“Now that the election’s over” … U.S. policy options on North Korea

With the election fading, I’m seeing lots of articles on what to do with X now that the U.S. political scene is settled, with U.S. policy on North Korea having several turns as X. Already, I’ve read everything from ideological chest thumping in the Washington Times, to calls for more diplomatic make-work programs “a new diplomatic approach,” in Foreign Policy.

Reading most of these articles, my main takeaway is that anyone with a pulse and a keyboard, including yours truly, can get published. More diplomacy is the way forward with North Korea? Really? North Korea’s nukes and missiles are Obama’s fault? Seriously? This is the kind of nonsense that passes for informed discussion on U.S. policy toward North Korea?

First, short of an outright invasion (and with apologies to my former political science professors), what the U.S. government does or does not do has minimal affect on North Korea. Newsflash – North Korea’s ruling family does what is best for it, period. It is not blowing in the weak breeze of U.S. policy pronouncements. Just flip it around – no matter what diplomatic approach the Russians or Chinese pursue, the U.S. is not going to give up its nuclear weapons. Why people, “experts” even, think North Korea is any different, any more susceptible to diplomatic persuasion and asking really, really nicely, is beyond me. If the North’s rulers decide they need atom bombs and nuclear missiles, they’re going to have atom bombs and nuclear missiles, and, short of military action, there’s nothing the U.S. can do to change that, no matter who is president nor how cleverly it is argued.

Second, U.S. policy toward North Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953 has included diplomacy, threats and military buildups, conciliatory words and military drawdowns, increased economic sanctions, decreased economic sanctions, including nearby states (e.g. China) in negotiations, not including nearby states, asking China or Russia to help, not asking China and Russia to help, and, perhaps most commonly, just ignoring them in the hopes they’ll go away.

At the end of the day, the only policies the U.S. has not tried is complete surrender – withdrawing all U.S. troops from the peninsula and acceding to the rest of Pyongyang’s demands, an invasion to end the regime for good, or a large-scale information campaign, using modern technology, as advocated here and elsewhere. That’s it – in the past 60 years the U.S. has essentially tried all but these three options, the last of which only became viable in the past few years.

So, unless someone is arguing for one of the three untried policies outlined above, at least part of their proposal has already been attempted and, from my vantage point, is more useful in determining the ideology and/or employment center of the speaker (e.g. diplomats calling for more diplomacy, Congressional reps calling for the use of tools manufactured in their district) than in providing any fresh insight into achieving U.S. policy goals vis-à-vis North Korea.

My two cents, election or no election.

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