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What to do about the North

I’ve been reading books about North Korea since I got here to the South. I think that by this point I’ve got a fair sense of what the nation is, and what it might do. Given that, I think that the US, S. Korea, and as many of the UN as we can convince should enforce a simple, three point plan with regard to the North:

  • Deny aid.
  • Cease trade.
  • Enforce a blockade.

Is it harsh? Perhaps. Still, it can’t be called unjustified, and it makes perfect sense to let them steep in their own juche.

Every attempt at negotiating with the North has failed. Their internal propaganda brags about reneging on the various nuclear treaties, and claims all aid as tribute. It’s not as though there is any pretense at being anything other than evil. Simply cutting them off from all contact is simultaneously the most effective way to destabilize them and to return to them the contempt in which they hold the rest of the world. So what if they retaliate by banning atomic inspectors? We already know they’ve got the bomb; past that point, the quantity doesn’t matter.

They’d have only three possible developments: thrive, or stagnate, or collapse. I don’t think the first is likely at all. They’d maintain their big option: go to war, or not. I do not think they would go to war. Most likely they’d try to wait it out, wait for the inevitable change in world opinion to get back to a policy of appeasement. By the time they were desperate enough to choose war, their straits should be dire enough that starting one would be obviously suicidal.

If they did start a war, it’d be terrible. They’ll inflict tremendous civilian casualties even if they choose not to use atomic weaponry. Then they would lose.

I’m ok with that, though. It’d be a chance for someone else to be the bad guys for once.

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4 Comments

Comment by Rourke Mac OS X Safari 533.16 Subscribed to comments via email
2010-06-15 10:06:10

Two> Three questions:

1. What books have you read? I’d probably also like to read them.
2. Have you read any new/recent books on NK, especially The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters, by B. R. Myers?

As for diplomacy: In general I’m a huge fan of diplomacy. But NK, I would assert — in addition to being the most totalitarian place on earth — is also the least diplomatic nation in the world (less than Burma, Sudan, or Iran). Given this, I’m inclined to agree with your realistic assessment of the situation on the Peninsula.

3. Do you think Pres. Lee Myung-bak’s policies are handling the situation properly? I presume you’d be more directly affected by the decisions of USFK and DOD, not ROK and State, but nevertheless — do you think your hosts are handling it properly?

Comment by coriolinus Windows NT Mozilla Firefox 3.6.3
2010-06-17 05:14:03

1. Most recently, The Cleanest Race by B.R.Myers. That’s the book that inspired this post. Before that, Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader by Bradley K. Martin, and any news I can find on the place. It’s been a topic of interest.

2. See 1.

3. I don’t have a proper answer to that question; I haven’t really evaluated his policies. You’re spot on as to the reason: they only affect me if he manages to start a war, and he’s got tremendous incentive to avoid one. So far, he’s succeeded. Still, that’s where he and I amicably disagree: while it makes sense for him to avoid fighting that would inevitably kill millions of his voters, I think it’d be better in the long run for the world at large and Korea in particular if we could incite the North into starting a war which ended in its destruction.

 
 
Comment by Rourke Mac OS X Safari 533.16 Subscribed to comments via email
2010-06-17 17:06:38

I’ll try to read both books ASAP.

You wrote: Still, that’s where he and I amicably disagree: while it makes sense for him to avoid fighting that would inevitably kill millions of his voters, I think it’d be better in the long run for the world at large and Korea in particular if we could incite the North into starting a war which ended in its destruction.

A highly controversial assertion. Personally, I’d say another war with the North would be too costly in terms of blood and treasure for the North, ROK, and (if we get involved) the US. I get that you’re saying “in the long run,” but nevertheless, I’d say it’s better to overestimate than underestimate the costs of war, especially a state-to-state war with the DPRK. Even though the DPRK is poor, it’s got one of the largest armies in the world plus a highly militarized civilian population — if we do eventually fight Korean War II, it would probably be long and costly.

As for state policy, both ROK and China are extremely concerned about the prospect of unification largely because of the North’s population — unlike the situation with East/West German reunification, it would be extremely difficult for ROK to absorb the North’s huge, starving, extremely uneducated population. Unfortunately, based on a few articles I’ve read, it seems ROK doesn’t have a well-drawn-out plan for the question “What happens if the North falls?”

 
Comment by coriolinus Windows NT Mozilla Firefox 3.6.3
2010-06-17 19:58:55

The alternative to war is to let the Kim dynasty continue to do whatever the hell they want to their own people and to the South. As for as the large military and militarized population, I’d say that actually works against them: a people with a military tradition, as opposed to one with an insurgent tradition, can actually be defeated by another military.

You’re right about the costs: they’d be enormous. A war here wouldn’t advance the interests of either the US or me personally. That doesn’t mean that the wars would be unjust.

The ROK has plenty of plans for what to do about the fall of the DPRK, no matter when or how it is accomplished. The bigger issue is that no amount of planning is going to make the integration easy.

 

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