Tag Archives: north korea

a radical proposal for the North Korea standoff

Philip Bobbit from Lawfare says the current strategies of the U.S. and China governments towards North Korea cannot succeed.

Our current approach to the North Korea problem is a combination of both kinetic and diplomatic threats occasionally alternating with the offer of incentives. This approach cannot succeed. There is nothing the U.S. can do to North Korea that will lead to its renunciation of its nuclear weapons program. North Korea—even before it has developed the capability to strike the U.S. homeland with nuclear weapons—already poses an unacceptable risk of retaliation against our allies in response to an American military intervention. Moreover, there is nothing the U.S. can do for North Korea that might induce it to denuclearize because the Kim regime is convinced that, for domesticreasons, the country can only be assured of remaining in power by keeping its country on a war footing against the United States. Finally, there is nothing the international community, including China, can do to North Korea in the way of greater sanctions, or for North Korea by abating sanctions. Neither action could possibly persuade the Kim regime to give up its nuclear weapons because the regime has concluded that only its threats to others have preserved it thus far.

His solution, if I understand it correctly, is for China to agreed to repel any U.S. invasion, using any nuclear weapons if necessary. China technically has agreed to repel any invasion of North Korea already, but to use nuclear weapons only in retaliation for a nuclear attack. It sounds crazy, but I get the logic that the key to appeasing a paranoid dictator could be to address the paranoia directly.

There is, however, an available strategy that has not been considered and may promise success: a nuclear guarantee for the North Korean regime from China. If China were to give a credible nuclear guarantee to North Korea in the case of a U.S. invasion or preemptive strike against Pyongyang, there would be little point in North Korea risking the survival of its regime by developing long-range nuclear weapons. Such a policy should not be confused with the current mutual defense pact between North Korea and China, one cornerstone of which is China’s no-first-use policy. From Kim’s point of view, there is much security to be gained by such a guarantee of deterrence against the U.S. and much security to be lost if North Korea continues its present course when further technological revolutions in the U.S. render the North Korean arsenal ever more vulnerable. Our aim must be to reorient Kim Jong Un’s paranoia, making him more afraid of losing a unique opportunity for security in the eyes of his own people than he is afraid of dependence on China.

It seems like a simpler, and equally logical, approach on its face would be for the U.S. to pledge to never invade North Korea in exchange for North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons. The U.S. could withdraw some weapons from Asia in return, which would be a good idea anyway. I guess the problem with this is that U.S. promises would not be credible in North Korean eyes. Or, to be more cynical, they need their population to fear imminent U.S. attack in order to keep them under control.

North Korea and biological weapons

Harvard Kennedy School has a new report on North Korea and biological weapons. It is not as alarming as it maybe could be. They almost certainly have the ability to produce them, as does any country, company, or institution with modern agricultural technology. There is no clear evidence that they have made a large-scale attempt to weaponize or deploy them.

what does North Korea want?

Nobody wants to defend the choices of the North Korean government. They have kept their people in abject poverty for decades, worked people to death in prison camps, and not only threatened neighbors with weapons of mass destruction but contributed to the spread of those weapons, increasing the risk to everyone on the planet. And yet…the story we get from the our supposedly free press is very black and white. Are they so completely irrational and random that there is no possibility of negotiation? Or is there something they want, like assurances they won’t be attacked by their neighbors? A group at Johns Hopkins has a blog called 38 North that does nothing but tackle these questions of policy and how the media is covering them. Here is an excerpt from an article from August 15 on the media coverage:

ABC’s analyst uses fancy graphics to show what North Korea’s weapons could do and potential US military responses. There is no discussion, however, of what North Korea is trying to do with its weapons. ​Is Kim waiting to negotiate only after feeling that he has enough military might? Is he hoping to have cover for skirmishes and other kinetic actions across the border with Korea? Does he think he is deterring the US from toppling his regime? Instead, audiences are left with the overwhelming impression that the North’s growing capabilities are simply to start a nuclear war.

This is amped up by the idea that Kim Jong Un is “crazy” and thus presents a unique threat to the United States. But in reality, Kim is not crazy and there are many learned people available to explain this to people like, say, Joe Scarborough, who refers multiple times to Kim as a “madman” in this segment from last month…

Senator Lindsey Graham’s, “If thousands die, they’re going to die over there,” comment is the most egregious expression of the idea that South Korea can be sacrificed in this crisis. When US leaders imply or openly threaten to bring a devastating war to Korea because Pyongyang now may have the potential to hit America with an intercontinental ballistic missile, South Koreans understandably start to view the United States as an unreliable ally and patron. What good is the US nuclear umbrella if it doesn’t stop aggression? What good is the alliance if the mutual prosperity it once supported can be so quickly unraveled?


John Bolton: “How do you feel about dead Americans?”

On Fox News September 3, here is John Bolton advocating a U.S. invasion of North Korea regardless of the cost in South Korean lives.

If I were the government of South Korea, I might be asking whether the benefits of the U.S. alliance outweigh the risk to my citizens, especially when my country has the technological and financial means to defend itself.