The intractable problem of North Korea

As you may know, North Korea, the world’s most repressive nation, is about to test a new nuclear weapon. Within two decades, says the New York Times in an article published today, the DPRK will have the ability to deliver nuclear weapons via intercontinental missiles. That means the U.S. will be in danger.

So far there’s no stopping that country. Weapons development has been faster than predicted, sanctions haven’t worked, and China doesn’t have the stomach to apply the pressure it should, perhaps because they actually want the U.S. to be threatened.  Trump is making threatening noises, but really, what can he do? If he takes unilateral action, North Korea will simply destroy Seoul, only a few miles south of the border. There’s little doubt of such a reprisal, except that it will be a suicidal move by Kim Jong-un.  But the man is not rational, so who knows?

The problem seems to me intractable, and my only solution is this: do nothing.  I doubt that the DPRK will launch a unilateral strike, because they know it would destroy their country for no reason.  Let them have their weapons and hope that they don’t use them. After all, Pakistan has The Bomb and Iran will, too, despite our negotiations.

This is not a great solution, but it’s the only one that would seem to avoid the threat of killing millions. If you have a better solution, by all means put it below.

(From the NYT): The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, with what the C.I.A. calls “the disco ball.” The sphere is supposedly a nuclear weapon, shrunken to fit inside the nose cone of a missile. Credit Korean Central News Agency

114 Comments

  1. BobTerrace
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Subscribe.

    I have no suggestions.

  2. busterggi
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Do nothing?

    You won’t get WW III with that attitude.

    • Posted April 25, 2017 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      You have a solution? I asked for one, not just criticism of mine.

      • dabertini
        Posted April 25, 2017 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

        Iran will have the bomb? Really? I thought that the Obama solution reduced the likelihood of that scenario. Have the US not negotiated for more transparency with the Iran nuclear program? As for N.Korea, sanctions are the only way to go and if China does not get on board with the US, yours is the only viable option.

      • busterggi
        Posted April 25, 2017 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

        My sarcasm transmitter must be broken.

        Actually I think you’re 100% correct and this should have been our policy long ago.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted April 25, 2017 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

          It was Obama’s policy. It was, and still is, basically the best of all the bad options.

          There are already multiple UN sanctions against North Korea, which even China complies with to some extent, although they provide food and (I think) some oil. There is some indication that Iran and Venezuela do not comply.

          The UN has granted permission for members to inspect ships etc going to North Korea in an attempt to stop those countries who are breaking the sanctions. This has been done – ships going through the Panama Canal have been stopped and things for the North Korean nuclear programme found. It’s not always possible to tell who sent them due to false flags.

          China has good reasons not to rock the boat – a war on the peninsula would cause significantly more problems for them than the US.

          • dabertini
            Posted April 25, 2017 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

            Thank you 😘

      • Beth Purkhiser
        Posted April 25, 2017 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think that was a criticism, but rather an agreement. I think they were saying that’s probably the best way to avoid the next World War. I wish I had a better solution to offer, but nothing within the realm of the possible comes to mind. Which is just one reason I didn’t put on some orange make-up and run for president. :/

      • Posted April 25, 2017 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

        It seems to me busterggi was agreeing with you.

  3. eric
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    If you have a better solution, by all means put it below.

    End the war, sign a peace treaty, recognize it as a country. Over the course of the next several years, draw down forces in the DMZ, remove the mines, and eventually eliminate it altogether to allow regular trade of goods and people across the borders.

    IMO if we did this, we wouldn’t need to overturn the regime; the NK people would do it for us. Open the borders, and NK goes the way of East Germany. Or, perhaps instead, the regime would be forced to change to such an extent that the North Korean people (as well as the rest of us) would be much better off.

    In fact I think peace followed by opening of borders is such an existential threat to the NK regime that the one flaw in my plan is that they would refuse it. The US, China, Russia, Japan, and and SK could all offer a peace treaty and Kim Jong-Un would reject it, for fear of losing his grip on the country.

    • eric
      Posted April 25, 2017 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      Ah who am I kidding. Obama with a democratic congress might have done it. Particularly if he had normalized relationships with Cuba a few years earlier than he did and had that feather in his cap. But Trump and the GOP? Never. The days of ‘Nixon going to China’ are over. The GOP of today wouldn’t recognize the value of soft power and diplomacy if it bit them.

      • Rick Graham
        Posted April 25, 2017 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

        Soft power might get a country what it wants on occasion, but if a country’s leaders aren’t willing to use hard power when necessary, it will always fail when confronted with hard power. And that’s why Vladimir Putin and Iran’s mullahs treated Barack Obama like a flunky, because they can.

        Secret stacks of cash to Iran in the night and Syrian red lines don’t work.

    • Posted April 25, 2017 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      Doesn’t it take two sides to open a border? The NKians would never allow their people over the border. They’d see what life is like outside NK.

      • Posted April 25, 2017 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

        My thought, too. Open the border? Over Kim Jong Un’s dead body.

