Monday, March 28, 2005

Foreign Policy: North Korea

Well I've had my snarky say about US foreign policy and it's time to back this up with some substantive foreign policy discussion. I'll start--in a risky move--with North Korea.

What inspires my post is a quote from Richard Perle, a well-known neocon hawk who, though he has no actual role in the government, is rather well connected to a number of neocon think tanks.

Mr. Perle said the following in an interview with PBS's Frontline:

Question: [The Clinton Administration's policy of engagement] was a policy that was advocated by the South Koreans, under Kim Dae Jung. Kim Dae Jung came to Washington, for instance, early on in his administration and felt rebuffed by President Bush.

Answer: I think Kim Dae Jung's interests, and the interests of the South Koreans, are not at all identical to ours. They have an interest in doing everything possible to avoid military conflict, and it's understandable. Seoul is within artillery range of thousands of North Korean artillery tubes. They would much prefer to take a risk that North Korea will become not only a nuclear power, but the nuclear bread basket of the world, building and selling nuclear weapons, as they are now building and selling missile technology, and anything else they can lay their hands on.

From the South Korean point of view, that is a lesser immediate threat than artillery landing on Seoul. So it's hardly surprising that the South Koreans are going to see this differently from the way we see it. But our president has, first and foremost, a commitment to the security of the United States.

The reason this quote is important is because it indicates the logic for the policy of non-engagement which currently underlies U.S. foreign policy towards North Korea. Since the end of the Clinton Administration, there's been little actual talking going being done on what is a very real issue: the imminent threat that North Korea will gain nuclear weapons, and, with nuclear weapons in hand, use them against South Korea, or, even worse, given them to terrorists.

Like it or not, U.S. foreign policy for the last fifty years has been built on the premise that the interests of South Korea and the U.S. are one and the same. We currently have thirty-seven thousand troops in South Korea. They're not there to simply sit and promote "regional stability." They're there to directly counteract and potential threat against North Korea. They're the tripwire which ensures American commitment to North Korea.

Perle's logic that somehow the South Koreans have no interest in a de-nuclearized North is absurd; of course they want a de-nuclearized North. The United States could pull out those 37,000 troops at any moment, leaving South Korea with nothing (and, in fact, we're doing just that). A nuclearized North essentially ends any hope at re-unification between North and South that includes any semblance of democracy or capitalism, barring some amazing change of heart by a future North Korean leader. And while the South Koreans may be less worried about the threat posed by nuclear proliferation into terrorist hands, the idea that somehow U.S. interests are very different from South Korean interests is absurd.

But what's most worrying about Perle's logic is that it sets up a straw man, essentially claiming that any sort of engagement on any terms other than the U.S.'s terms is "appeasement." But let's evaluate the other side of this straw man. Say he's right. Say appeasement isn't the answer. So now what? If appeasement isn't t he answer, it's time to act militarily! If you're not going to pursue non-peaceful means of keeping someone from nuclear weapons, you have no choice but to (a) act militarily (b) abandon your goals, and wait while the DPRK develops nuclear weapons.

What the Bush administration seems to lack is an understanding of the idea that it's not in North Korea's interests to de-nuclearize: it's in ours. Though the average North Korean might benefit from democracy, capitalism, and an open society (the lack thereof apparently excuses our label of "axis of evil") the average North Korean is also completely alientaed from any ability to effect change in his government. The decision-maker in DPRK is Kim Jong-Il, and it's him we have to deal with. If we're to deal with him, we have to make it worth his while to de-nuclearize, or wait until he does and use nuclear deterrance.

A dangerous game Mr. Bush is playing, talking out one side of his mouth about the need to stop nuclear proliferation, and on the other side doing little to stop it. Though his tough rhetoric may have helped win him an election, I wonder how it's helping us deal with this very real threat to national security.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Perle has made a career out of conflating the US's interests with Israel's interests.