North Korea: Let’s Try Non-Violence

There has been a complete lack of creative thinking in Washington about how to deal with the threats and posturing of Kim Jong Un, the North Korean dictator  Both he and his father, the former leader, have a long history of issuing menacing statements, rattling their sabers and vowing war and destruction on the United States, Japan and South Korea.

Kim Jong Un

In part, this serves to make the North Korean people (millions of whom have died of famine, disease and imprisonment under the Kim family’s leadership for three generations) subservient and willing to unite against the outside world. In part, the Kims have learned that this crazy looking behavior unnerves the conventionally thinking politicians who run Western-style democracies. They see Kim Jong Un as actually crazy, irrational and as ready to go to war in an instant if he is thwarted in his demands.

Since the end of the Korean War in 1953 the Kims and North Korea have threatened to overrun South Korea. Seoul, the capital of the South, is only 35 miles from the border and within easy reach of the North’s artillery and missiles. Yet, despite a long history of threats, provocative actions and minor confrontations, North Korea has not attacked South Korea or any other country. And they have learned that acting rabid has worked for them – often producing concessions and financial and other inducements from their “enemies” to get them to back off from their threats.

Since its first successful atomic bomb test in 2009 the North Koreans have focused on producing nuclear weapons and, more recently, on missiles that could deliver a nuclear warhead. It appears that now they have almost reached the stage where they have the capacity to launch a long range ballistic missile that could strike the western coast of the United States. Their intermediate range missiles could strike Japan.

The United Nations has responded to these recent alarming developments by increasing sanctions. President Trump has responded by threatening “fire and fury” such as the world has never seen if Kim continues missile development or nuclear tests.

We have once again reached the kind of stalemate that has become familiar. Sanctions seem to have no impact on the North Korean government. They ignore the pleas for moderation from China (their biggest trade partner and sometime ally). The South Koreans are in a panic because they fear the death of millions that would take place if war breaks out and Kim Jong Un uses nuclear weapons. The United States government grinds its teeth in frustration – with no good outcome or easy solution available.

It is time for a different approach. For over 60 years the USA and its allies have tried to subdue North Korea by encircling it with military and naval power, by imposing sanctions and embargoes, and by trying to isolate it from the outside world through alliances and international organizations. It has not worked. These strategies come from the minds of military and political leaders who imagine that force and overpowering weaponry will compel the North Koreans to capitulate.

It is the same old strategy that failed to bring the Cuban government to its knees since their revolution in 1959, and failed to bring down the Iranian regime since their revolution in 1979.

The time has come for non-violent and non-traditional solutions.  Some of the elements of this approach would be:

  • A joint declaration by the United States, Japan and South Korea that they will not attack North Korea or try to change its form of government or leadership.
  • An offer to gradually rescind sanctions over a period of several years, contingent on the North Koreans stopping missile development and tests, and subject to regular verification and inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. These procedures (negotiated by the Obama administration) have worked well with the Iranian government to stop their development of nuclear capability. They are a good model for North Korea.
  • An undertaking by the United States to withdraw all forces from South Korea in 10 years if the North Koreans respect the weapons ban and the inspection procedures for that period.
  • Opening diplomatic relations between the two countries so that each has an embassy in the other state.
  • Agreeing to a limited amount of trade that can be increased if good relations persist. This type of economic agreement has also been very effective in persuading Iran to keep to its promise to stop developing nuclear weapons.
  • Face to face talks between the leaders of the two Koreas, Japan, the United States, China and Russia. Jaw-Jaw is always better than war-war, as a wise Englishman once said.
  • Creating a special direct aid fund. North Korea is desperately poor. Its population is 24 million. In 2006 its per capita income was $1,108. If the United States, South Korea and Japan create a fund that would provide $100 per year to each North Korean citizen, it would cost only $2.4 billion annually. This would provide a huge boost to the well-being of the Koreans and to their economy, and would show them that the outside world wants to help, not destroy, them. Better still, this fund would be a tiny fraction of the money now spent on maintaining U.S. military bases and weaponry.

It’s time to be more creative in dealing with North Korea, and it’s past time for non-violent, non-military strategies to be given a chance.

5 thoughts on “North Korea: Let’s Try Non-Violence

  1. Hi, Please change my email address to cherjo20@gmail.com

    Interesting thoughts. I just hear a podcast on This American Life (#620 – To Be Real – July 16) that indicated what NK really wants is to be accepted as a “normal” country by other countries, so the talks and embassy points might help. However, I think that if anyone tried to give money to the citizens, it would end up right in the pockets of the dictator, as so often happens with foreign aid in these kinds of places.

    Thanks, Cher

    On Sun, Aug 13, 2017 at 11:35 AM, the left coast view wrote:

    > briangibb posted: “There has been a complete lack of creative thinking in > Washington about how to deal with the threats and posturing of Kim Jong Un, > the North Korean dictator Both he and his father, the former leader, have > a long history of issuing menacing statements, ra” >

    Like

    1. Thanks for your comments, Cher. I’ll have to poke around on WordPress to see how I can change your email for future posts.
      As for giving money to individual North Koreans, I’m sure we could devise a way to get the money into each family’s hands. And that would also be part of the monitoring process.

