The danger of dialogue and appeasing North Korea

by Crispin Hull on May 19, 2017

EIGHTY years ago, Hitler had just remilitarised the Rhineland and had his eye on taking Austria and the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia. Nothing happened after those takeovers but talks, and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declaring, “Peace in our time.” Naivety and appeasement. Today we have North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. The history is similar.

Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all tried combinations of talks, partial sanctions, aid and subsidies. Every time they tried to encourage or cajole the various members of the Kim dynasty to stop going down the path of obtaining nuclear weapons and the wherewithal to deliver them inter-continentally, they just ignored them and pressed on.

This week the new South Korean President tried the same thing, saying he wanted to open a new channel of dialogue with North Korea while still maintaining sanctions.

North Korea’s response was to set of a missile that travelled 700kms before dropping into the Sea of Japan and to engage in major cyber attacks.

Clinton’s and Bush’s efforts culminated in North Korea testing an atomic bomb in 2006.

UN sanctions were imposed in 2006, but the Obama administration failed to use all its financial and diplomatic power to enforce the sanctions to bring the regime to its knees. This was through fear of angering China and because South Korea thought that the North could be persuaded to open up to the outside world and end its nuclear program.

It is fine to be persuasive, compassionate and generous within the boundaries of a democracy, but this is a waste of precious time – and it is precious time – when dealing with people like Kim Jong-un.

The North Korean regime is determined to build a nuclear bomb small enough and a missile powerful enough to threaten continental United States and, for that matter, Australia. No amount of persuasion or attempts at dialogue will stop that path.

It is highly dangerous. If Clinton, Bush and Obama failed, what chance has Trump, who makes George W. Bush look like a foreign-affairs sophisticate and statesman?

The only thing that will stop Kim Jong-un perfecting the multi-billion dollar nuclear program begun by his grand-father, Kim Il-sung, and father, Kim Jong-il, is duress so great that it threatens his regime.

Look at the history. Clinton’s 1994 “Agreed Framework” gave Kim Jong-il’s regime fuel aid and help to build two peaceful nuclear power stations in return for a promise to give up the nuclear-weapons program. It was worse than folly. It probably helped the North’s nuclear-weapons technology.

Bush ended the framework when he discovered North Korea was cheating. Then he stupidly entered his own agreement to ease sanctions, remove North Korea from the state-sanctioned terrorism list and, worse, allow North Korea to use the dollar system.

Shortly after Obama came to office, his “reaching out” was met with the first long-range missile test and then the testing of a nuclear device. In 2012, Obama entered the aid-for-nuclear-freeze Leap Day agreement. Six weeks later North Korea tested a long-range missile.

Meanwhile, South Korea engaged in several economic and food aid arrangements, hoping to lure the North into the global economic system and to liberalise the regime. Again, worse than foolish. The South handed hard currency to the North which it used for the weapons and missile programs and to stave off economic collapse and military rebellion.

Mr Hitler, you must not remilitarise the Rhineland and we will ease war reparations. Mr Hitler, leave Austria alone. Mr Hitler, do not occupy any part of Czechoslovakia. Every time he just ignored Britain, France and the US. Every time he gained time to build up his weapons systems. The Allies foolishly waited until Poland was invaded. By then it was too late to avoid catastrophic war.

Trump has at least seen that he needs Chinese help. His rhetoric with China has moved from “currency manipulator” and “American job stealer” to President Xi Jingping delivering “tremendous goodwill and friendship”.

But China is not willing to bring the North Korean regime to its knees. It will require the US to bring full duress.

But that duress will require a great deal of subtle and intelligent use of massive financial coercion. But subtlety and intelligence are not Trump’s hallmarks.

The real key here is to undo Bush’s deal to allow North Korea into the dollar system and to impose third-party sanctions on corporations or nations that have any dealings with North Korea, particularly the Chinese banks.

Give the Chinese banks a choice between continued dealing with the US or dealing with North Korea, they will choose the former, whatever the Chinese Government urges. Profit before politics.

Tell the Third World nations that now import North Korean weapons and reflag North Korean ships to stop or face expulsion from US markets.

North Korea keeps most of its currency reserves in US dollars. The US could mandate that any bank that dealt with North Korea would be denied access to the dollar system. US banks would be prohibited from dealing with North-Korean sourced dollars.

China has regularly voted for sanctions in the UN, but allows its state-owned corporations to tranship arms and weapons technology and importantly the luxury goods for the elites which prop up the regime.

The US should forget the Chinese Government. Rather it should use every financial weapon at its disposal to deny the North Korean regime the wherewithal to sustain either the weapons program or, indeed, itself.

It will take time – time we may still have if no more silly appeasement arrangements are put in place.

The plus and the minus of Trump is that he enjoys chaos. That will be fine if he avoids military action, but instead forcefully tells the Chinese and the South Koreans that the US and its allies would prefer the chaos of a North Korean regime collapsing under the toughest financial and third-party sanctions ever seen than have a “stable” nuclear-armed North Korea.

The big problem with Trump would be if Russia moved in to fill the Chinese vacuum. His conflict of interests might be too great to do much about it.

That aside, this is an existential threat to the democratic world and requires a response of an existential threat to the North Korean regime.

If Hitler had developed a deliverable nuclear weapon late in World War II as he hammered the V1 (pictured) and V2 doddlebugs across the English Channel, could anyone imagine him not using it?
This column first appeared in The Canberra Times and other Fairfax Media on 20 May 2017.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Peter Lynch 05.20.17 at 10:28 am

If you go far enough back into history to the end of WWII, the belligerence of the Kims doesn’t seem irrational. The US has always had the aim of toppling their communist regime and dragging Nth Korea into its fold by fair means or foul. That Nth Korea is an economic basket case is largely due to the US isolating it from the world. What’s more, the broken promises are more on the US’s side than on North Korea’s. Without its huge army and its weaponry, I think the US would have invaded Nth Korea long ago. The US strategy has always been to hem China in. The Chinese, for their part have every reason to fear that the fall of the Kim regime would lead to the loss of a bulwark between itself and aggressive West. US policy with regard to Nth Korea since the Korean War has been a monumental failure, resulting in the exact opposite of what it wanted to achieve. China’s economic integration with its neighbors and the world mean that it is not a military threat to them. Also, their is no reason to believe that Nth Korea is bent on taking over South Korea or that it hopes to destroy America. The sensible thing for the US to do now is to withdraw and do nothing. They should remove the sanctions, stop the naval exercises of the coast, drop the warlike rhetoric and leave Nth Korea alone. When even dedicated US-ophiles like Tom Switzer are saying this, Crispin, you should realize that your it’s time to drop the aggressive anti-Nth Korean approach.

Christina Macpherson 05.20.17 at 10:39 am

Thank you for this thoughtful article. It is a worry that Donald Trump is not capable of the sort of nuanced policy thinking that is needed.
However bad Kim Jong Un might be, I don’t think that he is in the class of Hitler.
The Nazi doctrines of racial superiority and world domination are unparalleled in modern history.
Kim Jong Un, on the other hand, seems fixated on his (very real) need to hang onto the Kim dynasty’s power, with both external and internal threats to that, rather than to aim for world domination.

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