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Why Not Address Kim Jong Un's Worries?

Nearly every article written about North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong Un, talks about how he is terrified of the U.S. mounting an attack to displace him as his country’s leader and possibly to reunite the Korean Peninsula under a government from the South (China fears the same thing but to a lesser extent). His development of nuclear weapons is usually seen not so much as a ramping up to a nuclear conflict but as the development of a bargaining chip in his negotiations (loosely defined) with the U.S. and South Korea.

The U.S. response has been to insist on a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and repeatedly to insist that, in any talks with North Korea, the elimination of their nuclear weapons program has to take top priority. Previous negotiations, agreements, and sanctions over the last several administrations have all had this same objective: to keep North Korea free of nuclear weapons. It seems absolutely clear that that strategy has not worked. North Korea not only has nuclear weapons, it has a hydrogen bomb, and it has developed ICBMs capable of reaching mainland U.S.

The U.S. positions have not changed in response to North Korea’s changing nuclear threat. The latest messages from the administration have been to accuse Kim Jong Un of  “begging for war,” and to propose a fuel sanction on his country (something that will probably not happen, given China is its biggest supplier of oil).

It’s time to negotiate with Kim Jong Un and place his priorities at the top of the list. We are fearful of his paranoia and poor judgment, so shouldn’t our first priority be to lessen his paranoia rather than to heighten it with greater threats? Take reunification off the table by proposing a permanent treaty between North and South Korea instead of the current armistice. Put reduction, suspension or elimination of joint U.S. –South Korea military exercises on the table as a bargaining chip. Include a pledge to not attempt to overthrow the Kim Jong Un government in the discussion. Put all of the economic sanctions on the table. After putting these issues on the table, then we can explore what reductions and safeguards in his nuclear and missile programs Kim Jong Un is willing to concede if we concede some of his points. Attempt to gain at least an informal agreement to continue to pursue complete denuclearization as a long-term goal. Ask for stringent oversight by international organizations on all nuclear agreements and on issues such as selling of nuclear material or expertise to foreign governments or other entities (e.g. terrorist organizations).

The objection to the above approach is that it is seen as giving in to North Korea’s demands or at least losing the leverage we currently have because of our military and economic strength, which are a threat to Kim Jong Un. The answer to this objection is to simply look at where that strategy has gotten us. It is time to pursue another strategy, one that is based on the reasons Kim Jong Un is threatening us—which are his fears. Putting issues on a negotiating table loses nothing. It means that we are willing to talk about them, not that we will agree to them, unless of course our own demands are met. Long range, we are better off with a less fearful Kim Jong Un and a North Korea that is a more respectable part of the international community. And, after all, none of the things mentioned above, which Kim appears to want, is actually unreasonable.

Reader Comments (1)

Whether Kim's demands are unreasonable or not, a decapitation is coming. If you paint someone as a twisted demon, you have no choice but to treat them as a twisted demon. The only negotiation left is when and how. My guess is that it will be made to look like an internal assassination. I'm not advocating this result. It's merely a historically-based prediction. It's that same knowledge of recent history that's primarily driving Kim in many regards.

September 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

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