese support against the DPRK, then the U.S. has to reciprocate on trade and economic issues. The U.S. will soon discover (if we haven’t already) what it will “cost” to gain Moscow’s and Beijing’s support for even diluted sanctions against North Korea.

Secondly, North Korea offers military advantages for both Russia and China. With its large Army and expanding WMD capabilities, Pyongyang still ties up a substantial chunk of U.S. military power, including an Army division (the ROK-based 2ID), a Marine division on Okinawa, four USAF fighter wings (two in Korea, two in Japan), and a Japan-based carrier battle group. If the North Korean problem disappeared, much of that combat capability could be re-directed against other threats, most notably China. As long as North Korea exists, the U.S. must prepare for that threat as well, to the tune of billions of dollars a year.

Finally, by challenging the U.S. and even being rewarded for past bad behavior, Pyongyang can make Washington look weak. That, in turn, helps advance the agendas of both Russia and China, who are quick to point out the Superpower’s flaws, including the inability to effectively deal with a rogue state like North Korea.

The Bush Administration is correct in pursuing a “regional solution” to the North Korean problem. When the DPRK collapses (and it will, eventually), the ramifications of that event will be felt throughout Northeast Asia, and directly impact every country in the region. But until that happens, we shouldn’t expect much help from our friends in Russia or China. They still have something to gain by keeping Kim Jong-il in power, and on a confrontation course with the U.S.

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