As he was my favorite US Senator for most of his time in office [after Bentsen left the Senate] I am always interested in his views.
From The Economist
Coping with North Korea
Kim Jong Un has raised the stakes; it is time to get tougher with the nastiest regime on the planet
Apr 6th 2013 |From the print edition
EVEN by its own aggressive standards, North Korea’s actions over the past couple of weeks have been extraordinary. Kim Jong Un, the country’s young dictator, has threatened the United States with nuclear Armageddon, promising to rain missiles on mainland America and military bases in Hawaii and Guam; declared a “state of war” with South Korea; announced that he would restart a plutonium-producing reactor at its Yongbyon nuclear site, while enriching uranium to build more nuclear weapons; and barred South Korean managers from entering the Kaesong industrial complex, almost the only instance of North-South co-operation. All this comes after the regime set off a nuclear test, its third, in February. Tensions are the worst on the peninsula since 1994, when North Korea and America were a hair’s breadth from war.
The questions are what to make of all this, and how to respond. Neither is easy. The White House has tried to play down the aggression, talking of a “disconnect between rhetoric and action”, and some parts are pure bluster. The nuclear threat against mainland America is patently hollow: it will be years before the North has the technology to dispatch nuclear-tipped missiles. North Korea has yet to order a large-scale mobilisation of its 1.1m-strong army. Pyongyang, the capital, does not seem like a city that is about to go to war.
But there are also depressing reasons to take Mr Kim all too seriously. It does not take much to imagine the cycle of provocation and deterrence getting out of hand, especially if South Korea and the United States misjudge North Korea’s actions—or vice versa. And even without nuclear missiles, conflict on the crowded Korean peninsula would be savage. Decrepit North Korea would certainly be outgunned by South Korea and America. But nobody should doubt the cult-like commitment of the North’s armed forces. The human cost of war would be huge: 1.7m men serve in uniform on the peninsula, and North Korean artillery batteries are trained on the megalopolis of Seoul. American generals guess that a conflict could kill at least 1m, including thousands of Americans. Oh, and it would also be curtains for Asia’s thriving economy.
Moreover, Mr Kim heads a regime that cares nothing for its own brutalised people. Some 150,000-200,000 North Koreans—individuals and often whole families—rot as political prisoners in a vast gulag. Farmers are herded into collectives and forced into gruelling manual labour. Women trying to make a living by smuggling refugees across the border with China are shot if they do not know the right people to bribe.
In some ways the North is even scarier under its new ruler than it was under his father, who died in 2011. Early hopes that Mr Kim might prove a youthful agent of change seem entirely dashed by his nuclear explosion and boundless bombast. He is thought to have ordered the sinking of a South Korean naval corvette in 2010, with the deaths of 46 crewmen, and the shelling of a South Korean island later that year. Whereas Kim Jong Il was practised in the calibrated calculation of shaking down the outside world, his callow son has escalated tensions wildly. Nobody knows how to walk him back from the brink.
Doing so depends partly on Mr Kim’s motives. Perhaps aggression is a rite of passage to prove his leadership credentials to the country’s ancient generals. Perhaps he will shrewdly claim he has seen off the imperialist threat and back down. Perhaps he gets a thrill from orchestrating the chaos—as if he were playing a video game. Or, most worrying, perhaps he is out of his depth and therefore more prone to miscalculation.
Whenever Mr Kim’s father ratcheted up tensions, at least the pretence held that a bargain was to be had. In return for aid, oil or respect, North Korea would agree to discussions over dismantling its nuclear-weapons programme. The process was often a charade, but it kept the North engaged and it probably helped slow the development of nuclear weapons, as with the agreement to mothball the Yongbyon reactor in 2007. Now Mr Kim has declared that his nuclear capability is non-negotiable.
No prizes for backing off
What should the West do? In the long term, the best way to destabilise Mr Kim is from within. A new merchant class is emerging—the only prospering bit of the economy. The world must redouble its efforts to engage with these and other possible agents of change. This includes teaching more mid-ranking officials how societies work when they are organised around market economies and underpinned by laws; and funding defector radio stations beaming news back into the North.
That, though, is for the long term. The imperative now is to face down Mr Kim. After all, he has ruled out the only promise worth having (suspending his nuclear programme again). North Korea—and other rogue regimes and would-be nuclear proliferators, such as Iran—need to know that actions have consequences. That is why President Park Geun-hye of South Korea, in turn, was right to make it clear that sneak attacks will be met with a much firmer response than in 2010. America is right to move missile defences to Guam. When it sent two nuclear-capable B-2 bombers to fly over the peninsula it was a warning not only to North Korea, but also a gesture of support to the South. If Ms Park doubts American backing, she will be tempted to seek nuclear weapons herself.
Now more than ever, America needs to cajole China to press for change in its satellite. Apart from humanitarian aid to the North’s stunted people, all other commercial favours towards the regime should be stopped. Sick of Mr Kim and his family racket, China signed up to fresh UN financial sanctions against North Korea after the latest nuclear test. China has the capacity to choke the most iniquitous sources of the criminal regime’s cash. Yet its commitment to enforcing the sanctions seems half-hearted and it appears to have insisted that Shanghai accounts in two of its biggest banks, holding hundreds of millions of dollars on behalf of Mr Kim and his cronies, be excluded from the sanctions. Attempts at changing North Korean behaviour have so far patently failed. But then, as China shows, not everything has yet been tried.
This afternoon rather than watching the Ravens-[Ethnic Slurs] game, I went to a talk at the Newseum given by Madeleine Albright. She was plugging her memoir Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War but she talked about a lot about other current issues as well.
Her primary message was that as a Czechoslovakian refugee from the Nazis who lived through The Blitz as a child she has a unique perspective on the United States’ role in the world. She particularly warns against the American tendency towards isolation. She wonders how the world might have been different if the United States had been at the table during the negotiations between France, Britain and Nazi Germany over the eventual fate of Czechoslovakia.
She had a very nuanced take on the events in Libya. As a former Secretary of State she emphasized that ambassadors are the eyes and ears of the United States in foreign countries. That is why embassies tend to be in the center of capitols where they are tough to defend. She noted that the trend to make embassies fortresses began after embassy bombings during her tenure.
During the Q and A she gave some other interesting observations. When asked about the UN Disability Treaty vote she lamented that it seemed to have been the result of “people who believe the United Nations actually has black helicopters to secretly steal their lawn furniture. Their problem with the UN seems to that it is full of foreigners which is tough to avoid.”
She was also asked about her advocacy for women getting involved in public affairs. She had earlier noted that her father had a bright young student he had inspired to study international diplomacy, one Condalezza Rice, making her father responsible for two of the three female Secretaries of State the US has had. The third is a fellow Wellesley alumna. While she thinks women in power are a force for good she said that “If you think a world run entirely by women would be a good thing, you don’t remember high school.” She also said she would support a pro-choice man over a woman who wasn’t.
Overall, I was very impressed with her expansive knowledge and sly sense of humor. She is a national treasure who should be listened to.