    • loren russell
      Posted April 25, 2017 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      Eric — As a salute to Earth Day, leave the minefields in the DMZ. The cranes will appreciate it. And cherish no-mans- [no-sheeps-] lands around the globe. From Chernobyl to Khazakstan to Hanford to the Central Pacific, bomb residue is keeping vital ecosystems alive, and the same is true for mined areas in central Asia and beyond. Same for no-mans-lands in Kashmir. usw.. In many parts of the world, the only way to keep a bit of nature is to make it fatally dangerous for humans and their flocks.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted April 25, 2017 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      Your solution is a good one except for the fly in the ointment you identified: Kim
      Jong Un himself. There are probably those in the leadership who would support this too, but are too scared to speak up for fear of being killed.

    • Bill
      Posted April 26, 2017 at 8:12 am | Permalink

      This is the first sensible thing I’ve read about North Korea in a long time. Why are we still fighting the Korean war 65 years later? Just like Iran, there is one reason North Korea is building a nuclear bomb – they are afraid the US is trying to overthrow them. And they are right.

      • Posted April 26, 2017 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

        No. They are building a nuclear bomb because they are ruled by paranoics with a crazy ideology.

  4. Frank Bath
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    I may have missed something but Kim should be invited to visit the USA as a foreign head of state. I think he would love it.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted April 25, 2017 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

      @Frank Bath Kim Jong-un is a big fan of computer games, the NBA & particularly Michael Jordan. He likely went to school in Switzerland. His love of luxury goods suggests to me he would indeed love the USA – as a rich man.

  5. Posted April 25, 2017 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    According to newspaper reports China has sent 150,000 troops and “thousands” of tanks to the N. Korea border in the last 2 weeks. They’ve also stopped imports of coal from NK and ended all airline service to Pyongyang (last Monday).

    Short of actual invasion, I’m not sure how much more China can do.

    Mr. Kim’s antics are surely more concerning to China than they are to the US. Imagine how the US would feel if we had a madman like Kim on *our* border – that’s how the Chinese feel. But what can they do?

    In Mao’s era NK was an ally, and China worries about it’s reputation as a “trustworthy” ally, as does every country. Since Mao died China has steadily got more sane, and NK less so.

    Certainly the Chinese don’t love having American troops in S. Korea, but I suspect given a choice between having Americans on their border and Mr. Kim, they’d pick the Americans.

    In an ideal world, the Americans and Chinese would cook up a plan to deal with Mr. Kim – Americans attacking from the south, Chinese from the north, meeting in the middle and shaking hands on a job well done (and then leaving the mess for Seoul to clean up).

    There may be too much distrust on both sides for that.

    But maybe not; surprises happen. Our Fearless Leader Mr. Trump has been making noises on Twitter (unwisely, IMHO) about how the Chinese are “helping” re NK ever since Xi visited Washington. Maybe they have a plan.

    If it were me, I’d make a deal with the Chinese: Americans will do something to provoke NK. NK will respond. Americans will use that as an excuse to invade from the south (or pretend to). China will loudly announce they’re coming from the north to “save” Mr. Kim.

    …shake hands…

    And the Americans promise to go home from Korea at the end of it all. (Mr. Trump will like the savings and the Chinese will sleep better.)

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted April 25, 2017 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      We would have to first take out their missile batteries that are able to reach Seoul. I have not checked, but I bet these are heavily fortified and maybe some are mobile. I bet SK would like a consult first!

      • Posted April 25, 2017 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

        No doubt. Seoul ought to be terrified.

        Probably best if the Chinese invade first. Let NK move troops north to defend, then the Americans can move in from the South.

        But, unlike the US, China is not at all comfortable with interventionism (good on them!).

        So I doubt any of this will happen.

        • Posted April 26, 2017 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

          I think the NK leaders are sufficiently crazy that even if the Chinese invade from the north, the first thing they will do is attempt to destroy Seoul. And I don’t think anyone has the right to ask the people there to take that. (Not even the SK government.)

        • Posted April 26, 2017 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

          China not comfortable with interventionism? Tell this to the Tibetans! It also had a sinister role in South Sudan.

      • eric
        Posted April 25, 2017 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        I believe they also have the missile capability to reach Tokyo. IIRC a few years ago they did a ballistic missile test in that direction.

        I think it’s unreasonable to expect that China would cooperate on any invasion of NK. They tend to take a more subtle approach to getting NK to do what they want. “Oh, our oil pipeline stopped working? Must be a breach somewhere. We’ll get right on fixing that.”

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted April 25, 2017 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      Seoul is only c. 35 miles south of the border. North Korea has enough conventional weapons targeting the place to kill millions long before the US or China could do anything. Japan is also in range of conventional weapons.

      Many of North Korea’s weapons are mobile. Their nuclear stuff is underground; some is underwater. Bombs cannot reach them.

      Also, the terrain on the border with China is a big problem.

      Kim’s brother was being protected by the Chinese as a possible puppet leader if they got rid of him. Kim managed to assassinate him.

      Your solution would see tens of millions killed, wounded, or displaced. It would make Syria look like a picnic.

  6. mikeyc
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, no idea.

    Pressure on China seems to me to be the only way but that has been tried for many years for many things and it just doesn’t work. At best you can deflect China a bit on whatever course it wants to take, but only if they wanted to go that way anyway.

