We’ve done bilateral; we’ve done multilateral. Neither worked. In either desperation or a frustrated attempt to transfer responsibility, we’re now relying on the UN to stop him. But despite a dozen years of being showered with light water reactors, endless bubbling spigots of fuel oil, tons of food and medicines, and serious amounts of economic investment (known as “cash bribes” in the West), ungrateful dictator Kim Jong Il insists that North Korea still needs nuclear weapons. The Left pillories President Bush for “refusing to engage in bilateral negotiations,” while the Right insists that “a multilateral approach is the only acceptable option.” But isn’t the definition of insanity repeating the same thing with expectations of a different result?
With a hot election close upon us rational debate has once again been sacrificed on the sound bite altar in dueling attempts to score points on the opponent. Contrary to allegations, no administration, from Reagan to Bush 43, has clean hands in regard to North Korea. All have at least dropped the ball, although the Clinton people did manage to kick it out of bounds. But to watch the cable news herd of analysts insist that “North Korea must be persuaded,” or “Kim must be engaged,” or “coalitions must be formed,” implying success merely by tweaking negotiations this way or that, completely ignores recent history.
The bottom line for Kim Jong Il is simple: retention of his hedonistic lifestyle and the absolute power he holds over his shrinking, brutalized population. We need to understand that cold fact before proceeding. At this stage he has probably even accepted that reunification of the Korean Peninsula is not going to happen under his rule, despite contrary claims by his propaganda machine. So power retention is the key. Appeals to his humanity, logic, good sense, and neighborliness are doomed to fail. He rejects internal reform, outside intrusion, and even the kinds of shared standards of health, nutrition, and information flow for his citizenry that are considered minimal by international standards.
Given this hypothesis, for what reason ought America continue the concentric track of ritualistic Six Party talks, additional toothless UN resolutions, or even a reprise of the infamous Agreed Framework deal that Jimmy Carter cut with the dictator in 1994? Yet every one of these courses is being proposed. The simple reason that all these methods failed and will continue to disappoint is that they are meringue without the filling. As a master bluffer himself, Kim recognizes when his opponents hold losing cards. Once America and regional players took military options off the table then in Kim’s estimation – proven prescient – he can call the shots at will, proceed with missile and nuclear proliferation, and defy the world’s empty rhetoric.
The line between diplomacy and military action is blurred. History shows that a military confrontation can be solved by adroit diplomacy. Conversely a diplomatic stalemate can often be broken by a suitable military response. On the individual level, as anyone who ever wore a uniform knows full well, a boot in the rear can be an excellent motivator.
So far that part of Kim Jong Il’s education has been sadly lacking. His actions, regardless of how egregious, have never provoked serious consequences.
Kim Jong Il is a known terrorist plotter, having personally ordered the sabotage of a Korean airliner that killed more than a hundred innocents. He fired rockets over Japan only to provoke a verbal response. Upwards to three million of his citizens were starved to death and countless others summarily executed or worked to death in a gulag. He has flooded the region with counterfeit pharmaceuticals, cigarettes, and money. His heroin export operation brings in millions. His agents kidnap innocents from his neighbors. Nothing draws more response than a hollow threat. Before his behavior will change our response to his actions has to be modified.
As Frank Gaffney has suggested, the time to “hold parties accountable” has come, and not only North Korea but its enablers like China, Iran, Venezuela, and South Korea. It is imperative that neighboring countries’ missile defenses be upgraded on an accelerated basis and that the US and allies establish an effective naval blockade around North Korea. Additionally, China must be made to realize that a rearmed Japan – particularly with nuclear weapons – while in no one’s best interest will be an unintended consequence of continued Chinese protection of the Kim regime.
How to convince Kim and others? A prerequisite for effective diplomacy is a willingness to exercise military options. Not total war, but selective strikes, raids, and punitive missions that put backbone into diplomacy and give the State Department something to push at a recalcitrant adversary other than cookies. In order to be effective it is imperative that these messages be conveyed privately rather than in an open forum. If you want the other guy to bend to your will might as well give him a chance to save face first. You can always go public. This is the kind of hand-in-glove diplomacy that characterizes great nations, nations that shape events rather than reacting to them in confusion and panic.
America needs to regain its credibility abroad. Since Iraqi Freedom we’ve caved too much to criticism, preferring to let the EU, NATO, and even the UN do the heavy lifting, to our chagrin. Time to get serious and link a credible military response to a diplomatic demarche. A demonstration may be necessary to get proper attention, but it must be done. Otherwise pipsqueak dictators like Kim Jong Il and his rogue state pals will continue to work their nefarious will while thumbing their nose at us.
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