April 26, 2017

There is no military solution to the North Korea problem

Whether the US attacks North Korea or vice versa, one can expect deaths to be in the millions, with South Korea a major victim. Stunningly absent from political and media talk about this situation are non-military alternatives. Some clips on this topic beginning with one about a talk at Bowdoin College by former diplomat Christopher Hill; 

Bowdoin Sun - Hill has some experience in the region, having served as US ambassador to South Korea in 2004-2005, and then spending four years as America’s representative in the six-party talks, which aimed to find a peaceful resolution to Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.

“It was a different situation then,” said Hill, “because the prospect of a deliverable North Korean nuclear weapon … was still something very much in the future.” Now it’s not such a distant prospect, he said, pointing out that dictator Kim Jong-un ordered two nuclear tests in 2016 and up to thirty missile tests.

It’s important to understand what is motivating the North Korean leadership in its relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons. “It has to do with a longstanding North Korean effort to decouple the United States from South Korea.” Pyongyang, said Hill, is hoping that possession of nuclear weapons would dissuade the US from intervening in any future conflict on the Korean peninsula.

Given this, what should the US do, seeing that direct negotiations with North Korea do not seem to work? “We’re dealing with a pretty tough, serious, no-kidding problem,” said Hill. He is not keen on the idea of a pre-emptive military strike to prevent Pyongyang developing nukes, because the stakes are too high. He pointed out that North Korea has thousands of artillery tubes and rocket launchers pointing at the South, within range of twenty million people. Do we really want a second Korean war? Hill asked.

This leaves diplomacy, and because North Korea has shown the world it cannot be trusted, Hill said the solution should involve increased US cooperation with China. Washington, he said, needs to engage more with Beijing on this issue, the resolution of which would be in both country’s best interests. China, for its faults, is more pluralistic than we think, said Hill. “This is a deep and rich civilization and we need to understand them better.”

Above all, he said, Washington needs to reassure Beijing that the US has no offensive military designs on the Korean peninsula. “We are not interested in putting US soldiers into the northern part of South Korea. We’re not interested in US soldiers on the Yalu river—been there, done that.”

Diplomacy aside, said Hill, there remains scope for some action to be taken against North Korea in the form of cyberwarfare. “There is a space between peace and war” he said, pointing out that cyberattacks against Pyongyang’s missile program would be one way of slowing the regime’s attempts to develop nuclear weapons.

The bottom line, said Hill, is that preventing North Korea from going nuclear is a US foreign policy priority, and increased cooperation with China is likely the best way to achieve that goal, difficult as that may be.

Robert L. Gallucci, LA Times - Some argue that an alternative to military action is the adoption of tougher sanctions together with more pressure on China to allow them to work. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with such an approach, there is little reason to think it will be effective in stopping North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. So the real alternative to war is a negotiated settlement that addresses the threat. There is a lot of work yet to be done in order to set the table for productive negotiations. More than 20 years ago, we struck a deal with the North that froze plutonium production for almost a decade before the deal collapsed: They cheated and we caught them. That was still a deal worth making, and the next one will have to be better. For starters, we should require that North Korea improve the human rights of its citizens as a condition of normalizing relations with the U.S.

Robert L. Gallucci is a professor of diplomacy at Georgetown University. He served in the State Department as chief U.S. negotiator during the North Korean nuclear crisis of 1994, and as an ambassador-at-large and special envoy dealing with threats posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction.

Doug Bandow, National Interest, Dec 2015 -  North Korea has proposed negotiations over a formal peace treaty. In October [2015] Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong used the UN as a platform to urge the U.S. and DPRK to agree to a treaty ending the conflict. North Korean television reiterated the call a few days later.

In the past Pyongyang’s proposals appeared pro forma. But now might be different. Cha Du-hyeogn, national security adviser to the previous South Korean president, suggested that the repetition was “a possible sign that North Korea is serious about holding a conversation with U.S.”

Washington’s official position is that a peace treaty is possible only when the North “takes irreversible steps toward denuclearization.” Which likely is never. Instead, the Obama administration should respond yes, proposing a time and place. Let the talks begin.