  7. Randall Schenck
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Yes, I have no solution but to say the same that you have already said. All people must understand that this is not a U.S. vs N. Korea thing. South Korea must have a great part in whatever is decided. After all, it is the South and their future at steak here. We must continue to put the heat on China because China is the only life line for N. Korea. Mutual Assured Destruction has worked since 1950s and it will likely continue to work. The North Korean leadership may be crazy but they are not stupid. They want to live the same as everyone else.

    I have been to South Korea many times in the 80s and 90s. Have also been to the DMZ and seen the country side. They and all thinking people do not want to see the North pushed into a corner with no alternative but to strike. The U.S. is committed to the support of South Korea and always will be.

  8. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    A couple geopolitical experts made pretty much the same conclusion on NPR recently. Their view is that like other despotic regimes, their leadership really just wants this weapon as a deterrent. The real bad news is that if there now is a viable military solution to the problem of North Korea, that option will soon be gone.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted April 25, 2017 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      I do not know what that viable military option would be?

      • darrelle
        Posted April 25, 2017 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

        Of course the question of viability depends entirely on who’s perspective. It might be viable from Trump’s perspective, though he probably doesn’t have a clue what the word means, but it probably isn’t viable from most South Koreans’ perspectives.

        • Randy schenck
          Posted April 25, 2017 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

          Yes, that is the fear when it comes to Trump. He runs the mouth and can do much damage. I have thought the dialog between him and the North are like two 5 year olds going at it.

  9. Geoff Toscano
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    I read today that China’s fuel embargo is having a major effect on NK’s transport, with queues at pumps, some entirely dry, and a near doubling of fuel prices. Might this force Kim Jung-un to have to talk to China? Maybe?

    The trouble is that he’s so unpredictable that everything is risky, but I agree that the absolute worst option would be to try some sort of military aggression.

  10. Neil
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Setting aside the difficult of such an action, has anybody seen an analysis/prediction of the outcome of a Kim Jong-un assassination?

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted April 25, 2017 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      Sony Pictures war-gamed this. North Korea retaliated by hacking Angelina Jolie’s emails. 🙂

  11. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    This is an extremely fraught situation. And our own Dear Leader is temperamentally ill-suited, experientially ill-qualified, and in all practical respects ill-prepared to deal with it.

    Plus, he’s gotten the taste of blood in his mouth with the Tomahawk attack in Syria and the MOAB in Afghanistan. Soon he’ll be craving for more.

    Cuidado, Mr. President, cuidado. For all our sakes.

    • Mark R.
      Posted April 25, 2017 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      Cuidado?

      I really don’t think he is capable.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted April 25, 2017 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

        All we can do is ask. Pretty please, con azucar.

        Not that a bad hombre like the Donald will listen.

    • Posted April 25, 2017 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      Maybe it was a good thing that it was the Chinese President and not his own staff who has been briefing him on this.

  12. Alexey
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Test ban treaty might be a better option:

    • eric
      Posted April 25, 2017 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      They are not a signatory to our current nonproliferation treaties; what makes you think they would sign a CBTB?

      • eric
        Posted April 25, 2017 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

        Oops, CTBT. 🙂

  13. Posted April 25, 2017 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    As ugly as this sounds: “do nothing” (in public; they cyber war to screw up their weapons program computing may well be working) ; they will eventually starve themselves to death or change for the better.

  14. rickflick
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    I think do nothing is the right answer for the reasons stated. Opening boarders and accepting the DPRK into the family of nations would be difficult if not impossible(Perhaps electing DPRK to head the U.N. committee on human rights would do the trick?)

  15. David Duncan
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    “…China doesn’t have the stomach to apply the pressure it should, perhaps because they actually want the U.S. to be threatened.”

    Makes no sense for a lot of reasons. China will be devastated by fallout from the U.S. response, the chaos this causes will be bad for the U.S. economy, and hence for China, and refugees from N.K. will flood China, placing huge strain on the latter’s economy and infrastructure.

    “But the man is not rational…”

    Not proven, IMHO.

    “Let them have their weapons and hope that they don’t use them.”

    This, I think, is part of the solution. Let them develope bombs and missiles and stop the sabre rattling. Persuade China to use its influence and, quietly and discretely, plan for a response if they do attack. And hope for regime change from within, for surely not all his cronies are suicidal.

    “The sphere is supposedly a nuclear weapon…”

    It looks just like a beachball to me.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted April 25, 2017 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      There’s a big difference between China wanting the US to feel threatened and China wanting the US to be attacked. Clearly, China does not want the latter, including for the reasons you’ve stated.

      But it’s in China’s geo-strategic interests to have the DPRK and US at loggerheads, since it makes both more dependent upon the good offices of the mainland Chinese. China may even be willing to indulge a bit of brinkmanship to that end.

    • Filippo
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

      I’m wondering if one ought to consult those wise U.S. business sages, who sub out their manufacturing to China, on how to best handle this NK/China situation.

  16. Posted April 25, 2017 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    The North Korean state exists to support the Korean Peoples Army, not the other way around. If China can be persuaded to cut off NK’s ability to import, this arrangement will not be sustainable for long. To do this, China will need to be assured that the future unified Korea will be a demilitarized and reliable trading partner. It can be done, I think.

