Sunset policy

I got another one of those emails from my mom, something along the lines of “we’ve been watching the news and we’re worried. Are you safe?” I had a hard time finding the right adjective to reply. I’m not worried, not even really concerned. I eventually came up with “curious.” I’m curious to see how all of this recent business with North Korea is going to play out. To me it seems as though they’re slowly painting themselves into a corner and I can’t imagine how they’re going to get themselves out of it.

I’ve been reading a lot of news, watching a lot of commentary, and having a few conversations. There seems to be agreement that the DPRK does not want to invade or attack its neighbors. That would be suicide. The talk is really just talk. I get the feeling there is some uneasy shit going down up there internally. We’re probably witnessing the end period of Kim Jong Il’s leadership. He knows this, the military knows this, the people know this. The thinking goes that he wants to hand over power to one of his troubled sons. But in order to do that, he has to show his military that the family is strong and capable. So all the blustery language, the weapons tests, the chest-thumping is all related to this display of strength.

But words have a way of escalating to such heights that unless they are backed by something real, they lose power. In the next few weeks or months, we’ll see how the DPRK follows up its threats with actions (or non-actions). Will they actually attack ROK or US naval ships? When one of their ships is about to be boarded under the Proliferation Security Initiative, will they aggressively defend themselves against it as they’ve promised to do? If they’re kicked out of the UN (which they should be), what will they do? Lots of questions; not a lot of answers. Nobody knows anything. So… curious is the right word.

When I think of North Korea, I think of the game Risk (or, on Facebook, the recently deceased “World Conquest”). There are some players who will plant themselves in one territory with 20 armies. For a long time, these players will sit there. Each turn, they get an additional three armies. They won’t move, won’t attack, just build… very… slowly. The more they build up their armies, the harder it becomes to attack these players. You know that if you’re to win the game, you will at some point have to surround this person and go at it in a bloodbath (or wait for them to eventually make a move on you). The point being, the longer you wait, the worse it gets. This is North Korea. They’ve stacked up their tiny little territory to such an obscene level that there are no good military options. If words devolve into actions, it’s going to be massively, tragically brutal.

Again, I honestly don’t think that will happen. What I don’t know is what will happen. It’s funny to watch all these experts on TV scratch their heads and fumble around making guesses. No one has any real solutions. Surprisingly, I find myself agreeing with that windbag John Bolton, who said the following:

We should limit North Korea’s access to international financial markets. The Bush administration went down that path and it was effective, before it changed course and gave way. We need to go back to that.

We should put North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. We never should have taken them off.

We should expel North Korea from the United Nations, since they have no intention of abiding by its rules and resolutions.

Finally, pressure must be brought on China, which has unique leverage over North Korea since it supplies more than 80 percent of its energy as well as significant amounts of food. If they are serious that they don’t want a North Asia with nuclear weapons –where Japan and possibly South Korea and Taiwan seek their own deterrents — then they should do something about North Korea now.

That last bit about China is the most important, I think, which is something a lot of these experts are saying. First, China doesn’t want a nuclear Japan (or anyone else for that matter). Second, China doesn’t want North Koreans flooding their borders. Third, China knows that if North Korea attacks anyone, or is attacked by anyone, the endgame is not to their favor. Eventually the US and Japan will win, Korea would become reunified, and would probably become pro-Western. China doesn’t want this on their border. So they seem to be the key to the negotiating aspect of things. But then another question arises: Would North Korea listen to them. That answer, like most, is not clear.

It’s interesting to me that this happens during the time of former President Noh’s suicide and memorial service, held yesterday. His continuation of the ‘Sunshine Policy‘ kept the North in check. Then South Koreans elected Lee Myung Bak, who took a hard-line stance and, one might argue, paved the way for where we are now. So we also have to pay attention to his words and his actions.

The chess pieces are moving, it’s enormously complicated, and we’ll have to see what happens. No, I’m not worried. No one I talk to — Korean and foreigner alike — is either. But it sure does have everyone’s attention.

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