Of course, no one should have any illusions about how smoothly such a process is likely to go. Or how much practical difference a signed piece of paper would make so long as the DPRK maintains oversize military forces in advanced attacking positions along the Demilitarized Zone. Or whether the North would follow a peace treaty with an agreement limiting conventional or nuclear arms.

Nevertheless, the advantages of talking are several.

First, the status quo benefits no one, especially the U.S...

Second, Pyongyang is better behaved when involved in negotiations. Exactly why is hard to fathom. After all, preparing to fight in order to talk seems a bit odd. But the mere act of negotiating seems to reduce the likelihood of military confrontation. So talk.

Third, formally ending America’s role in a war that occurred decades ago would naturally lead to U.S. discussions with South Korea about turning its defense over to the Republic of Korea. The ROK has advanced far; there is no reason it should always be militarily dependent on America. The South’s many advantages, starting with an economy some 40 times as big as that of the North, a population twice as large, and a far stronger international presence, make it time to reconsider America’s security guarantee and military garrison.

Fourth, engaging the DPRK would satisfy a key Chinese suggestion (approaching demand): reduce the threat environment facing the North, which, assumes Beijing, is driving North Korea to develop nuclear weapons. There’s almost certainly more to Pyongyang’s program — a desire for attention and respect; determination to defend against anyone, including, possibly, the People’s Republic of China; and commitment to reward the military for political reliability. Nevertheless, the North demonstrates that even paranoids sometimes have enemies, and is unlikely to disarm so long as it perceives itself at war with the U.S.

Fifth, by engaging the DPRK, whatever the consequences, Washington could push Beijing to apply real pressure on North Korea to at least moderate its behavior if not disarm. Negotiations with Pyongyang would offer a practical test of the North’s intentions. Is it serious about using a peace treaty to improve relations or would talks merely provide an opportunity for further extortionate demands? Experience suggests the latter, but changes are afoot up north, including expanded private markets and increased push for foreign investment. In either case, if Washington acts on the PRC’s proposal, the former can ask Beijing for assistance in return.

Sixth, formally ending the war simply makes sense. The armistice, signed on June 27, 1953, was intended to “insure a complete cessation of hostilities and of all acts of armed force in Korea until a final peaceful settlement is achieved.” It hasn’t worked perfectly, with sporadic flare-ups, most recently two South Korean soldiers injured by a land mine last August. Nevertheless, broadly speaking peace has survived. After 62 years it is time to turn the “temporary” armistice into a permanent treaty.

William J Perry (former Secretary of Defense), Politico - It’s important to understand just what dangers we are trying to mitigate. The danger is not, as some believe, that North Korea will make good on its bluster and actually launch a surprise nuclear attack. The North Korean leadership, while it is evil and sometimes reckless, is not crazy or suicidal. Its primary goal is to sustain the Kim dynasty and, against all odds, it has shrewdly succeeded in that for many decades. It knows that if it launches a nuclear attack, the American response would bring death to the leadership and devastation to its country...

Why should we believe that diplomacy might be successful now when it has been ineffective for the past 16 years? Our negotiating strategy during that period has been based primarily on economic incentives and disincentives through sanctions. This strategy hasn’t worked, largely because while the North Korean leadership wants to improve the country’s flailing economy, this goal is always subordinate to the goal of sustaining the Kim dynasty, which it believes can be achieved with its nuclear arsenal behind it. Of course, the arsenal achieves its goal only if North Korea does not use it. Once its leaders use their arsenal to attack another country, the fate of the regime is sealed.

With that understanding, a new negotiating strategy can be employed—one that should allow the North Korean regime to see a way of surviving without nuclear weapons, and that should be backed up by more powerful economic incentives and disincentives than before. Thanks to two new international developments, a strategy like this is now possible—and the North Koreans are more likely to accept.

The first is the possibility of the full cooperation of China. This is not to say that China must be solely responsible for solving the problem of North Korea, but rather the U.S. should make China a full partner in the formulation and implementation of the new approach. China is the only nation that can provide powerful economic disincentives for North Korea, by withholding their substantial food and fuel support. China has been unwilling to do this so far, but in recent months, North Korea’s nuclear threats have become increasingly adverse to China’s core interests. Not only could the provocations lead to a destabilizing regional war, which now seems like more than a theoretical possibility, but they also increase the likelihood that Japan and South Korea will develop their own nuclear weapons, a circumstance China is eager to avoid.

