Do Not Touch Diplomacy

The Agonist has some interesting thoughts on the situation in North Korea. He’s right – the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (I can think of at least three things wrong with that name) isn’t something the United States needs to be involved with right now.

Unless Korea gets serious about using its nuclear arsenal, they’re essentially saber-rattling and little more. As the Agonist points out, it’s classic Korean brinksmanship; it’s a game of chicken on the international scale. However, the North Koreans probably do realize that any war isn’t winnable, and their best hopes to stave off further mass starvation is by engaging with the South more closely.

I also agree that this is exactly why nuclear counterproliferation is so critical. If the nuclear weapons possessed by North Korea were taken out of picture, we’d have a lot more options, some of them military and some of them diplomatic. Furthermore, Korea is surrounded by relatively strong powers. Neither Russia nor China seem to be too keen on the latest maneuvers from Pyongyang, and if worst comes to worst they might intercede themselves. If a similar situation were to break out in Iraq, there would be no one in the region capable of launching a deterrent against an Iraqi strike. While South Korea has a significant demilitarized zone, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia do not. The effects of a nuclear-armed Iraq would be far more dangerous than even the Korea standoff.

The meantime, the best course for dealing with North Korea is to do as little as possible. Nuclear weapons make a military strike completely undesirable. Diplomacy is of only limited utility when one is dealing with a madman like Kim Jung Il. This is a case where a little benign neglect may be just the right formula. With a new detente-minded administration in South Korea, the chances of a major conflict breaking out are relatively small for the time being. Unless that changes, the best course for Korea is one that keeps us out of the picture as much as our immediate interests allow.

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