Friday, October 13, 2006

What to do about North Korea

Earlier this week, North Korea defied the world community and conducted a test of a nuclear weapon. Some have questioned the success of the test: based on the seismic measurements from neighboring countries, the yield was surprisingly low, suggesting the bomb may have been a partial dud. But, regardless of whether the test was fully successful or not, the fact that North Korea attempted to test a weapon sends a troubling signal to the rest of the world, confirming that North Korea is actively developing these weapons and is willing to defy the rest of the world in their use.

Now that North Korea has gone through with this test, the key question remains of what to do about it. And, in considering this question, it is important to realize that North Korea's nuclear weapons are more of an Asian problem then they are an American problem. Asian countries, especially Japan, China, and South Korea, are the ones within reach of North Korean missiles, and thus at the greatest risk. For this reason, this primarily Asian problem should be solved by a primarily Asian solution. The main role of the United States, if any, should be to encourage our Asian friends to take action to stop this menace, and to provide assistance if requested.

China and Russia, in particular, should be key to the solution here. As traditional allies of North Korea, China and Russia allowed this Frankenstein country to fester on their doorstep for the past fifty years. However, China and Russia did both discourage North Korea from pursuing its nuclear program - if China and Russia (both nuclear powers) wanted North Korea to have nuclear weapons, they would have just given the technology to them. The fact that they did not give this technology to North Korea suggests their attempts to discourage North Korea from developing this technology were genuine. And, because of this, North Korea's defying of this discouragement represents a major embarrassment for both China and Russia. Hopefully, this means these two countries will support taking action.

North Korea's provocative nuclear test deserves a strong response from the world community. And yet, a military attack on North Korea is the wrong answer, since it would cause unnecessary loss of life, and may backfire by galvanizing public opinion within North Korea. A better solution is to target North Korea's economy - a targeted series of measures intended to cause North Korea's already fragile economy to collapse. Some measures that could be key to this:
  • A military blockade: Simply slapping sanctions on North Korea is not enough here - there will always be someone willing to defy them. In a military blockade, all ships and aircraft to/from North Korea would be forced to land at a Chinese or Japanese port to be screened. Only certain types of goods (food, medicine, etc.) would be allowed through.
  • Cutting off oil supplies: North Korea is dependent on oil from China. Shutting off the spigots from China, and using the blockade to prevent oil imports from anywhere else (Iran, etc.) would cause North Korea's transportation infrastructure to grind to a halt.
  • Infrastructure impairment: Shutting down the electrical grid, major roadways, railroads, and all airports through targeted bombings of transformer stations, bridges, rail lines, and airport runways.
  • Inhibiting cash flow: Using the blockade to block ALL exports from North Korea, which would cut off North Korea's ability to raise foreign cash. In the resulting liquidity crisis, the value of North Korea's currency would collapse on the open market, making it more difficult for North Korea to import needed goods. Freezing all North Korean assets outside North Korea could help this effort as well.
  • Funding rebel groups: Providing local rebel groups with weapons and money.
  • Psyops: Dropping flyers, running radio stations, etc. to encourage North Koreans to support rebel groups.

North Korea's economy has been in trouble for a long time, and a concerted effort like this could cause it to implode. While this would be painful for the North Korean people, it is significantly less painful than a full-scale war.

One does not need to look far for a parallel to Korea. Like Korea, Germany was partitioned into two separate countries - one Capitalist, and one Communist. After the collapse of the Communist East Germany, the country became one again, and the Berlin wall fell. North Korea has the potential to undergo the same metamorphosis through a reunification with South Korea. The most likely way for this type of reunification to occur is for North Korea's economy and government to implode. This will likely happen at some point in the future anyway, but if the world community is able to bring about this eventuality sooner, the result will be less suffering for the North Korean people.