  17. Posted April 25, 2017 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    How ’bout won for warheads?

    Offer Kim some embarrassingly large amount of hard currency for each fully-functional weapons system voluntarily surrendered, with but one string attached: an equal amount of cash will be distributed equally amongst all North Korean citizens. With little or no practical limits — if he can keep churning out ICBMs, we’ll keep buying them at the inflated prices. No minimum, either; if he wants to keep some or even most of the weapons, that’s fine.

    I do mean no strings but the one. He’s welcome to spend the cash on whatever he wants. He can spin the offer however he likes. There’s no need for political reform, no requirement to change other military stances, none of that. Just a simple exchange of cash and goods. We’ll also simultaneously pursue other peace proposals, of course — but entirely independently.

    And it has to be enough money that he really can’t afford to turn it down. Maybe a billion USD per bomb?

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted April 25, 2017 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      For every intractable problem, there is a solution that is simple and direct … and wrong.

      Why wouldn’t Kim Jong-un simply sell us his obsolete bombs and use all the sweet, sweet Ameros we send him to fund his next-generation nuclear weapons and ICBMs? Sell off each superseded generation as a new generation comes on line, keeping a sufficient stash in the warehouse to pose a danger to all? Sounds like a recipe for rampant advancement and proliferation to me.

      • Posted April 25, 2017 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

        Great!

        …and each and every bomb he buys from us puts the local equivalent of a few thousand dollars cash in every North Korean’s pocket — that single string, remember?

        If you don’t think that’ll do amazing things to lift North Korea out of the abject poverty it’s in and to whet the appetite for the joys of consumerism, I’ve got a really big dam in China to sell you….

        Cheers,

        b&

        >

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted April 25, 2017 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

          So he gets to build new bombs and placate the population? So much for fomenting internal revolt.

          Anyway, how do you propose to police the distribution of the dough? Doubt The Un will be admitting inspectors anytime soon.

          • Posted April 25, 2017 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

            So he gets to build new bombs and placate the population? So much for fomenting internal revolt.

            The population is starving. Getting them immediate relief should be one of the top humanitarian goals of the international community.

            And what makes you think that the population won’t find ways to channel some of those funds into arms, should they decide violence is their best recourse?

            Anyway, how do you propose to police the distribution of the dough? Doubt The Un will be admitting inspectors anytime soon.

            That would be a subject for negotiations. But whatever Kim agreed to that was independently verifiable would be fine. He could have his soldiers hand-deliver the cash to everybody, and have people photographed kissing portraits of Kim to express their thanks for his generosity. But, so long as we had good confidence that the cash was indeed theirs to spend — evidenced in no small part by observations of economic activity — then why should we care how delivery is made?

            Cheers,

            b&

            >

            • Randy schenck
              Posted April 25, 2017 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

              I’m trying to picture what they (the people) would buy with the money. I doubt there is much to buy and food would probably be their first choice. When you are starving to death that I-pad is not worth much.

              • Posted April 25, 2017 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

                They’d buy farming equipment from China, for starters. And sewing machines and woodworking tools — and, yes, computing tools. Even if restricted to local state-controlled networks, they still would be hugely beneficial.

                Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good — and lifting the North Korean citizenry from abject starvation-level poverty to simply being poor would be an enormous good.

                Cheers,

                b&

                >

              • Randall Schenck
                Posted April 25, 2017 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

                Okay Ben. Let’s pretend the average farm worker in N.K. could walk into his local tractor dealership and buy a tractor or disc or planter. I think not but for your theory to work, he does. He also works his land and collects the money after selling the products he raises. I am afraid Comrade Ben, it probably does not work this way.

              • Posted April 25, 2017 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

                And, yet, that’s exactly the way it has worked in China itself — as well as everywhere else in Southeast Asia that was at least nominally Communist and isn’t North Korea.

                Yes, China still has a long ways to go. But where they started wasn’t all that far off from where North Korea is today, and where they are today is dramatically, radically better — with all signs pointed to continuing on the same trajectory.

                Cheers,

                b&

                >

              • Randy schenck
                Posted April 25, 2017 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

                Certainly China has thrown off parts of old communism and come to practice capitalism in many areas. Allowing private business and enterprise has picked up in China because it had too. They saw what happened to the old Soviet Union and they changed before it happened to them. However, N.K. has done nothing of the kind and keeps the population in total ignorance of the outside world.

                If you can determine how to break down this total shield these people are under and give them a look at the outside world you will have accomplished the goal everyone is after.

    • Filippo
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

      Well, if he possibly has one Amuricun bone in his body, he may possibly succumb to that temptation. On the other hand, he may relish refusing, portraying himself as above Amuricun crass commercialism.

  18. Mark R.
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Since SK has the most to lose, I don’t think it wise to do anything without their insight, expertise and consent. I guess I’d answer the question by asking how would SK approach this debacle, and then follow their lead. As far as I can tell, I think SK’s position is diplomacy or do nothing.

  19. Craw
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    There’s a contradiction at the heart of your argument: at one point you rely on Kim behaving rationally, and in another you say he isn’t.
    And that gets at the heart of the intractibility. The weapons, if any, are in the control of the irrational.
    Can contol pass to rational leaders in NK if Kim and his intimates are assassinated? It would need to be a clean decapitation of the regime. It would have to happen followed instantly by a convincing proffer of good will. (The only one I can think of is hostages presenting themselves at NK embassies, which seems fantastical not practical.)