      Like

  2. Hi Brian,

    I read your recent blog post with interest and as usual, I don’t agree. I do appreciate your sympathies but practically speaking, I think we have evolved past the stage of negotiation with many of the hot-spot leaders on the planet (including our own) and we must look toward other solutions.

    I’ve considered your 7 points and commented:
    • A joint declaration by the United States, Japan and South Korea that they will not attack North Korea or try to change its form of government or leadership.
    o Something like this would be completely impossible for the Japanese and Koreans to conceive of as they are only a few miles away from a madman. And yes, Kim is a madman and should not be thought of as anything else. It’s easy for the United States to pontificate while we are outside Kim’s firing range. The Asian nations closest to him will be the sacrificial lambs which will come under fire when he wakes up one morning and feels disrespected and that will be all it takes. And it will happen. Remember, he is not capable of rationally negotiating or maintaining any agreements over time.
    • An offer to gradually rescind sanctions over a period of several years, contingent on the North Koreans stopping missile development and tests, and subject to regular verification and inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. These procedures (negotiated by the Obama administration) have worked well with the Iranian government to stop their development of nuclear capability. They are a good model for North Korea.
    o No, they are not a good model for North Korea. The reason this seems to be working temporarily in Iran is that there is more than one person calling the shots there. Because of this, you get a certain whiff of flexibility, be it sincere or not. This solution for N. Korea would require Kim, a notorious paranoid schizophrenic, to change his personality type overnight. Allowing strangers into his obsessively protected realm would feel like inviting a pride of lions into his bedroom. He is completely incapable of this, for any reason or incentive.
    • An undertaking by the United States to withdraw all forces from South Korea in 10 years if the North Koreans respect the weapons ban and the inspection procedures for that period.
    o First of all, this is never going to happen. Can you imagine Kim, after all we know about his pathology, all of a sudden becoming quiescent for 10 years! No carrot in the world, including the world itself, would be enough to bring this about. Remember, there is no rational person inside the homicidal maniac we see. Brian, what we see is all there is. Also, abandoning South Korea for a diplomatic ploy after all they have gone through to support our lofty and self-serving aspirations would be criminal and immoral.
    • Opening diplomatic relations between the two countries so that each has an embassy in the other state.
    o Again, this would require Kim to allow agents of another state to work within his borders. Never going to happen, for any reason.
    • Agreeing to a limited amount of trade that can be increased if good relations persist. This type of economic agreement has also been very effective in persuading Iran to keep to its promise to stop developing nuclear weapons.
    o Once again, as evil and crazy as the Iranians are (yes, I said “evil”, think of the life of a woman in Iran), there is no comparison between them and Kim. You are hoping to elicit rational thought from a mind which is irrational and berserk. There is no ‘bringing Kim back into the fold’. He was never normal and never will be. Negotiating using standard diplomatic techniques is like trying to convince a tyrannous rex not to eat you using mindful dialogue.
    • Face to face talks between the leaders of the two Koreas, Japan, the United States, China and Russia. Jaw-Jaw is always better than war-war, as a wise Englishman once said.
    o Winston Churchill would not have been so glib if he was living next door to Kim Jong-Un. Remember, the Koreans and Japanese are. Experimenting with misplaced diplomacy is a game to us but a potentially terminal move to them. For perspective, think of trying to have a face-to-face with Donald Trump. Can you see that going rationally? Can you imagine him ever being talked down by some diplomat? Kim is exponentially crazier than Trump and the results of this misguided attempt would surely culminate in mass fatalities.
    • Creating a special direct aid fund. North Korea is desperately poor. Its population is 24 million. In 2006 its per capita income was $1,108. If the United States, South Korea and Japan create a fund that would provide $100 per year to each North Korean citizen, it would cost only $2.4 billion annually. This would provide a huge boost to the well-being of the Koreans and to their economy, and would show them that the outside world wants to help, not destroy, them. Better still, this fund would be a tiny fraction of the money now spent on maintaining U.S. military bases and weaponry.
    o This would be the only point we could agree on if it wasn’t so woefully impractical. There would be no way to funnel money to North Koreans without going through Kim and his government. Not a penny would ever get to the people, just as it does not now. Any money given to N. Korea would go directly into Kim’s coffers and be used for himself and his military aspirations. And please don’t say you’d insist because nobody can control Kim or ever will. We are dealing with an insidious and inexorable cancer which has to be removed if the organism is to survive.

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    1. Deva, thanks for the lengthy reply. And, of course, I disagree with your perspective. Most of your argument is based on the assumption that Kim Jon Un is a madman and therefore impossible to deal with. He is certainly a murderer, cruel and vicious. But he is not berserk or irrational. He (like his father and grandfather before him) plays on the fears that his army could quickly and easily kill hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) of South Koreans in order to try to exert an oversized amount of power and influence compared to the puny size and poverty of his country.

      But much as he has blustered, he has never actually attacked the South, Japan or US forces. However, the threats have been enough to give him the time him to build up a nuclear arsenal. Now that he has it, the same constraints will apply to him that every other nuclear power has had to accept. You have a powerful weapon but if you use it against an enemy with the same or greater power, you will end up being totally destroyed.

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