The other key to the success of a new negotiating strategy is the growing belief in North Korea that it might already have overplayed its bluster strategy and that the U.S. is prepared to react militarily. During negotiations with the past two administrations, North Korea’s leaders were convinced, with good reason, that the threat of U.S. or South Korean military action was empty, and accordingly, they discounted it. But it is likely that the recent military actions taken by the Trump administration, from the Tomahawk missile strike in Syria to the deployment of an aircraft carrier group to the Korean peninsula, have changed their calculus. Kim Jong Un must now believe that there is a real possibility the U.S. is prepared to use military force, and must tailor his actions accordingly.

The alternative to diplomacy, of course, is military action. The United States could readily strike nuclear facilities in North Korea, just as we struck a military airfield in Syria. But the consequences could be far more destructive. I believe that North Korea would respond with some sort of military strike against South Korea, which in turn could rapidly escalate into a broader war. Any such war would lead to the eventual defeat of North Korea, but with devastating results, especially to our ally, South Korea.

We might have to use military force against North Korea at some point, but now is not the time. We still have a real opportunity for successful diplomacy. The big question is: Do we have the sense to seize this chance? After all, it could be the last one we have.

1 comment:

Tom Puckett said...

It seems to me that North Korea is acting a little like Peter Churchmouse in the story below, if you use your imagination.

North Korea is biting holes in things to let the world know that its hungry. It is litterally hungry for food, but also hungry for respect. So it threatens in the only way it knows how, by biting holes in the world's psyche.

If the Korean peninsula does erupt in gunfire, it would be very expensive to clean it up. How much better, easier and cheaper to buy North Korea a big piece of cheese!

Think about this to see the parallels and wonder if it is better to preach and practice being kind to very small animals.

I know our bomb and missile stockpiles have expiration dates, but isn't it time to start letting them expire and to not manufacture any more, except those strictly needed for actual national defense?

Swords to plowshares is the quote but in this case a few new bridges and everyone in the country with a solar roof would be a more modern approach.

The electorate is getting wise to the fact that we can "afford" unnecessary armaments but have no money and can't "afford" what most US Citizens want: health care without the added costs of middlemen insurance agencies, paid public education for four more grades (basic college) than the current paid K-12, good infrastructure (roads, water, etc). and the government out of most of our business.

Here's an informed member of the electorate on the subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rC0Homdo9Hs

We just want to join the rest of the civilized world which is already enjoying these things, for the taxes we pay. These things aren't "free" - but are paid for with our taxes. The ultimate services provided would be much less expensive through pooling our resources and paying civil servants a good wage to administer the programs.

As for North Korea, we should give the diplomatic service a whirl. With one-tenth the budget of the latest sortie (97 TCM x $500k each = $48½m) I'm sure they could accomplish something...

Cheers, Tom

Then Peter made inky footprints on Parson Pease-Porrige's sermon. But all the parson said was "I'll be twitched, I can't even read my own footnotes. I must go and get my new spectacles." And out he went, leaving his sermon on his desk.

Peter churchmouse was so dissapointed that he bit a big hole right through the middle of Parson Pease-Porridge's sermon.

"My," admired Gabriel, "the biggest hole I ever saw."

"The biggest hole I ever bit" cried Peter. "If that won't make him notice me, I'm sure I don't know what will."

Now the next morning it was Sunday. Parson Pease-Porridge came in, with his new spectacles on, and picked up his sermon.

"Upon my soul" he cried, "these are not footnotes, these are footprints!"

"I have a churchmouse, and the poor little fellow has eaten all these holes in things to tell me he's hungry."

And he went out and got the biggest piece of cheese Peter had ever seen. Then he looked at the big hole right through the middle of his sermon.

"Huh," he said, "owing to this slight, uh, accident, I must find a new sermon for today."

"So I shall speak about kindness to very little animals."

Peter Churchmouse and Gabriel were so happy they jumped right to the keys of Parson Pease-Porridge's pipe organ.

And that is the story of Peter Churchmouse.