    I am in general skeptical of inaction, since the problem only gets worse the more weapons he gets.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted April 25, 2017 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      Inaction has often been the solution – the cold war is proof of that. How many bombs and how many times over can you kill the other guy, yet never did they use them. I think N. Korea is the same. Even before the Nukes, they spent tons of money they did not have on the army and weapons but to what use. It was all a game of threat and they are out to get us. We have been in this state since 1954 and there is no reason to change now.

      • Craw
        Posted April 25, 2017 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

        The Russians were rational. The question is, is NK? And that’s not clear. Same for Iran. Ad even if the Iranian leadership is rational now, can we rely on it staying that way? The risk in theocracy is wildly different than in a country like Canada, were Canada to arm up.

        Plus of course the cold war was not inaction at all, it just wasn’t *preemption*. I didn’t suggest a pre-emptive strike.

        • Randy schenck
          Posted April 25, 2017 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

          So now the argument is the theocracy, such as Iran is the risk. Whereas the risk with North Korea is the guy. The Russians were rational so no risk. I’m so glad that is cleared up.

          But here is the deal. Makes no difference how rational you or anyone might think. What are you prepared to do about it? You that are skeptical of inaction.

  20. Steve Pollard
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Like it or not, we really do need to make an effort to understand the other guy’s point of view.

    There has never been a peace treaty to bring the Korean War to a conclusion. There is only an armistice. As far as the North is concerned, they are still at war with the US (and technically, I guess, with the rest of the UN coalition of 1950). What they want is a peace treaty with the US that recognises their hegemony over their part of the peninsula.

    The US could not, of course, concede that. It is not in their gift to concede. But they could say explicitly that they have no intention of attacking NK unless there is a clear, unambiguous and immediate military threat to the US or its allies, including of course SK. Obama’s policy was the right one, but maybe it was not explicit enough.

    I have visited the DMZ three times. What goes on there amounts to an exercise in mutual willy-waving. SK is now so successful that it doesn’t to need to do this any more. The best long-term approach for them and the US is surely to give the North the space to start coming to terms with the rest of the world, while making it clear that there will be penalties for failing to do so.

    As one of your most charismatic Presidents once said, speak softly and carry a big stick.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted April 25, 2017 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      That would be Teddy. I think we need to take the stick to the current office holder and shut him up.

  21. Michael Fisher
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Mail him luxury sugary food gifts – the evil tyrant is an obese diabetic. Perhaps his replacement will be an improvement.

  22. Barry McGuire
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    How about if we undo what we did do: to wit, that we remove all weapons and some 50,000 American troops from S.K. This build-up is what provoked N.K. into the belief that it was under imminent threat of invasion at any time and that the only course open was to develop a very deadly arsenal as a deterrent.

    We should make it clear that we have no intention to invade them first and then we should remove all American troops and weapons to demonstrate this resolve.

    This is not 1952 and “Pork Chop Hill” types of engagements are not remotely likely. We do not need troops in S. K. Nor weapons. As of the moment these two things are our worst enemy. They fuel Kim’s angst.

    But, one might say, that would leave S.K. totally vulnerable and defenseless. So? We should let N.K. know that any attack against S.K. would result in the immediate annihilation of N.K. and that we have enough sea and air power to make toast of it within minutes of any such invasion on its part. I cannot believe that even Kim wants to see beautiful Pyongyang reduced to rubble.

    This course might well diffuse the situation as well as save us billions a year. Our current course is a time-bomb for an Armageddon. Alas, our current dear leader and his advisers seem hellbent on implementing doomsday.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted April 25, 2017 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

      Well first off – the troop numbers for us is more like 36,000 and that is a mix of air force and army. It is hardly more than a token compared to the 2 million man army of the North Korean leader. Again, the guy maybe crazy but not stupid and he is not spending all this money because of our 36,000 people in the South. He is an actor doing his theater for the masses in North Korea to make them believe he is the only thing protecting them from the South.

      The idea that he would change if we pulled out is pure nonsense. Should the ROK also stand down and throw away their arms? They would laugh in your face and remind you who invaded who back in 1950.

      • Barry McGuire
        Posted April 25, 2017 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

        Whether it be 20,000, 36,000 or 50,000 troops is basically irrelevant. Whatever the number might be, it is likely that Kim would still see it as a harbinger of our intent to invade at some point. Think how we might react if “only” 36,000 Russian troops together with nuclear weapons were stationed over our border with Mexico. Would we think, “Oh, not to worry.They will never actually invade us.”

        I did not suggest that ROK give up its army or weapons. But even if it did, the basic situation would not change. Should N.K. invade a *totally defenseless* S.K., N.K. would still reap the reward of being virtually annihilated. Kim may be crazy but I suspect he is not suicidal.

        And, no, I don’t expect Kim to change in any marked way but he just might tend toward being a bit more reality based. In the meantime, let him rant and rate to his captive subjects. Sticks and stones, etc.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted April 25, 2017 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

      ” Alas, our current dear leader and his advisers seem hellbent on implementing doomsday.”

      So, Mr. Barry McGuire, you still believe … we’re on the Eve … of Destruction?

