2006 September 25 Monday
Modest Proposal To Stop North Korea Nuclear Program
At Audacious Epigone crush41 has an interesting post arguing for a withdrawal of US troops in South Korea.
South Korea was on the road to nuclear weapons in the seventies, but the US applied pressure and it stopped. The North's only way to best the South is through the use of the nuclear weapons it has that the South does not. Let's speed up the removal of an American presence (slated to decrease by 5,000 by 2008) and allow South Korea (as well as Japan, which has an acrimonious relationship with Korea, especially the North) to go nuclear. Currently our personnel is little more than potential WMD fodder. The ruling liberals want us out anyway. Why not oblige them?
Sure, I say. Pull out. Let the South Koreans defend themselves. North Korea is a basket case. We do not need to subsidize South Korea's defense.
But reading that paragraph a thought struck me: If the United States really did stop South Korea from going nuclear back in the 1970s the United States could always flirt with reversing position on that issue. We should tell Kim Jong Il, fairly disgusting ruler of the poor, hungry, and stunted people of North Korea, that if he explodes a nuclear bomb in testing then we'll help South Korea build some highly excellent nuclear weapons. I figure that ought to get his attention. Go nuclear? Then your cousins south of the border go very nuclear with far better hardware. We could say we'll extend that offer to Japan as well. That ought to get the attention of Beijing and Pyongyang.
In a way the United States tries too hard in foreign policy. We station troops all over and build huge amounts of hardware and engage in expensive (in lives, money, and influence) fights in places where fighting hurts our interests. We have lots of supposed experts and supposed learned commentators debating and advocating all sorts of new misadventures (e.g. bomb Iran). This heavy handed approach isn't working for us. Why not take a far more minimalistic approach where we play cards (or threaten to play cards) that require orders of magnitude less effort?
We could yank Kim Jong Il's chain rather cheaply. How about spending some money to send lots of free cell phones into North Korea? Or tell him we'll offer a $500 million reward for his death if he doesn't stop counterfeiting US currency? We wouldn't even have to offer the reward to rattle him. We'd just have to tell him we're ready to do it. We ought to use more bribery and rewards to accomplish whatever we want done and do less with military hardware and less with our troops.
By Randall Parker at 2006 September 25 10:00 PM
Randall, you should be Secretary of State. Why US foreign policy is not run along these lines is a mystery to me.
The relatively few US troops in South Korea look more like targets than anything else. Most South Koreans would probably prefer to see them gone. They were originally sent there to deter an invasion of South Korea by North Korea and China. But China clearly has no aggressive designs on Korea now, and the South Koreans have ample resources themselves to hold off any attack by the North. So why keep US troops there?
The thugs who are currently running North Korea should be told that if they detonate a nuclear weapon, South Korea and Japan will also go nuclear. Really, what other choice do they have? China is the only foreign power with any influence in Pyongyang, and the last thing the Chinese want to see is a nuclear-armed South Korea and a remilitarized, nuclear-armed Japan. Even Taiwan might eventually acquire nuclear weapons, which would really brighten Beijing's day.
The US should spend more effort playing rival powers off against each other with diplomacy, threats and bribes. This has worked well in the past and has very little downside. It resembles the foreign policy that Great Britain pursued for centuries. Just look at the mess we're in now. Isn't it time for a change?
As always, your suggestions leave me thinking, in agreement, "why didn't I think of that?"
We could yank Kim Jong Il's chain rather cheaply. How about spending some money to send lots of free cell phones into North Korea? Or tell him we'll offer a $500 million reward for his death if he doesn't stop counterfeiting US currency?
But that might really push him to the brink, causing him to launch a Taepdong instead of an anti-ship missile sixty feet into the air!
Does the Bush administration believe its own hype? Do we really think Kim Jong Il is going to risk his plush, penthouse, cult-worshipped lifestyle to defy a our application of a threat with teeth? If South Korea went nuclear, any ambitions on the South would risk annihilation.
The new President is a liberal (in South Korea, the liberals are the nationalists and the conservatives are the ones who favor retaining strong ties with the US). The Iraq war, of which the South Koreans have troops involved in, hasn't convinced the South Korean populous that the debacle has been the way to squelch international terrorism. A BBC poll found that South Koreans believe the Iraq war to have increased the global terrorist threat by a margin higher than any of the other 34 countries surveyed (including several ME nations).
Younger generations want us out more than older ones (who presumably remember the Korean War). So I expect our popularity will only decrease in time. But we had 37,500 a couple of years ago and are now down to 30,000. We're slated to cut that in half by 2009. That'll force Seoul, capital of a country with an economy over twenty times larger than North Korea's (almost identical to the disparity between Iran and the US) to start paying for its own defense. Obviously it can.
A nuclear Japan and South Korea seem to me by far the best way to check Chinese aggression and solve the North Korean problem.
Sorry if I don't join your fan club.
Kim Jong Il's motivation is to permanently remain in power. Your scenario leaves him in power. Yes, he's now got two nuclear neighbors but which of the two, pray tell, is now going to remove him from power? And risk their capitol being nuked? Right, neither. Give the comrad just a few more years and he'll have ballistic missiles that can deliver nukes to Los Angeles. Doesn't make me feel any safer, how about you? Selling ballistic missiles, maybe even nukes to whoever flies a plane-load of cash to Pyongyang? Does an ICBM-armed Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela make you nervous? Why not make a North Korean nuke test the red line? Why not make it the last straw, instead of the next to the next to the next to the...last straw?