A few days ago, the North Korean military detonated its second nuclear weapon despite years and years of international talks and sanctions. The second bomb, much more powerful than the first, apparently came as a surprise to the world despite the warning signs. For years, the so-called “international community” has done its best to sate the changing wants and needs of the Hermit Kingdom. The US has promised energy security, food shipments, non-aggression pacts, and many other carrots. The only concession was that North Korea give up its nuclear weapon ambitions. Our generous offers have been taken, then thrown in our face time and time again for two decades. The unpredictable Kim Jong-il has extorted two American presidents, and now he's working on a third. Most disturbingly, North Korea has released itself from the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War. An act that may be the beginning of a new conflict on the Korean peninsula.
A Quick History of a Criminal State
Following World War II, the Korean peninsula was split between the Soviet Union, who occupied the north, and the Allies, who occupied the south. When elections were scheduled in 1948, the North refused to participate, no doubt suggested by the Soviet Union. From then on, the Korean peninsula was torn asunder. In 1950, the Korean War began when the North invaded the South to fulfill their claim over the entire area. After three years of war, an armistice was signed between the North, the South and the US-led UN force that protected the South Korean people.
The Juche (self-reliance) ideology, an off-shoot of Marxist-Leninist communism, was created and implemented by North Korea after the war. The basis of Juche is to rely on domestic materials, technology, and innovations instead of becoming dependent upon those from the outside world. Between the end the war and the death of its founder, Kim Il-sung, in 1994, North Korea became the second most industrialized nation in the Far East as well as one of the most militarized states in the entire world. Alas, the command economy prosperity came to end during the 1970s. The nation's massive military budget, its reliance of mineral export funds, its massive debts and the Soviet Union cutting aid down to trinkets because of North Korea's perceived Maoist leanings all brought North Korea to the place it's at today: one of the most famine stricken and economically destitute nations in the world. The North's economy now relies on generous international aid and criminal rackets like drug smuggling, arms dealing and counterfeiting currency.
The first of many aid extortions began in the early 1990s when, after signing the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1985, North Korea took great pains to slow the implementation of safeguards and inspections. This led to South Korea and the US returning to joint military exercises. The North retaliated by denying the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) entry into two nuclear waste sites, and then threatened to leave the NPT. Two years of talks over the North's nuclear program led to the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KPEDO), an agreement that would give the North two light water nuclear reactors if it would give up its nuclear weapons program. The KPEDO agreement didn't do that much, though, since in the years after its unveiling North Korea has tested numerous ballistic missiles, firing many of them over Japan, as well as threatened the South and many other nations with terrorism and war if it did get its way. After the Bush Administration took a tougher stance on nuclear proliferation, it has talked, then threatened, talked, then fired missiles. Worst of all, and what is the number one danger to our nation and others, is that it has been accused (with ample evidence) of a widespread missile and nuclear proliferation, some of its customers being Iran and Syria. All this has been done during nearly two decades of talks, agreements, counter agreements, treaty breaking, threats of war and any other kind of verbal political nonsense you can think of.
The Consequences of Appeasement
The past week has shown that carrots don't work without a stick. Sanctions and UN condemnations are just paper threats that the North knows won't work since they rely on the law, something the North constantly breaks and circumvents (with a supply of nuclear weapons being the evidence, of course). The only true stick in the area has been the tens of thousands of American troops stationed on the border, but those troops are there to prevent a second invasion, not to threaten action over proliferation of nuclear weapon technology and hostile acts with ballistic missiles. The lives of those troops, and that of the residents of Seoul, which is the target of a massive amount of North Korean artillery, are on the forefront of our minds when we talk to the North Koreans. When they threaten war, we back down or try to calm them down with extra goodies because we are responsible for the lives under threat. For nearly twenty years, they have been able to hold the lives of hundreds of thousands over us and reap the benefits of our hearts.
This situation is a very complex and very dangerous one that has no fast and easy answer. This traces back to the knife's edge we had to walk when the Chinese nearly wiped out UN forces and Soviets threatened annihilation if we pushed the North too far back. If we are to keep alive those we are responsible for, we cannot invade and remove the tyrants because they have a massive military ready to massacre anyone who threatens their paradise, including hundreds of thousands of South Korean civilians. We cannot make stable agreements because of the instability of the regime and its demands. We cannot use economic sanctions because the North makes its money through illegal means and stopping it requires a massive military interdiction operation which the North has called a “declaration of war”. But, because of our “cannot”s, the North now has the industry and knowledge to create and test powerful nuclear weapons. This is a game changer that both President Clinton and President Bush idiotically refused to deal with.
President Obama has little choice in dealing with North Korea. He could continue the aid, the talks and endless back and forth agreements that the North has proven it will never adhere to, but that would only put off what already appears to be the endgame for one of the last Stalinist dictatorships on the planet. It will also keep active the WMD black market which North Korea heads. As it is today, the country will not last much longer without major reform. It comes down to a question of do we want it to collapse upon itself through economic disaster or military chaos and risk the lives of millions of brutalized citizens? Or do we want to take control of this situation and guide it the best we can to a resolution that doesn't get near involvement in a horrific conventional (maybe nuclear) war with a crazed militarized state on its last legs?
How we do this? I don't know. I'm not an expert on North Korea and there are very few who can give detail of a nation that prides itself on its secrecy and rock-solid isolation. The clear overall decision, though, is for President Obama to stop the policy of appeasement of North Korea, for that will only guarantee its ability to produce more and more nuclear weapons, and nuclear weapon and ballistic missile technology, and sell it under our noses to our enemies. This would spread the danger from one manic, isolated nation to countless other unstable states that may have little inclination for self-preservation and graft, but are quite ready to set the world on fire to real their ideological goals.
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