Thursday, June 4, 2009

Known Unkowns of North Korea


It seems that international relations experts can never decide exactly how to characterize North Korea's Leader, Kim Jong-Il. Is he a shrewd, cool customer or a completely bonkers and irrational psycho?

Recently, North Korea has been feeling a little lonely. Everyone is talking about Israel, Iran, Lebanon, Swine Flu, the EU, the global economic recession, bailouts, China, a beached whale, rumors of a new phone/computer from Apple, etc... To Kim Jong-Il that translates into "everything but me", and if there is one way to get on that man's nerves it is to not pay attention to him.

In the past few days North Korea has: tested a nuclear device, launched two or three short range inter ballistic missiles, and basically called off the 1953 Truce which ended the Korean War. That's pretty drastic. The problem with North Korea which experts find most troubling is that we know so little about the nation and its internal politics that its moves make very little sense. Even its closest ally (which it still mostly despises) China doesn't know much.

That of course leads us to the questions: why they do it and how to respond?

Why do they do it?

Thankfully this one is pretty simple. North Korea is as broke as a joke. They produce nothing of value, have to important natural resources, and due to the draconian government don't even export labor. So... they use bombs and threats as their economic stimulus. It is pretty predictable behavior: 1)North Korea (Kim Jong-Il) find itself running out of money, 2) Ratchet up some press through threats and wild behavior, 3) Blow something up... preferably nuclear or in the direction of South Korea or Japan, 4) Wait for other countries to come bribing you to give up the weapons for food/money/aid, 5) spend that money... but keep some to set something off later.

That's what I call a Nuclear Economic Stimulus.

How do we respond?

Well.. there are several options, unfortunately they vary from weak to certifiably insane with no options in the middle. We, of course, can continue what we are doing - bribing the North Korean regime with aid, money, food, etc.. in the hopes they stop. This obviously is not working to end the crisis but rather just buying time.

On the other hand, we could be pro-active however this would lead to a major catastrophe of human suffering and death as North Korea would shell the living daylights out of Seoul, South Korea which is within spitting distance. If you hear anyone suggest we "nuke 'em" please feel free to slap some sense into that nutcase and let them know that international relations is not a video game, real people's lives are in grave danger.

The uptick in aggression and posturing from Kim Jong-Il and his cronies should be a clear sign that something has to change. First, aid must be more dependent on actual PERMANENT improvements. Second, China must be more pro-active in its conversations with North Korea in order to communicate the realities of a retaliatory strike. Third, much more human intelligence is required in order to make better decisions. The largest drawback to current policy is that it is based on perceptions not necessarily realities of the North Korean regime.

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