A Plan for Dealing with Northern Korea

Ex-SecDef Robert Gates has one, as described by Gerald Seib in The Wall Street Journal.

Under the Gates approach, the US would make China the following offer: Washington is prepared to recognize the North Korean regime and forswear a policy of regime change, as it did when resolving the Cuban missile crisis with the Soviet Union; is prepared to sign a peace treaty with North Korea; and would be prepared to consider some changes in the structure of military forces in South Korea.

In return, the US would demand hard limits on the North Korean nuclear and missile program, essentially freezing it in place, enforced by the international community and by China itself.

“I think you cannot get the North to give up their nuclear weapons,” Mr Gates says. “Kim sees them as vital to survival. But you may be able to get them to keep the delivery systems to very short range.”

The stick for this?

Absent such an agreement, the US would “heavily populate Asia with missile defenses.” That would include missile-defense buildups in South Korea, Japan, and aboard additional American ships stationed in the Pacific. In addition, the US would declare that it would shoot down “anything we think looks like a launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile” from North Korea.

This is both foolish and naïve.  It’s naïve because it innocently envisions the men and women of northern Korea and the People’s Republic of China to be trustworthy in this matter, or any other regarding the Korean peninsula in particular and the western Pacific in general—and regarding us at all in the PRC’s case.  These worthies have shown their lack of reliability repeatedly, ranging from Baby Kim’s and his father’s before him, welching on agreements particularly concerning northern Korean nuclear weapons program to the PRC’s seizure and occupation of the South China Sea, attacks against other nations’ fishing and oil facilities in the Sea, and its aggressions against Japan’s Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

It’s naïve because “heavily populating Asia” with missile defenses would require agreement from the RoK to plus up (heavily or otherwise) a missile defense establishment it’s already disgruntled about having in place and strongly reluctant to increase.  It would require Japan to agree to emplacement of missile defenses much beyond the token batteries already present.  It would require other nations of Asia—Vietnam, for instance, and a Philippines that already prefers the PRC to our alliance—to agree to such emplacements.  It would require a heavy buildup of our Navy to build and launch “American ships” that are missile defense capable before we could get those numbers in place.

It’s foolish because, depending on the definition of very short range, such an agreement at best would sell the Republic of Korea into hostage against our behavior in Baby Kim’s eyes and those of whomever happens to be in power in the PRC at the time they decide to take umbrage against our activities.  In the South China Sea, say, or vis-à-vis Japanese islands in the East China Sea.  Or the Republic of China.

Aside from also selling Japan, the RoC, and the nations rimming the South China Sea down the river through those indirect means, that definition could be used to put Japan directly at risk, too, as well as our own military bases in the region.

That foolishness would be the height of immorality.

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