  23. Diki
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    My fear for the long term is what this nut job will do for hard currency and resources. If JC is right about Iran having nukes in the future then the Saudis and other gulf states will as well and bollocks to the NNPT, they hate the Shia more than the Devil himself. I’m not talking about the active trading of nuclear weapons (possible as that might be) but certainly the transfer of essential know how and ancillary technology. I’m sorry to have to say it but I think on balance it’s better for the world if NK is finished off soon.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 25, 2017 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

      Given the relations between the Arab sates in general and the nuclear power of Israel, then the spread of the “Arab bomb” is guaranteed, and on as short a time scale as serious amounts of money can enable it.
      If, to be honest, it hasn’t happened already. I’m not going to bet against that.

  24. Matt Jenkins
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    One of the factors contributing to the end of the USSR was foreign VHS tapes getting in and giving people a view of the outside world.

    My suggestion would be to balloon drop laptops into NK. They would need to be small for concealment, wind-up, very robust and capable of downloading HD video. $100 dollar laptops were already around in 2005, so I’m sure the CIA could knock something out for less by now.

    • Mark R.
      Posted April 25, 2017 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

      It would be interesting to see Jong-un’s reaction to such an airdrop. My gut tells me it would spell disaster for any citizen caught with one.

      • Posted April 25, 2017 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

        Balloon drop firearms along with the laptops. Then the KPA will not be the only one with the guns.

  25. Tom Czarny
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    No proffered solution to the NK problem, just the observation that the current situation with NK and Kim Jong-Un strongly parallels the story line of Madeleine L’Engle’s 1978 young adult novel “A Swiftly Tilting Planet.” In that novel a megalomaniacal dictator of a small South American country armed with nuclear weapons threatens armageddon. Unfortunately we don’t have access to a luminous white unicorn named Gaudior to intercede on our behalf.

  26. Gary Allan
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    There is no safe solution. You have two irrational people involved, Trump and Kim. I doubt Trump cares any more for Seoul than Kim, so an attack would not be a surprise.

  27. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    Disengagement has been terribly successful so far. But since no one apart from the Chinese government and on oil company (TTBOMK) have actually tried engagement, and putting the DPRK’s leadership in a position where they might actually have something to lose by not improving their relationships with the rest of the world, then that is the amount of success to be expected.
    Anyway, for whatever reason, “Western” politicians have shut down our contacts, and are trying to shut down the Chinese contacts. It’s almost as if, for some important Western Politicians, having a nuclear war, no matter how short, is the desired outcome.
    I pity the inhabitants of downtown Pyongyang. And those of Seoul and South Korea who will also die because of the short war in a country far away.

  28. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    My fear is that North Korea is so bonkers that the US will be forced to launch a nuclear strike. This is way too much like the 80s nuclear war movie, Threads.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted April 25, 2017 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

      Maybe you watch too many movies and are fatalistic, probably more to do with the crazy guy in the U.S. than the one in N.K. I would recommend keeping the powder dry and wait for the eventual fall of the dictator. Which country you say…take your choice.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted April 25, 2017 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

      This is no time, I suppose, for a Strangelove and Fail Safe and On the Beach retrospective, huh? Or maybe it’s the perfect time.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 25, 2017 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

        All those movies are scary.

        My dad has a friend who is married to a Chinese woman. They are warned not to go near the border with North Korea because they are so nuts that they will shoot you while you’re standing in your side of the border.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted April 25, 2017 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

          On the north border, up along the Yalu River? They’ll shoot at the Chinese communists standing on the other side?

          Damn — that, I did not know. The Big Un is even crazier than we thought.

          • Posted April 26, 2017 at 10:20 am | Permalink

            There are no communists in China.

            More precisely, there are no vocal ones. Except in Chinese prisons.

            Actual communists get arrested in China.

            Don’t let the name of the ruling party fool you. To the Chinese the word “communism” means, today, “making life better for ordinary people”.

            In that sense almost every government in the world claims to be “communist”.

    • Tim Harris
      Posted April 26, 2017 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

      This from ‘Foreign Policy’, by Andrei Lankov:

      North Korea’s system might look bizarre to us from the outside, but the Kims are the ultimate political survivors, hard-edged rationalists whose actions have always had a clear purpose: keeping the family in power. Seeing them as madmen is not only wrong, but also dangerous; any successful policy should be based on understanding the logic of the opposite side, not on discarding it as “irrational” Seeing the Kim family as lunatics with nukes makes them more threatening, and raises the risk of war, but it can also promote unrealistic expectations of compromise — if only the North “comes to its senses.”’

  29. Pliny the in Between
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    Considering the history of the region, 63 years of fostering hatred against the West, a persistent need to point to foreign boogie men to divert attention from a failed state, and nationalist pride in their nuclear weapons program, I doubt that doing nothing will bring resolution. It seems inevitable that war is coming.

    Just remember what Lindsey Graham said last week regarding the consequences of a first strike against N Korea, “Yes, it would be terrible, but the war would be over there, it wouldn’t be here,” Graham replied.

    “It would be bad for the Korean peninsula, it would be bad for China, it would be bad for Japan, it would be bad for South Korea, it would be the end of North Korea but what it would not do is hit America,” he concluded.

    I doubt he’s the first person to have come to that conclusion.

