Of Paper and Paper Tigers

By | 2017-06-02T18:30:05+00:00 July 6, 2017|
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For 67 years the United States and the world have paid the price of Harry Truman’s decision to renounce the possibility of victory in Korea. Global communism has come and gone, South Korea has become a wealthy and democratic society, and North Korea’s past and present protector, the People’s Republic of China, has unshackled its economy and thus its military potential from the learned idiocies of scientific socialism.

And yet China’s client state, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, still looms beyond the DMZ, persisting in all its menace and belligerence. The Kim dynasty enslaves its own people and exports threats around the globe, its goals not the welfare of its people but the survival, power, and pleasures of a ruler more absolute than Pharoah.

Kim Jong-Un has been paying closer attention than we have done to the harshest foreign policy lessons of the last eight years. Libya’s Gaddafi and the rulers of Ukraine had renounced the pursuit or possession of nuclear weapons: both were attacked and defeated by states that applauded their disarmament. Americans were unimpressed with Hillary Clinton’s flippant boast about Gaddafi: “We came; we saw; he died.” Kim Jong-Un would have to the greatest fool imaginable to ignore her boast.

Kim will never, ever, give up his nukes or his missiles. For a sufficient inducement, however, he might sign a paper where he promised disarmament. Indeed, his father and his grandfather made similar promises. Of course, they did not keep these promises, and in the world of 2017, there is no inducement imaginable that would convince Kim Jong-Un to keep such a promise.

For the Trump Administration and the United States there is, therefore, nothing of importance to be gained from diplomatic concessions to Kim Jong-Un, not even Nobel Prizes. The Norwegian Parliament would sooner honor Benjamin Netanyahu for building settlements in Samaria than reward President Trump or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for achieving a “paper” world peace.

Confrontation, however, offers no reward commensurate with the risks. Of course, the time is long past when the North could plausibly threaten to conquer the South with conventional arms. As Canadian Lt. Colonel Raymond Farrell has written, “the combined ROK/U.S. forces would quickly win the military conflict, though it would be hard-fought and civilian casualties would be high.” The North Koreans have, it is said, have 15,000 or even 45,000 cannons and rocket launchers pointed at metropolitan Seoul’s 25 million civilians. And who knows what nuclear, biological, and chemical horrors they are poised to unleash, in Pusan or Portland or Pensacola?

There is thus nothing to be gained by diplomacy, and nothing worth the price to be gained by military pre-emption. If the United States or the Republic of Korea make concessions, the North Koreans will just pocket whatever concessions they make and continue to build nuclear-tipped ICBMs. If the United States and the Republic of Korea do not make concessions, the North Koreans will continue to build nuclear-tipped ICBMs. Inspections cannot assure the disarmament of a regime that does not wish to be disarmed. Every sensible ruler has learned from what the United States did to Gaddafi, and what Putin did to Ukraine, never to allow himself to be disarmed.

Nor is the secret to be found in dealing with China, Pyongyang’s patron: until that day, much to be longed for, when Kim Jong-Un decides to retire to a villa in Hangzhou, there is nothing the Chinese can offer or threaten that would make him renounce the nuclear weapons that are his best means of personal protection. And while the Chinese, like the United States or the Republic of Korea, could obliterate the North Korean regime in days, this might simply ensure that they get to share directly in horrors that regime would impose in its death struggle.

To repeat, military action isn’t worth the costs. And yet there is literally nothing to be gained by diplomatic engagement with a regime that never reciprocates.

This is not to deny that there are actions the world can undertake to degrade or retard the North Korean threat. While North Korean scientists or technicians may be hard to stop, foreigners who aid and abet their evil can be brought to the fate of Saddam Hussein’s cannon-maker, Gerald Bull. The North Korean regime uses starvation and famine to control its people, so sanctions won’t weaken the regime internally, but they will do something to slow down its purchases of weapons and technology. The United States and its allies need to go full speed ahead on developing and deploying anti-missile and anti-artillery systems to protect their civilians. Israel’s Iron Dome has already proven its worth. China and Russia won’t like it, but they will understand it.

When threatened by blackmail, England’s greatest modern warrior, the Duke of Wellington, responded “Publish and be damned!” Kim and his people are already damned: North Korea is hell on earth, and Kim Jong-Un is its satanic master. We should not ignore the threat that North Korea poses to the peace and safety of the world, nor should the United States pay or encourage the South Koreans or Japan to pay Kim Jong-Un for “protection.” But we also need to resist the impulse to “do something,” until we actually come up with something that is worth doing.

About the Author:

Michael S. Kochin
Michael Kochin is Professor Extraordinarius of Political Science at Tel Aviv University. He received his A.B. in mathematics from Harvard and his M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago. He has held visiting appointments at Yale, Princeton, Toronto, Claremont McKenna College, and the Catholic University of America. He has written widely on the comparative analysis of institutions, political thought, politics and literature, and political rhetoric. Kochin has published two books: Five Chapters on Rhetoric: Character, Action, Things, Nothing, and Art (2009) and Gender and Rhetoric in Plato’s Political Thought (2002). He is currently working with the historian Michael Taylor on a book on the rise of the United States from independence to great power, entitled An Independent Empire: Diplomacy & War in the Making of the United States, 1776-1826.
  • Altalena

    It was said that there was hope for this latest product of the Kim dynasty because he was *Western-educated.*

    Gawd, these days, that’s a reason for the darkest pessimism.

    Amazingly (for a Korean!) he was also a terrible student:

    http://www.sundaytimes.lk/111225/Timestwo/int10.html

    • ak123

      Hey. I didn’t find what useless university you attend or how little money u made last year, “intelligent,” and it seems a bit racist, college boy who is so into books. Be elite, try it rather than faking it.

      • Brian B

        Kim, come on.
        Ak123 as an alias?
        That’s like Podesta using PASSWORD as his password.

  • ADM64

    Nuclear proliferation will increase until an example is made of a state such as North Korea. The assumption that the security risks are manageable is dubious. If we have long-avoided our responsibilities in this matter, it is time to take them up. The only question is whether we have the will to do so. Advice such as in the article ignores the degree to which an even more heavily nuclear-armed North Korea could insist we desist from even the modest efforts proposed herein. Then what? What if he wants money or other concessions?

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    • Michael Kochin

      Give him nothing, concede him nothing, and keep your powder dry.

  • 505badgolfer

    The North Koreans have the bomb and the missiles to deliver it because of the cooperation, connivance and guidance of Beijing. I think the U.S. should recommend to South Korea, Japan and Taiwan that they go nuclear. Two can play the game of giving nuclear technology to an ally.

  • Sam McGowan

    I find it very ironic that the author lives in Israel, a nation that developed and deployed nuclear weapons while continuing to deny that they have them.