Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dealing with North Korea

With recent North Korean missile launches and nuclear tests, Kim’s regime seems to have established itself as a full fledged atomic power. What is to be done then?

I tend to agree with John Bolton on the Korean front. He writes:
"More specifically, the basic flaw of the six-party talks is the foundational assumption that North Korea could be talked out of its nuclear weapons. There has never been a shred of evidence, over nearly two decades of nuclear negotiations, that the North is truly prepared to make such a dramatic shift in its strategic thinking. There have only been statements by the North’s diplomats and propagandists that too-willing U.S. negotiators have seized upon to cobble together “nuances” and “hints” of negotiating flexibility. Of course, if I were in charge of the DPRK’s nuclear program, the last people to whom I would explain our capabilities and objectives would be the North’s diplomats. They may be among the least informed in Pyongyang’s elite concerning their country’s nuclear program.

The only long-term acceptable outcome is the reunification of the Korean Peninsula, or, as American Enterprise Institute–scholar Nick Eberstadt once titled his book, “the end of North Korea.” The North will not be negotiated out of its nuclear weapons: they are its ultimate trump card against those with “hostile intent” on the outside like the United States and Japan, and in fact, they are also the ultimate trump card inside the North’s bizarre political system. Accordingly, the only realistic way to deal with the nuclear problem is to eliminate the regime itself.

To accomplish this objective, the United States needs to raise the pressure on the DPRK, to utilize fully the capabilities we already have to choke off the North’s import and export trade in weapons and materials of mass destruction, and to cut off once again its access to international financial markets. The Proliferation Security Initiative has already had a significant impact, as did the Treasury Department’s forceful pursuit of North Korea’s financial assets until the State Department’s shameful capitulation on Banco Delta Asia, thus allowing the North renewed international access and legitimacy. North Korea’s systemic weaknesses make it vulnerable to such pressure. By negotiating with the North and providing it with tangible economic and political benefits for negligible concessions on the nuclear front, we are propping up a regime so susceptible to collapse that even small increments of pressure threaten it

The last few weeks of the Obama administration’s rhetoric on dialogue and discussion should be disheartening to anyone who has paid any attention to North Korean negotiations over the last 20 years. Starting yet another round of talks (that will surely end in funds for the North Korean regime with little in return) will not demilitarize or denuclearize the regime, and if Obama prides himself on new ideas, he had best not take us down this failed road.

In this discussion, James Kelly adds insight into one of the complications in dealing with the North that I am personally aware of. He writes:
South Korea has a greater stake in North Korea’s future than we do. Seoul is highly vulnerable to nuclear and conventional DPRK weapons. It is an important U.S. ally and increasingly important to long-term U.S. interests given China’s rise as a great power in the region.

The irony is that South Korea’s great success—an enormous tribute to Koreans, helped by U.S. development efforts and democratic example—has made South Korea comfortable enough to live at least with the status quo. There are now strong feelings of sorrow and sympathy toward the North in place of many years of alertness and dread. South Koreans are rightly horrified at any prospect of a war with North Korea. And, at the same time, while favoring unification in the abstract, they dread the potential cost of absorbing the North—its economic weakness and its people. North Korea is far poorer than East Germany was in 1989 and is all-but-without infrastructure.

The result is great apathy and a tendency of South Korean governments across the political spectrum to seek to avoid tensions—and even to pay North Korea what amounts to “protection” money

Jodi Kiely from One Free Korea does not see recent actions by the North as game changers in South Korean politics.
"I have been told by contacts in South Korea that these latest moves by the DPRK have not been able to break through the average South Korean’s desensitized shell. Indeed, South Korean headlines seem to suggest the South is just as obsessed with the nuclear test’s affect on the economy, if not more so than what it means as a safety concern on the peninsula.

While it is true that Lee Myung-bak came into office on hopes of improving South Korea’s economic woes first and foremost, he was also voted into the Blue House because of his vows to take a stronger stance on North Korea compared to the late President Roh.

South Korea joining the PSI is promising (although probably ineffective) but the fact that it took so long to sign up in the first place is a bit worrying and reminiscent of the soft policies of the Roh years which centered on concerns over how policies would affect inter-Korean relations


TNC said...

I wonder what your sense is of what people "on the street" think about these recent provocations. Are people angry? Scared? Apathetic/yawning?

How are you doing?

I try to put myself in the frame of mind of having a neighboring (enemy) state conducting nuclear bomb and missile tests and I think I would be pretty nervous to say the least. But maybe South Koreans are used to this sort of thing. I just don't know...

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