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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Saturday, April 19, 2003


How to deal with N. Korea?

posted by Aziz P. at Saturday, April 19, 2003 permalink View blog reactions
Almost everyone is familiar with Dean's piece in Common Dreams by now, where he addresses what is wrong with the Bush Doctrine (and Bush in general). That piece was in response to the above linked article by Charles Knight, who praised Dean for his response. However, the original Knight piece did have more to it than taking Dean to task over Bush Doctrine - it also addressed N. Korea and described how Dean proposed to address their burgeoning nuclear program:

For instance, Dean argues for reopening negotiations with the North Koreans over their nuclear program, while privately making it clear that the U.S. will go to war to stop their nuclear program if they don't settle in the end. In a preferred outcome of this diplomacy the U.S. might end up paying the North Koreans ten or twenty billion to abandon their nuclear and long range missile program. Dean would argue that despite the distaste of having to pay for disarmament, the financial costs would be about one-fifth to one-tenth the cost of a war, and successful diplomacy would also avoid the human costs of the likely hundreds of thousands of Koreans, Americans, and possibly Japanese who would die in new Korean war. In the longer run it is likely that the communist regime in North Korea will collapse in its own decrepitude and a more cooperative government will take its place and seek to reunite peacefully with South Korea.

The neo-conservative Republicans argue that once we get into a 'pay for disarmament' relationship the North Koreans have an incentive to maintain the threat of their nuclear program in order to pressure us to meet their ever-growing financial demands. In the mean time making payments to them just ends up supporting their regime and increases the likelihood that they will become a bigger threat to American interests later on. Much better to do what the U.S. did with Iraq: keep North Korea poor, let their obsolescent Soviet-era Army deteriorate, and when the time is right overthrow their regime and take direct control of their security policy. The war of regime change will be costly, but manageable, and if we wait until later the costs will be much higher.

Are negotiations, and ultimately, pay-to-disarm foreign policy measures appropriate as applied to N. Korea? The counterargument that payments merely support the regime, and holds America financially hostage in a sense, is a solid point. Compare that with the strategy outlined by Steven den Beste, which argues that the best way to deal with N. Korea is to ignore them, since time is not on their side (economically or politically):

North Korea continues to make demands. They continue to denounce us. They continue looking for new ways of provoking us. And it isn't working. And the longer it goes on, the more clear it becomes that most of their threats are empty, and that the only urgency is theirs.

Are they dangerous? Of course they are, though rumors to the contrary the direct risk to the US proper is slight. The big danger is that at some point they'll launch an attack south. They have no chance whatever of winning such a war, but they do have the ability to bring death and destruction and economic ruin to South Korea before SK and US forces defeat them.

Which is why the "hurry up and wait" strategy is the best one for us. What we want to avoid at all costs is any kind of move which would create any kind of sharp stairstep in the attitude of the NK leadership causing them to order the attack. This needs to be a slow and gentle process, a "frog in the boiling pot". North Korean economic and industrial disaster is inevitable as long as it's gradual so that there's no clear point where they may decide to give up.

The one key step was to cut off shipments of oil. That could have been the stairstep which set off disaster, which is why Japan and SK were so nervous about it. But we did it and did it early, and we're safely past it. And without that oil, NK's days are numbered. Now all we can do is wait, and try to make sure the pot doesn't boil over.

Which means, paradoxically, that as long as they think they can continue to create new incidents, it's actually somewhat positive for us, because it means they haven't yet given up and decided to go out in a blaze of glory. Each such incident is troubling, needless to say; but as long as they're not intolerable, each such ends up being net negative for the NK government because each week that passes without negotiations is a net loss for them. The clock is ticking; they're bleeding to death.

The reason they want negotiations is because the only way they can even try to extort things from us is in such negotiations.

This excerpt does not do justice to the argument, I urge everyone to read it in full to get a clear sense of the alternative being presented. It's almosst completely counter to what Dean proposes. Who is right? What's teh best strategy? Deanistan residents, weigh in...


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.