Joshua Stanton and I went back and forth via the 140 character medium and came to realize we weren’t too far apart, but Orme asked me what I thought might work. It’s a fair question, since I do often take exception to what South Korea and the West do when it comes to the DPRK.
Before I get into what I think might work, let me explain why I think things need to change.
The Korean conflict ended in 1953 with an armistice — a ceasefire agreement, and not a peace treaty, so North and South Korea are still technically at war — a civil war as some might have it — although I would argue that after 60-plus years, there’s little in common the average citizen in either country these days.
As North Korea pursued its militaristic policies, the West imposed various sanctions. They have done some good, but some of the strongest sanctions have been put in place to halt the nation’s pursuit of nuclear and conventional weapons.
After three successful nuclear tests, a fourth one to occur when it’s politically advantageous (perhaps on August 15th to send a message to the world), and successfully placing a satellite in space, even before South Korea — The DPRK has continuously demonstrated the ability to circumvent the restrictions to achieve goals opposed by the West.
Then there’s the ridiculous bait and switch tactics employed by Pyongyang that still goats South Korea, Japan, and others. What I’m referring to is the practice of lifting or reducing sanctions when North Korea promises to change its behavior.
With the sanctions lifted, the DPRK may change the way it acts a little, but not in any sustained way. The most recent example of this can be seen with its interactions with Tokyo. In exchange for agreeing to look into Japanese abductees, Japan agreed to reduce or waive sanctions. A year later, North Korea hasn’t done anything of substance and Prime Minister Abe has once more issued a “this is your last chance” statement to the Kim regime before he’s forced to reinstate the sanctions.
From day one, I said that this is what was going to happen. It’s what North Korea does and the West just plays into it. We also see similar tactics at play at the Kaesong Industrial complex. I just don’t get why governments still fall for the same shtick.
So what are my ideas? Well in no particular order…
It’s time to formally end the war. As I previously mentioned, no one’s been earnestly fighting since 1953. One thing I believe that hampers dialog with North Korea, is that they can fall back and use “the war” as an excuse for their behavior.
To a certain extent, it’s a valid argument, as we see governments around the world use war to justify abysmal behavior. In South Korea, there’s the National Security Law — something touted as necessary and still used to silence citizens. Even in the United States we see vast powers given to government because of a war.
Take the war away from North Korea and make the dictatorial state an equal. Take away their excuse.
Something else I’ld like to see is unification off the table. President Park Geun-hye has continuously hyped unification during her administration calling it a “bonanza for business” and a fundamental path to stability on the peninsula.
While I would like to see the Koreas unified one day, I just don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon, unless there’s some sort of collapse or coup. I don’t see the Kims relinquishing control or China and Russia allowing an opportunity for the US to move in closer.
North and South Korea were created as separate states following the war and it’s time to leave them that way.
Focus on a path towards diplomatic trust to build Park’s business bonanza. Build a better relationship with Pyongyang that will foster an environment where families can spend time with one another.
Of course, it won’t be instantaneous and the influx of western media, technology, and what not will pose a problem for Kim in terms of control, but if the West removes the threat of toppling his government, there might be room for improved relations.
Because that’s exactly what unification is all about – toppling Kim.
With regards to unification — North Korea wants unification with Kim as the head of the combined state, while the rest of the world wants a democratically elected head of state. Those two positions are diametrically opposed. There is no middle ground, so why waste energy pursuing it?
Prepare for it, yes… but don’t advocate for it now.
Finally, let’s talk sanctions. As I’ve previously mentioned, I don’t feel the current course of action has been effective. I believe there are two avenues that should be explored.
The West needs to find a better carrot to elicit desired behavior for North Korea. Find a motivating factor that will make Kim want to change in the desired way. Accompanying this, the practice of lifting sanctions in exchange for a promise to change needs to come to an end. Only reduce or remove sanctions after the desired behavior has occurred for a measurable amount of time.
Also, when enacting sanctions, make them count. Make the sanctions vicious and all encompassing to the point there’s no way around them. If North Korea does find a way to circumvent them, plug that hole. Use the sanction to force a change in behavior, because right now, they’re merely an inconvenience.
Those are my thoughts on dealing with North Korea. As always, I welcome your comments, so please share them with me here, on Facebook, or Twitter.
Asia Now is a special feature of the Asia News Weekly podcast.
If you enjoyed the podcast, please share it with your friends and if you haven’t, subscribe. Subscribing is free and when you do, the next episode is delivered automatically to you. You can subscribe on our website, AsiaNewsWeekly.net, or in your favorite podcast application.
You’ll be able to keep up with news from the region by following Asia News Weekly on Facebook or Twitter and if you have comments, questions, or feedback, be sure to drop a line to email@example.com.