Opinions

America’s nephew: North Korea (Opinion)

by AARON SEO

As the unfolding of recent nuclear tests has demonstrated, North Korea is armed, dangerous, and more rogue than ever. But rogue states aren’t only third-world countries with authoritarian governments; in fact, the greatest rogue state also happens to be the greatest democracy.

Let’s get this straight, though: it is undoubtedly true that North Korea is a rogue state and is most likely — at this point in time — the most dangerous of them all. It shows no signs of halting its nuclear programs and instead seems to be boosting its progress. It maintains inhumane labor camps for political dissenters, reminiscent of Stalin’s Gulag Camps. And it defends its obligation to take revenge against the evil Americans, constantly reminding its citizens of the horrors of the Korean War (American planes did drop around 635,000 tons of bombs on North Korea, more than all the bombs dropped in the entire Pacific theater of WWII). So how different is the world’s most unpredictable regime compared to the United States? Less so than you think.

Two years after the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration decided that the “single question” of the development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was enough rationale to set out an invasion of Iraq in 2003, against the rulings of the United Nations Security Council. But the “single question” wasn’t even accurate. According to national security and intelligence analyst John Prados, the planners of the invasion were aware that Iraq WMD programs “were either nascent, moribund, or non-existent.” If terminating the supposed Iraqi WMD programs wasn’t the objective, what was?

Promoting democracy — or more blatantly said, regime change — in Iraq seems to be it. The Bush administration believed that promoting democracy in Iraq would significantly reduce terrorist activity in that region and grant a system that is best suited to protecting individual rights. These may be valid positions and true in most cases, but not cases that involve harsh external military action. American democracy worked in America for a single reason: the oppressed stood for themselves, fought for themselves, and won for themselves. Sure, the French did lend a hand in the Revolution, but does anyone call the freedom of the colonies from the hand of Great Britain the French liberation of North America? I’ve never heard that one from my history teachers. But yet, the invasion and the unsought war in Iraq often takes the name of an American liberation from authoritarian dictators. Transition to democracy is successful only under the case of internal revolution, not external liberation. The U.S. may have achieved some limited success in Iraq in certain aspects, but most of it can easily be overshadowed by a non-functioning democracy, an unstable region, and a load of backlash from those affected by the war.

But perhaps only a rogue state can make another un-rogued. What steps does Washington need to take to destroy North Korea’s nuclear capacity without destroying the country? First — contrary to President Trump’s remarks — all options should not be on the table. Military operations following the Second World War from the U.S. have rarely achieved the meant objectives and will continue to do so until the U.S. changes how it views foreign policy. Instead, Washington needs to initiate multilateral negotiations.

It’s obvious that Kim Jong Un is not seeking small talk with Donald Trump, but there are other parties that are heavily involved. Beijing, for instance, plays a prerequisite role in resolving the conflicts. Ostensibly, American cities are at highest risk by North Korean ICBM missiles, but in reality, it’s China that’s in the more immediate danger. This is reflected in recent spike in Chinese military activity towards the Yalu River that separates the two socialist countries. But it is crucial for both the American and Chinese military leaders to not overreact to a every statements from Pyongyang. As Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State and legendary diplomat, says, the U.S. cannot be “transfixed” on every little statement, but should instead focus more on communication with key players like China.

China, however, isn’t the only key player involved. South Korea is also one of them. As the southern half of the Korean peninsula, it would be most affected by any solutions, diplomatic or militaristic. Thus, Seoul needs a crucial voice in the table of negotiations.

Japan is also tied closely to this conflict. Historically, Japan has been the conqueror of the Korean peninsula since the 19th century until the end of WWII; but more importantly, the recent missile tests over the Japanese island of Hokkaido hints about North Korea’s attitude towards Japan. Thus, Tokyo would also need a voice in the negotiations.

The world has seen the Middle East play victim of chaos and is still witnessing the destruction of its cities and cultures, but we can prevent that on the Korean peninsula. We just need the largest rogue state to cooperate with other nations.

Categories: Opinions

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2 replies »

  1. “Sure, the French did lend a hand in the Revolution, but does anyone call the freedom of the colonies from the hand of Great Britain the French liberation of North America?” Hilarious.
    I liked the fourth paragraph, and you’re absolutely right. Empirics has proven that democratization is only successful where strong democratic institutions and principles already exist. Commitments to pluralism, liberty, and federalism are all key components of a successful transition that the US has repeatedly overlooked in its foreign policy in the Middle East, and I think that your criticism of America’s policy shortcomings is well written.
    With that said, I don’t feel that multilateral talks-conducted through normal means-will lead to a meaningful shift in our position with the DPRK in the immediate future. China’s reliance on the DPRK as a political buffer between the capitalist democracy in the South is critical to their objective of counterbalancing against Washington’s dominant global order. As China’s regional hegemony in Asia quickly rises, Washington needs to acknowledge that the unipolar system it has created since the Second World War will either fall apart, or make way for a multipolar system. Washington may remain the only hyperpower around-but as blue-water superpowers other than American allies, with contrary interests, re-emerge, Washington will have to increasingly make new considerations and changes or risk becoming irrelevant in the long future. And this will definitely include a pivot from our current policy of pursuing a nonviolent denuclearization of the Korean peninsula through three-party talks as they occur now.

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