    • Posted April 25, 2017 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

      Clearly, Lindsey Graham lives on a planet that isn’t Earth.

      Look at the economic consequences to the United States of the Fukushima earthquake and its aftermath. Now multiply that by quite a lot for Japan alone, and add in the complete collapse of South Korea and a major recession in China…

      …and he thinks America won’t be affected?

      Note that I’m assuming the proverbial “short victorious war” and considering only the financial consequences to the United States, which is reasonably all that Graham himself cares about. The actual cost of non-American life and property we’re explicitly ignoring for this calculation because Graham himself clearly does. This is an exercise in showing that he’s a self-destroying fool even given his inhumane heartless selfishness, not an attempt to instill basic compassion within him.

      Cheers,

      b&

      >

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted April 25, 2017 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

      I warmed up to ol’ Lindsay a bit over the last year, year-and-a-half, what with him being solidly “never Trump” (and before that, “never Cruz”). But let’s never overlook that Lindsay’s a stone cold hawk. Way he sees it, the U.S. armed forces are a hammer, the rest of the world, a bed of nails.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted April 25, 2017 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

        Sorry, “Lindsey.”

      • gluonspring
        Posted April 26, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

        Ditto. I remembered that he was a hawk, but I had forgotten just how far that went.

    • gluonspring
      Posted April 26, 2017 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      A month or so ago a relative of mine wondered aloud why Obama didn’t attack NK to stop them from developing missiles. I mentioned the pretty good chance that millions would die in Seoul as a result. Blank stares. This just wasn’t registering as an important downside.

      I’ve been very worried ever since, because if my generally decent relative counts South Korean lives for so little what would someone like Trump think? My impression of the man is that he’d readily sacrifice them all for a single positive NYT headline about himself.

      Now this Graham quote really makes me think we are going to war. I knew he was a warmonger, but I hadn’t pegged him as someone who would reject the long-standing consensus that striking NK entails too high a risk to South Korea. Without all the sober people rejecting the equation that says foreign lives are without value, an equation the public is always ready to embrace, yahoos in government will quickly get the upper hand.

  30. W.Benson
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    North Korea is only a little more (less) oppressive than Saudi Arabia. No peace treaty was signed after the Korean war. The corporate west has never contemplated anything less than complete destruction of NK COMMUNISM. Never has the US even considered negotiation. The only chance that North Korea has for survival, with the accompanying pride of having defeated the US and UN in a fair fight, is to become repressive, root out pro-western sabotage, and develop a retaliatory sting than no sane person would challenge.

    We now have Donald Trump.

  31. jeffery
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    I usually don’t call for the targeted assassination of a head of state, but in Kim Jong-Un’s case, I’ll make an exception. Would anyone have objected had we managed to kill Hitler? He and his family lost any right they might have had to “suck air” on this planet a long, long time ago, in my book- the “trick” would be how to do it without anyone ever being able to prove WHO did it. C’mon, conspiracy theorists! Lend us a hand, here!

    • W.Benson
      Posted April 26, 2017 at 1:50 am | Permalink

      Targeted assassination would mean invasion os South Korea and possibly an attempted missile attack on US bases in Japan and elsewhere in the western Pacific. If I am not mistaken, who is refusing to negotiate and try to break the impass is the US.

    • Posted April 26, 2017 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      It would depend on when, in my case, with Hitler. There are times when the Nazi machine was sufficiently well established that it likely would have made no difference. (Similarly for virtually every other bloodthirsty monster.)

  32. Christopher Bonds
    Posted April 25, 2017 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    I’d be interested in a comparison of Korea and Germany. The latter was able to reunify but not Korea. I’m sure there are lots of reasons, but I’d like to see them spelled out in one place. One would be the fall of Communist systems in eastern Europe generally, for sure.

    • Posted April 26, 2017 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      East Germany was awful, but from what I can tell the NK situation is far far worse. One of these is that Korea was a largely a peasant society (from what I understand) prior to the war. NK still is in part; SK is now industrial, as Germany was before WWII.

  33. Posted April 26, 2017 at 2:59 am | Permalink

    Once no real aggression has been commited, there is nothing the world cand do appart from diplomacy and conversation – I hope that’s what Jerry means by “doing nothing”. By the way, how do you all feel about countries that have nuclear weapons pressing countries that don’t have them to keep away from them? Don’t you find it a bit odd?
    In this sense, one thing the whole world should do is to get rid of WMDs in general. The possetion of any kind of WMD should be seen as it reaally is: international terorism.

    • Posted April 26, 2017 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

      Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal in exchange for security guarantees that turned out totally void. After that precedent, it will be difficult to convince nations to abandon their nuclear weapons.

      • Tim Harris
        Posted April 26, 2017 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

        So did Gaddafi (nuclear ambitions rather than arsenal)….

  34. Posted April 26, 2017 at 4:18 am | Permalink

    Many of the leaders in North Korea might be said to be ‘riding the tiger’…
    http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/378493-chinese-idioms-riding-a-tiger-and-not-being-able-to-get-off-%E9%A8%8E%E8%99%8E%E9%9B%A3%E4%B8%8B/

  35. Danny
    Posted April 26, 2017 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    Perhaps the only thing to do is to welcome Kim into the world community with open arms, and admit defeat.

