What to do about North Korea?

korean nuclear site 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.

7 thoughts on “What to do about North Korea?

  1. Great essay, Dr. Kissinger. Now fill in the blanks: how many missiles/bombs do you propose to send, and to which targets? What is the acceptable level of collateral damage (e.g., dead and mutilated civilians)?

    What are your plans for South Korea and Japan, who will be at crisis-level risk of retaliation, possibly with nuclear weapons?

    Speaking of nuclear weapons, do you anticipate that China, our nuclear-armed banker, will approve this attack on its client-state, and take no retaliatory action of any kind?

    As for the North’s army surrendering quickly, please remember that the state of war between the two Koreas remains in effect since July 27, 1953. Neither side has “surrendered” yet.

    Bottom line: war doesn’t solve a goddam thing. We got a planet we’re trying to take care of here. Leaders of nations need to act like grown-ups. Don’t encourage them to fight.

  2. I’m in complete agreement. War doesn’t solve ANYTHING and we really have got to do more to keep our planet sustainable.. Our trash output is killing us, wasted water and electricity when people in third world countries are starving to death on a daily basis… Aren’t there things that are more important?


  3. I don’t know how to answer other then to repeat what I’ve said — it’s a country that HAS and IS selling it’s nuclear weapons to any willing buyers.

    This isn’t like Cuba or Somalia or even Iraq — this is a country who’s actions have a very good chance of fucking up the world very severely, and if we let them keep going as they are their potential for destruction will grow, and they’ll become increasingly difficult to deal with.

    I also think that the abject suffering of 24 million people — suffering which goes way beyond poverty — is a moral imperative.

    (Oh, and the two Koreas are “at war” only in quotation marks — none of the people who fought in 1953 are on the front lines. My contention is that when these underfunded and starving soldiers get a taste of some actual combat, they’ll surrender faster then the Iraqis.)

  4. Restating the problem doesn’t resolve it. The whole world is aware that North Korea is a dangerous mess and a ticking bomb. That doesn’t determine what can be done, or in itself justify any particular action, let alone slaughtering millions of people and igniting a nuclear war, as you advocate.

    The state of war reains in effect, as I stated. Leave your quotation marks at home: both sides (and the US) take this very seriously, and remain heavily armed along the DMZ. The recent submarine and rocket attacks weren’t in quotes either. (Actually, “DMZ” deserves quotes. As one officer stated, “If that’s a ‘demilitarized’ zone, I’d hate to see one that’s ‘militarized’.”)

    War solves: Nothing.

  5. Well, now who’s being simplistic? “War solves nothing” is a fantastic bumper sticker, but it’s truth revolves around how you define the word “solves,” eh? The first gulf war got Saddam out of Kuwait, just for one example.

    A less simplistic statement, and one with which I’d wholeheartedly agree, is that war is seldom worth it. It’s expensive, it kills people and creates lingering resentment, and it often has unintended consequences.

    At the same time, it’s often clearly the right thing to do. It was right for the US to intervene in World War II to stop Hitler, and it was wrong for us to stay out of the Rwandan genocide in the 90s. The suffering and dying of North Koreans, in my opinion, rises to the same threshold.

    And on the nuclear issue, I’m not sure what the happy ending is that you forsee if we continue on the present course.

    The “state of war” between the Koreas belongs very much in quotations, even despite the recent hostilities. Everyone knows when the Korean war ended, and the tense and heavily armed situation, for all its danger, is at best a cold war. (Of course everyone takes it seriously. Lucky for us not all that is serious is war.)

  6. Preemptive doctrine by any other name would smell as rancid.

    Stick to the arts, Alesh, because like all armchair strategists, you follow an appealing chain of logic all the way to a blood and shit begrimed abattoir.

    And why not? It’s not like anyone here would have to go participate in your noble cause.

  7. Echo NitFitKid (and good to see him back. Probably stuck in a frozen retaining pond off the NJT….oh, wait. The water in Jersey retaining ponds can’t freeze).

    If you start with the default position that war solves nothing — worth the minor quibble that you provided — then whatever reason you concoct to override it better be enormously compelling. We’re still waiting.

    For the United States, the only way to get to North Korea is by an indirect route which appears to be through China. China needs NK for several reasons, not the least of which is it’s a buffer between itself and South Korea, which is too cozy with the US military for comfort. Figure out a comfort level for all parties and see if that has any impact.

    That’s a start. If it doesn’t work, try something else. This would have been a lot easier before we sold our asses to the Chinese, and before NK refined its arsenal. But we’ve been very stupid for long periods of time.

    Yesterday, Russia’s Foreign Minister sent NK a rather terse note to the effect that its sabre-rattling and belligerence were unacceptable. There’s a world out there that could be united around a policy each country would prefer to the one that is NK now. Quit dicking around in Iraq and Afghanistan and concentrate on REAL trouble.

    Your suggestion is Iraq and Afghanistan all over again, this time with nukes. Get real.

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