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

August 19, 2009

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.


Diet Healthcare Reform

August 17, 2009

The big news of the day, at least according to Drudge, is that Team Obama is laying the groundwork for removing the public option from their health care plan. This would be part of a larger strategy shift, which has seen Obama rephrase “health care reform” as “health insurance reform” after his personal popularity and public support for health reform diminished as the debate soured.
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Can We Win in Afganistan, ctd.

August 14, 2009

Since I talked about Afghanistan three weeks ago, debate has really started to heat up. The article that prompted my post, Rory Stewart’s article for the LRB, has been followed up with him making this comparison about advising Obama administration officials on Afghanistan:

“It’s like they’re coming in and saying to you, ‘I’m going to drive my car off a cliff. Should I or should I not wear a seatbelt?’ And you say, ‘I don’t think you should drive your car off the cliff.’ And they say, ‘No, no, that bit’s already been decided – the question is whether to wear a seatbelt.’ And you say, ‘Well, you might as well wear a seatbelt.’ And then they say, ‘We’ve consulted with policy expert Rory Stewart and he says …’”

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Music from the Big Windy

August 13, 2009

The blog went on a fact finding mission this weekend to beautiful Chicago for Lollapalooza.  We felt it was important to do some primary research on who exactly rocks the most, though all of our careful records on the subject were destroyed and we are only left with hazy recollections of a great time.  However, we will do our best to put the pieces together. Read the rest of this entry »


Welcome to the Club

August 11, 2009

In discussing Carr’s excellent post with friends, I ended up noting how overrated the nuclear peace theory is.  The theory is that nuclear weapons actually leads to a more stable international system by raising the stakes beyond where rational actors will escalate a crisis to.  This is the realist version of democratic peace theory, but I think it suffers from ignoring the other variables that have produced international peace since the creation of the bomb and ultimately, from being far too risky in practice to justify its limited benefits.
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The End of (the) War

August 10, 2009

Frequent commenter and long-time friend of all things vulnerably pasty, Carr Bomb, contributed what is hopefully the first of many posts.  And its a doozy.

Last week, on August 6th and 9th respectively, citizens of the world observed the 64th anniversaries of the only nuclear attacks in world history, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These events forever changed the face of international relations and raised the stakes of warfare to a point which, to this date, has undoubtedly forced the world’s major powers to seek more creative and peaceful solutions to their disagreements. But was the cost in innocent human lives destroyed by both atomic bombs worth the Pax Americana today’s citizens are lucky enough to enjoy? Read the rest of this entry »


We will return to your regularly scheduled programming…

August 8, 2009

but first: Lollapalooza!  Back soon.