    This would give him what he wants in the short term: he can strut around the world stage as the “victor” and appear to his people as their savior, having faced down the evil west with his superior weaponry, tactics, what have you. At the same time, the threat of conventional or nuclear war is dramatically reduced. We can then start to trade with and improve the standard of living for the citizens of North Korea. Gradually expose them to the outside world, and demonstrate that we’re not the great evil we’ve been traditionally portrayed as (they may choose or be led to believe that’s only because we’ve been “defeated” by Kim; that’s fine, if it gets the results we want). With his newfound position of authority as a bona-fide world leader, perhaps Kim will accept the concomitant responsibilities and gradually, very slowly, he can be persuaded to behave more like a responsible world leader than a tyrant. Once he finally shuffles off this mortal coil, perhaps we could look forward to a new, progressive leader, who has fewer reasons to hate the rest of the world. A few generations from now, maybe reunification is possible.

    This probably won’t work, might not be practical to attempt for geopolitical reasons I’m totally ignorant of, and would very likely be politically impossible. It’s certainly naive. But I don’t see an alternative that doesn’t lead to war: sanctions could provoke Kim into lashing out, whilst doing nothing, well, does nothing to solve the problem in the long term whilst they continue to build nuclear weapons and threaten to use them.

    I can’t abide Trump, and he’s almost as dangerous as Kim, but in the same way that only Nixon could go to China – maybe only Trump can go to Pyongyang.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted April 26, 2017 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      You mean the way the US should’ve done with Cuba 60 years ago?

      • Posted April 26, 2017 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

        Right – in both cases (Cuba and NK) the authoritarian elements were made worse by the US obliging them in a fight. To use another example: In the case of Vietnam and perhaps also in China, there was also, in part, a sense of bitter betrayal, which can make things worse. (Ho and Mao may have been authoritarian and not the kind of guys you’d hold up as being even like us Canadians, but they did reach out, and in the first case, did get *told* that the US – in WWII – was going to help them get their country back. (From the Japanese.)

  36. Posted April 26, 2017 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    I disagree with the notion that China won’t intercede in N. Korea’s nuclear development or deployment. The Chinese have nothing to gain by the USA being threatened or potentially attacked by N.Korea. I think it’s safe to say that the Chinese have rightfully come to the conclusion that expanding their influence is better achieved economically rather than militarily or through direct political interference. One of their biggest markets (if not the biggest), is the USA. Since we still essentially control their economy (as customers), we should be able to make them see the logic in reeling in Un. They certainly have the means to do that.

    The wait-and-see idea may indeed work well though. Un, the evil antagonist, won’t live forever.

  37. Tim Harris
    Posted April 26, 2017 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    I recommend reading the American scholar R. Taggart Murphy on the unfinished business in East Asia – and what is to a not inconsiderable degree the USA’s responsibility for this (which is not to deny at the same time East Asian responsibility for the state of affairs as well). I realise there is an assumption among many that ‘colonialism’ or Western interference in other people’s affairs is Japan is in many ways a virtual satrapy of the US, an island aircraft carrier off the Asian continent, whereby the US can maintain a military presence there for the coming war with China (for there is plenty of hysteria in the US about China, chiefly amng the sort of people who brought about the Iraq war); and the situation in East Asia is one of the last – what might one call it? – remnants (?) of the Cold War.

    Prime Minister Hatoyama was brought down in 2010 in part because of his desire to create a more independent foreign policy (i.e. independent of US wishes)with respect to East Asia, one that I think would have resulted in a lessening of tensions in the area.

    Now we have in Japan the most right-wing government there has been since the 1930s, but one which ties itself to the US since in that way it can maintain its antipathy to China and both Koreas, and generally in the usual way of things make mutual antipathy worse, since that then justifies antipathy. It is a government which has among other things allowed the teaching of Mein Kampf in high schools (the racism is no doubt what is favoured) and the re-introduction in junior high schools of a ‘martial art’ known as jukendo, which is bayonet practice and which was an ‘art’ favoured by the militarists of the thirties and forties (Chinese and other prisoners were used in the less artistic form of it).

    I think the US should get out of East Asia and allow the East Asian nations to sort out out their problems by themselves. Then I think some sort of sense would prevail. But so long as you have Drumpfian and neo-conservative hysteria and the Krauthammers of this world licking their lips over the possibility of some nice savage American intervention with all the splendid chaos and mass killing that would involve, it does not look as though sense will prevail. And living in Tokyo, as I do,I not unnaturally have a rather personal interest in all this.

  38. Tim Harris
    Posted April 26, 2017 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Please correct the first paragraph as follows:

    I realise there is an assumption among many that ‘colonialism’ or Western interference in other people’s affairs is inadmissible as a reason for the mess that those people find themselves in, but I have small patience with that sort of ignorance. Japan is in many ways a virtual satrapy…

  39. Posted April 26, 2017 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  40. Posted April 26, 2017 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Answer: Do *nothing* to provoke the leadership, which is difficult since they do seem to be rather crazy. (Unlike, say, China’s or Iran’s, which are authoritarian.)

  41. Breandán Mac Séarraigh
    Posted April 30, 2017 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    The USA, Russia, UK, France, China, India and Israel all have nuclear weapons too.


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