Allow me to begin with an image that we all can understand. Imagine sticking one’s head in the sand in order to avoid confronting a reality that challenges one’s beliefs or makes one uncomfortable. Then extend this visual analogy to its logical conclusion: Having one’s head in the sand exposes one’s backside to a swift kick in the pants. Head-in-the-sand as a course of action makes for very poor foreign policy – but that is precisely what has been happening on the Korean Peninsula for decades now.
The current uptick in relations between the North and the South notwithstanding, the apparent lack of tension on the peninsula is misleading, for the North is only biding its time. Nothing has changed and the political atmosphere ought to be seen as merely a calm before the next storm. Perhaps China has indeed been able to influence its wayward protégé, but it is doubtful that this sway will last. Is anyone willing to bet anything significant that it will?
Taking a larger perspective, regional problems include interwoven economies that are becoming more so even as political differences continue to range from the not-so-grim to the deadly serious. In addressing such issues, it must be kept in mind that any solution to the stresses and strains in Northeast Asia needs to be owned by those involved, or else it won’t succeed. What that means is that everyone must be involved in developing the answers to current problems in order for the solutions to be accepted.
North Korea is beyond debate a nuclear power, regardless of what Washington might like to claim
Unfortunately, the continued U.S. intractable focus upon only nuclear disarmament by North Korea leaves no room for other, likely to be more profitable, negotiations. In addition, the refusal to see reality for what it actually is can be seen as a form of psychosis. North Korea is beyond debate a nuclear power, regardless of what Washington might like to claim. The current crop of diplomats and politicians there are either certifiably impaired or condemnably incompetent.
A brief summation of negotiations regarding the U.S. fixation on North Korea’s nuclear program produces the following scorecard:
- Six-Party Talks = Failure
- Agreed Framework = Failure
- Leap Day Deal = Failure
To be sure, there are other lesser-known efforts, but in fact no – repeating, no – negotiations have ever been successful in eliminating, or even moderating, North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs or its continuing endeavors to perfect an intercontinental weapons delivery system. North Korea just will not give them up. As to why this is so, one needs only to look at history. Libya negotiated away their nukes and in very short order was invaded. The lesson that North Korea learned from that is to keep the nukes to keep the regime alive.
The present U.S. policy of “strategic patience” is a fiction, for at best it is a euphemism for “we don’t know what to do.” In reality, it is a catch phrase for incompetence. There were perhaps missed opportunities in the distant past, but those ships have sailed. North Korea is not going to give away their nukes, simply because the U.S. cannot be trusted (re: Libya).
So what is the U.S. waiting for – an implosion of some sorts? That is not likely, despite reports of isolated incidents of citizens expressing a level of discontent with certain policies, Kim Jong Un seems to be consolidating his power and making minimal reforms, just enough to mollify the masses while he and the elites continue the good life at the top of the dog pile.
Will there be some form of rebellion from a slow burn of dissatisfaction that finally catches fire? Again not likely, for there first needs to be a critical mass before ignition, but the ground rules of life in the North are stacked to prevent that. Given the inability to move and communicate freely, it is difficult for any opposition to form groups large enough to be effective in resistance or rebellion.
Well, what about a coup by some disaffected ranking military leader or senior Workers Party of Korea elite? Once more, it is not in the cards. Internal change is not likely for two very simple reasons. First, it is not in the interests of those at the top to change the system that clearly benefits them, even though it crushes the common person. Second, even for those inside the system who might be disgruntled, the Machiavellian surveillance of everyone and the frequent shifting of assignments and responsibilities combine to prevent factions from forming to mount a coup.
The more cooperation there is, the more trust accumulates
External factors aren’t working either. Diplomacy, sanctions and long-running talks have had little, if any, effect. That brings us to South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative (NAPCI). It is a process that begins with cooperation on small matters that leads to building trust. The more cooperation there is, the more trust accumulates. From trust eventually comes peace. It should not be difficult to understand that with peace, prosperity has a chance.
Throughout 2013, President Park laid out her plan to increase stability in Northeast Asia by promoting cooperation among the nations in the region. It is a natural outgrowth of her Trustpolitik stance. NAPCI is not tied to any timeline nor is it restricted to any set of organizations. To quote from the 2014 South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs summary of NAPCI, “Rather, the initiative focuses on how to accumulate small but meaningful practices of cooperation and what kind of changes these could bring in Northeast Asia.”
Many will pooh-pooh this as being overly ambitious or unrealistic – but such critics have nothing better to offer. In fact, the idea of having many operational or tactical approaches to discussing issues is something new that should be tried before rejection. There is nothing to lose. In fact, recently, the Russian ambassador to South Korea endorsed NAPCI as the way to get region-wide participation in solutions to Northeast Asian geo-political issues.
Sorry to say, but keeping one’s head in the sand is not going to solve this problem. It is time to give Park Geun-hye a chance at slaying the dragon.
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Featured Image: Korea_President_Park_EastSideGallery_06 by KOREA.NET - Official page of the Republic of Korea on 2014-03-27 17:27:30