North Korea

UPDATED SEPTEMBER 30, 2010

Vice Marshal Ri Yong Ho, Kim Jong Un

Kim Jong Un, left, with Kim Jong Il on right. Vice Marshal Ri Yong Ho center.

Above is the picture of Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il’s third and youngest son, and now heir apparent of the most secluded country in the world.

I will have more comments about this in the days ahead.

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The more I think about this, every recent event I can think of is a wake up call for our failure on diplomacy with rogue states.

Diplomacy ultimately depends on nation states being rational and having their people’s best interest at heart.  Even going back to the Soviet Union, they may not have worried about individual rights, but they wanted to survive.

The same may not be said about every rogue state, and North Korea is one of them

Let the facts speak for themselves.  In the 1990s, North Korea let 2 million of its own citizens die of starvation, largely because they didn’t want to give up their nuclear weapons program.  So in Kim Jong Il’s mind, having one nuclear bomb was worth at least 2 million lives of men, women, and children.  And we really don’t know how many more he would have been willing to sacrifice along the way.  And for what?  They are still under the delusion that the United States is ready to attack them at any minute.

It is impossible to talk to people that are that delusional.  It was a mistake that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush made, and it appears Barack Obama is following the same path.  The most likely reason is that all the other choices are so bad.  A military strike would cause a large scale war that would make Iraq and Afghanistan look like small backwater incidents.  Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is home to almost 10 million people, and would likely be devastated by an war.  There are no good choices here.

For diplomacy to work, you need collateral; you need a carrot and stick approach.  All of our past presidents have been willing to hand over the carrot, with no stick involved.  Oh sure, Bush talked a good game, and Clinton in hindsight said he considered bombing North Korea, but the reality is that the North Koreans don’t believe us any more.  You can cry wolf only so many times.  For example, U.S. diplomats called the act ‘provocative’, ‘dangerous’, and that their would be ‘serious punishment'; only to follow that statement by saying they wanted to continue negotiations.  I am sure that puts the fear of God into the North Koreans.

Now, in late May 2009, North Korea detonated their second nuclear weapon. And this test, by all accounts, was highly successful, ranging in the 10-20 kiloton range; the first test was considered a ‘burnout’ by many, in the range of half of one kiloton.  With their ICBMs and short range missiles (which will likely be perfected in short order), North Korea is likely to become a true nuclear threat by the midpoint of the next decade, if not sooner.  On July 4th, 2009, North Korea launched multiple short range ICBMs…and had threatened launch of their long range ICBM as well as possibly another nuclear test.

Now this mess fell on Barack Obama’s lap.  To be fair, he has all the same bad choices left to him that his predecessors did.  But he does have one serious flaw:  Kim Jong Il is even less likely to believe Obama will use military force against him than previous Presidents.  Obama has basically taken the military option off the table (whether it was ever seriously in consideration is another debate).

Obama is calling for serious, strong punishment from the Security Council, and it even looks like Russia and China will go along.  In a speech to the Czech Republic, Obama said the following:

“This provocation underscores the need for action, not just this afternoon at the UN Security Council, but in our determination to prevent the spread of these weapons.  Rules must be binding, violations must be punished, words must mean something. The world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons. Now is the time for a strong international response.”

Great.  What exactly are they going to do?  Nothing.  Well, nothing meaningful.  Trade restrictions and boycotts only work if their is any trade to stop; North Korea is already the most isolated country in the world, bar none.  We could stop handing over food donations, and thus result in millions more to die of starvation.   Are we willing to go that far?  Will our retaliation be to starve women and children?  I don’t think we have the stomach for that.  We certainly could stop handing over any money, but all that will do is let them try to sell their vast military knowledge, now including ICBMs, to the highest bidder for capital.  And we have shown that the United Nations is unable to stop those shipments to anyone, as you can see with Pakistan, Iran, Libya, the Palestinians, etc.   And after the first day of negotiations, the Russians and Chinese are asking for restraint.  That shows what breaking the rules means to them:  nothing.

So, in short, the Security Council is impotent.

We are quickly arriving at the moment when a serious, possibly catastrophic decision must be made.  North Korea is not Iran or Iraq..  Iran has its insane components, but overall the people are still integrated into world society.  North Korea is not, in any matter whatsoever.  They live in a bubble separate from reality.  Their people, if you told them they must all die in a horrible nuclear holocaust for the great glory of the exalted leader, would mostly probably say o.k..  This is the mass delusion we are facing.

I am not suggesting a full scale war by any means, and I am not suggesting we stop diplomatic talks.  Diplomacy must continue.  However, we should no longer be deluded that diplomacy alone will allow for any type of lasting peace.  And this is not about panic, as some have suggested; it is about accepting reality.

For decades, we have been dealing with North Korea from afar; they are now at our doorstep.  One day, this irrational regime will make a mistake, that will cost them their country, but could cost the world a major city, whether it be Tokyo, Hong Kong, or Los Angeles.  This is now a realistic possibility.  We as the modernized, civilized world better quickly come to that realization.

Could they have possibly already made that mistake?  North Korea apparently torpedoed a South Korean ship in March 2010, that led to the death of 46 South Korean sailors.  South Korea has now openly blamed North Korea for the attack, with the West supporting the report.  North Korea has said any punishment over the incident would lead to war.  North Korea has cut off all diplomatic ties with the South after South Korea (with American support) cut off all economic ties with the North.  The situation is probably the most dangerous it has been for several decades.

Our public realizes this problem.  They understand that our policy toward North Korea for the last two decades is an abject failure.  In a Rasmussen poll, 57% of people supported a military solution to the North Korean crisis.  They seem to understand that something must change from the status quo.

Hillary Clinton has repeatedly stated that the ‘world’ must respond to North Korea’s aggression, the latest of which being the submarine attack.  What she really means is that CHINA must respond.  North Korea’s true allies number only one; the People’ Republic.  If China wishes North Korea to calm down, they can demand it.  And if not, there is little anyone else can do.  But China fears a war on the Korean Peninsula as much as anyone, and it is in their best interest to maintain the status quo.

More importantly, our President must realize this.  He has been reluctant to talk about any military option.  Well, he must at the very least talk about it.  Why?  Without that threat, the North Koreans will never acede to anything.  Obama must come to an understand that not all the world is changed by talk; some people can only be changed by violence or the threat there of.  We will see in the next few days if Obama has the will power to make at least the rhetorical change necessary, because if he continues his current rhetoric, no North Korean will be shaking in their boots, least of all Kim Jong Il.