Revelations came recently from the Wikileaks cable dump that North Korea has been selling nuclear weapons to Iran (oh, right, and long-range missiles to deliver the nukes to, say, western Europe), which should come as a shock to exactly nobody — they’ve previously been found to be selling nuclear material to Syria. The only question is to whom is North Korea not selling nuclear materials. Why not Hamas or Al-Qaeda? According to the ISIS, North Korea has at least 9 nuclear weapons and is not slowing down with its enrichment programs.
Okay, that’s one thing. Now consider a second thing: North Korea’s increasing aggressiveness towards South Korea. They torpedoed a South Korean warship back in March, and have repeatedly attacked the nation in other ways, most recently with artillery shells aimed at residential areas on Yeonpyeong Island.
So we have North Korea’s wanton nuclear proliferation, and it’s growing aggression towards South Korea and the rest of the world. What’s the proper reaction to this? I’d argue that it’s time to reconsider our present strategy of doing nothing.
Now, we have had some bad recent experiences with regime change. But consider all the ways in which North Korea is different from, say, Saddam Hussein-era Iraq. It’s uncanny how many of the things the Bush administration said about Iraq are actually true of North Korea: its a clear and present danger to the world, its military is starved and abused and likely to surrender, and its citizens live in deplorable abject misery which is an order of magnitude worse then the terrible poverty found around the world. The last point is worth considerable discussion, which I attempted earlier this year:
Here is a country that so oppresses its people that the richest among them — the ones trotted out for international show — live in slum-like conditions, in constant hunger, in fear of saying or doing the wrong thing and being thrown into one of the country’s famous concentration camps. The conditions are actually worse than in 1984: patriotic songs are blasted from loudspeakers in the streets every hour on the hour from 6 am to midnight, the media (along with literally everything else) is owned and operated by the government, and the bizarre leader is worshiped and widely believed to control the weather with his emotions(!). This country allowed 2.5 million people to starve during the 1990s famine so it could support its military (note: the average North Korean is six inches shorter than the average South Korean). It runs a secret system of gulags in which torture is commonplace, and in which 400,000 people have died in the last quarter century. And by the way, part of the mind control system in the country is to brainwash racism and contempt for everyone else in the world into its people.
Now look, I’m no pro-war hawk. I opposed the Iraq invasion from the first moment it started being discussed. I think most of the wars the US has gotten involved with in the last century have been a mistake. But I’m saying it: we need to get into it with North Korea. It may be too late, but we need to do it before it’s even more too late. Star Wars ain’t happening, so once North Korea is stocked with nuclear missiles they’re going to have the whole world by the short hairs. It’s going to be real ugly, but not quite as ugly as you may be thinking.
First of all, there’s that million man army. They’ve never fought anyone, right? They’re draftees, forced to do everything they do by the government. They’re hungry and poorly equipped. Consider this: while the US armed forces have only about one and a half as many people as the North Koreans, their budget is almost 100 times as much: $6 billion vs. $533 billion. The one thing the Bush administration got right about Iraq was how easily their army surrendered, and exactly the same thing will happen in North Korea.
I’m prepared to concede that it may be a violent war. We may not be able to take out all of their nuclear weapons in the first round of bombing, and they may get one off. A lot of people might die. But I don’t think any war in living memory has been as justified as this one would be.
And consider what happens afterwards: unlike in Iraq, there is a perfectly obvious post-war strategy: Korean reunification. Not something the South Koreans are too keen to contemplate probably, but in the long run, and likely even in the medium run, it will turn out to be a good thing for everyone. Witness how smoothly German reunification went after some early hiccups. It’s hard to picture that the introduction of a huge and willing labor force into the South Korean economy wouldn’t spur a boom in manufacturing.
And what China? Long North Korea’s biggest, if reluctant, ally, even China has been growing impatient with North Korea, as again the Wikileaks documents show. They want reunification! But more to the point, once war is inevitable China will realize what side their bread is buttered on, and they’ll have to go along.
So that’s where we are at: a state that’s sufficiently totalitarian to keep internal dissent effectively nonexistent, is outwardly violent, and is building up its nuclear arsenal and dispersing it carelessly into the world for money. It pains me to arrive at this conclusion, but when our soldiers come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, they’re going to have a new job waiting for them.