The False Premise of a Madboy

Harry Kazianis, writing in The Week Monday, portrayed northern Korea’s weekend military parading not as sabre rattling but as a demonstration of the fruits of development driven by military necessity.

Kim Jong Un—the leader of a nation that has an economy smaller than Ethiopia—knows all too well he has no way to match the United States, South Korea, and Japan ship for ship, plane for plane in a symmetrical sense. The only way he can hope to deter his enemies is to build the ultimate game-changer: nuclear weapons paired with missiles that can strike all the way across the globe.

But Baby Kim, assuming Kazianis’ description is reasonably accurate, is operating from a false premise.  Northern Korea has no enemies (other than the enemies any street gang has, I mean).  Northern Korea has no enemies because northern Korea has absolutely nothing that any other nation wants: not resources, not technology, not an industrial base worth the candle, not tourist attractions, not pleasant climate for vacationing, not even a pile of cash.  Nothing.

The only thing Kim’s behavior is generating is increasing urgency and necessity to spend the bandwidth and resources necessary to bring him and his government down, since the only real purpose he can have in developing his nuclear weapon suite is to attack his neighbors with it, whether they’re near or far, and so he must be preempted.

Either that, or he’s truly a mad boy—which increases the urgency and necessity of bringing him and his government down before he can do his fever-inspired damage.

Kazianis’ own offered alternatives are…useless.

First, Washington must work with the international community—that means you, China, as well—to contain North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs as robustly as possible. Secondary sanctions would be applied to any nation, financial entity, company, or individual who dared help the regime build such weapons.

We’ve “worked with the international community”—the Six Party Talks, for instance—for nearly 25 years, including sanctions, and including the PRC in the Six.  The result of all of that is Baby Kim’s current status of having 20-40 nuclear warheads and nearing the ability to stick them onto missiles capable of reaching as far as the western US.

Second, we can’t just use sanctions to limit Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile systems—we need to go further. The Trump administration must use cyber weapons, just as the Obama administration did in the case of Iran’s nuclear program, to slow the speed at which these programs can grow.

Certainly a useful thing to do, but just as the Iranian case has demonstrated, cyber weapons (ours or someone else’s) didn’t stop Iran—and as Kazianis implies, they won’t stop northern Korea.

Finally, and most importantly, we are well past the point where it is makes sense to open talks with North Korea—as repulsive as that sounds.

Not repulsive, just stupid.  We’ve talked to the northern Koreans for years, both via those Six Party Talks and directly.  The talks have been a waste of breath, and doing so again would simply be a demonstration of our own insanity: repeating past behaviors and expecting different results this time.

No, sterner measures than idle chit-chat, petty economic sanctions (against an economy smaller than Ethiopia, yet), and idle chit-chat are going to be needed.

Update: corrected an importing error.

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