North Korea: Time-Out or a Spanking?, Ctd

Today, Carr Bomb finishes his analysis of how to deal with North Korea.  If you missed the first installment look immediately below, or you can click here.

Yesterday I focused on the methods that have already been attempted to neutralize North Korea, today I will point out two other strategies.

(3) Hard-Unilateral: consider North Korea an enemy of the United States; impose a complete trade embargo. This is the approach the US took with Pyongyang from the ceasefire of 1953 to roughly 1991, and has been US foreign policy towards Cuba since 1958.

While North Korea generally declined to participate in Soviet wars during the embargo period, instead pursuing its independent ideology of juche, Cuba sent large numbers of soldiers to Angola, Algeria, Zaire, Yemen, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Nicaragua, and currently rents doctors to Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela and Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

One could expect similar behavior from Kim Jong-Il’s North Korea under a hard-unilateral approach. Indeed, North Korea already provides/provided nuclear technology to Yemen and Syria and guns for Myanmar, engages in heroin and methamphetamine smuggling, produces counterfeit currency and cigarettes, commits insurance fraud, and supposedly financed the Irish Republican Army during its 1970’s bombing campaign.  With no watchdog around, Kim Jong-Il’s regime would most likely increase the scale of its illicit activity.  A full US unilateral trade embargo would also give Kim an easy scapegoat for anytime something goes wrong.

A hard-unilateral approach would at least have the advantage of not costing American tax-payers any more money and avoiding the blowback that has resulted from our more pro-active Middle-Eastern policy and would probably result from any attempts at forced regime change in North Korea.

Furthermore, Kim Jong-Il has pancreatic cancer and is in poor health.  His hand-picked successor is third son Kim Jong-un, who attended the International School of Berne and has direct experience living in a free, capitalist society.  If Kim Jong-un takes power, there could be a sudden policy about-face in North Korea, such as with South Africa when Frederik Willem de Klerk took power in 1989 and suddenly ended apartheid.

However, due to strong US military presence on the Korean Peninsula and in neighboring Japan, if North Korea were to seek reunification with South Korea during such a period of full US embargo or begin abducting Japanese citizens agai, since both states are US military occupied client states, we would inevitably be drawn to the negotiating table and have to begin anew from scratch.  If either of those states felt we were not doing enough, it would very likely result in their developing independent nuclear deterrents.

(4) Soft-Multilateral: engage with North Korea directly; open trade. The disadvantage to this approach, advocated by many libertarians, is that it potentially sends the message that the US is willing to ignore human rights and proliferation issues when deciding with whom to trade. Countries such as Burma or Syria could interpret an opening of US trade to North Korea as an incentive to develop nuclear detterent and start making threats to regional democracies.

However, the US already trades with many nations that violate human rights, among them China and Saudi Arabia, two of our biggest business partners. The US is far beyond being able to demand compliance with international standards of human rights as a pretext for trade, and the world knows it.

Furthermore, the reason none of the other approaches to solving the problem are feasible is because the US does not currently have a large trade volume with North Korea. Instead we have to rely on toothless, non-credible threats and concessions for China and Russia. If we open trade to North Korea, we will have something to take away in case Kim Jong-Il decides to proliferate again or develop ever more-powerful nuclear weapons.

The opening of doors to legitimate trade would also satisfy North Korea’s need to feed its own population, which has been ravaged by natural disasters, disease, and famine in recent years especially. It was this need for the simple necessities of life that compelled Kim Jong-Il to seek the world’s attention in the first place, and that most likely continues to motivate North Korean weapons and drug trafficking today.

The model for soft-multilateral approach of course is China. Under Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao, China has become increasingly more democratic and capitalist. China’s international exposure has drawn protest which has made it at least relax its suppression of dissidents.  Experimentation and gradual implementation of capitalist markets have convinced Chinese authorities of the superiority of that system.

To return to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Good Morning America interview, if North Korea is an unruly teenager and America its parent, Democratic soft-unilateral policy has heretofore essentially been to promise a new car in exchange for not misbehaving. The Bush Administration’s hard-multilateral policy amounts to telling the child he’s destined to become a criminal and then the whole family having a public intervention on the Maury Povich show. To impose a hard-unilateral embargo on North Korea is like kicking a rebellious teenager out of the house. Finally, to open trade in a soft-multilateral fashion is like giving the child responsibility so he’s forced to grow up.

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