Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Time to Talk? [North Korea Throwdown]

North Korea still remains skeptical of
US diplomatic attempts.
               After dominating headlines for the last month, North Korea has hinted that it may be willing to bring an end to its nuclear brinkmanship and begin a new round of talks with the United States. Pyongyang issued a detailed statement this past week outlining its terms for the dialogue, including demands that the US cease its “nuclear war practice” and annual war games with South Korea and rescind the stringent sanctions against North Korea’s economy.
               “They should take measures of retracting the U.N. Security Council’s ‘resolutions on sanctions’ cooked up under absurd pretexts,” the Policy Department of the National Defense Commission, North Korea’s highest governing body, said in a statement carried by its official Korean Central News Agency. “They should give formal assurances before the world that they would not stage again such nuclear war drills to threaten or blackmail [the North].”
                In response, a South Korean defense ministry official requesting anonymity stated “The tensions should gradually decrease from here, but we cannot lose ourselves to complacency. We do still have to be prepared for any provocations.” Nevertheless, as US Secretary of State, John Kerry, said during his recent visit to the peninsula, “...our preference would be to get to talks.”

                The only question remaining is what will the talks focus on?

Diplomatic Disasters
                World diplomacy with North Korea has a long and troubled past, plagued by the fact that US and international officials are completely unsure of the nation’s political status. Forced to use a fuzzy interpretation of state propaganda and gathered intelligence as a barometer, US diplomats have often missed key opportunities to get through to either of the Kim Jong’s. In the past, the US mantra has been to stop the North Korean nuclear program and to guarantee South Korea protection should Northern threats be actualized. However, if the US enters this new set of talks with the same mindset, the only item that will be guaranteed is a continuation of the vicious cycle of threats and provocation.
                Now that North Korea has a nuclear weapon, as well as the ability to launch such warheads globally coming in the near future, the US cannot afford to continue to treat North Korea as a misbehaving child but instead must look upon them as a viable threat. With that in mind, US diplomats need to recognize the fact that the current diplomatic stance only makes Kim Jong Un feel more threatened than reassured.

Ready for Reform
                Were Kim Jong Un reassured, the world might begin to see North Korea open up to more western thought and technology. Kim Jong Un has discussed improving North Korea’s dying economy and has hinted that the nation may move in the direction of reforms [however slight]. This fact was evidenced by the recent visit of Google CEO Eric Schmidt to Pyongyang, showing that Un may be ready to allow new development in North Korea.
                However, Charles Armstrong, Director of Korean Research at Columbia University, believes that any hope of change will be stifled by the current US approach to North Korean relations. “The dilemma, though, is that North Korea can only embark on serious reform from a condition of what it considers absolute security,” Armstrong notes in an op-ed for CNN. “Unfortunately, the quest for security and the desire for economic improvement have been in contradiction for some time. A genuine opening could unleash political and social changes...while the path of security through nuclear deterrence and missiles have led time and again to confrontation and renewed isolation.”

                The old adage states “Do not attempt to reason with a fool. He will only drag you down to his level and beat you over the head with his ignorance.” Call it nationalistic, but North Korea has been foolhardy in its recent provocation of the US. As history has shown, you cannot beat the ignorance of out of the communist political system, but instead, you can speak a language that they do understand: money. Only by providing  strong incentives instead of punishments, obtainable rewards instead of sanctions, and deliberate reassurance instead of threats in kind, will the US and the rest of the world slowly lure North Korea down the path of peace.


-Charles Armstrong, “Why Sticks don’t work with North Korea,” January 25, 2013,