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May. 27 2010 - 1:13 pm | 411 views | 0 recommendations | 8 comments

Opening up North Korea

next_korean_war Andrew Sullivan calls North Korea’s current government an “unfathomable evil that the US simply cannot end, but can merely contain as best we can.”

Certainly the regime in Pyongyang is evil; if such a thing as evil exists, it is there in spades in North Korea. Thanks to the horrors of the current dictatorship the entire country is, for no good reason at all, perpetually on the brink of starvation. At the same time they control one of the world’s largest militaries. While the government plays soldier and works furiously to develop long range nuclear missiles, the people suffer endlessly and needlessly. The sinking of the South Korean warship is just the latest in a long string of follies and atrocities perpetrated by Kim Jong-il’s government.

But can we really do nothing to ease the suffering of the Korean people? And is containment really the best possible option? Plenty of hawks suggest we go to war. Others suggest we pile on more and more sanctions to pressure the regime to stop its nuclear arms testing.

All of these ideas are wrong. We don’t need a third war, let alone a second Korean venture. We all know (or should know) how well the first one went. China won’t stand by during such a crisis, and as badly as we want to avoid war with Pyongyang, China would be far worse.

Furthermore, sanctions only hurt the people of North Korea – not their government. Indeed, at this point Pyongyang is the equivalent of a rabid dog backed into a corner. It has no good options, and will make the best (or the worst) out of a bad situation. With nothing left to lose, Kim Jong-il has no reason to stop his nuclear program or to open up North Korea to any sort of democracy. Nor has food aid done much good. North Korea is fraught with corruption, and often as not the aid never reaches its intended recipients.

The only way to even stand a chance at opening up North Korea is to get them to play along at the same game the rest of us are playing by opening North Korea as wide as possible to trade. Trade is not a be-all end-all solution to war and peace, but once a country is actively involved in global trade, their incentive to maintain that trade goes way up, while their likelihood to engage in rogue behavior goes way down. We often look at so-called ‘rogue regimes’ and think that they’re sanctioned because of their behavior. What we forget is that it’s all cyclical. How much of their behavior is based on the fact that they are being sanctioned?  How long would that behavior lasted if sanctions had never been put in place to begin with?

It is no coincidence that Iran, Iraq, and North Korea are (or were in Iraq’s case) all nations with extremely strict sanctions. They were all human rights abusers and governed by fairly bad people, but so are plenty of countries not included in our ‘axis of evil’. What distinguishes these nation’s now is the sanctions placed on them, and their inability to rejoin the global community.

If we want to deter these rogue nations, we need to give them stakes in the game. We need them to buy in to the world economy, and give them a reason to participate in trade peacefully. As their prosperity increases, so will their good will. Trade will weaken their dictator and strengthen their populations.

Imagine China without trade, heavily sanctioned by the world’s economic superpowers. Imagine that country as isolated and reactive and hostile as North Korea. I would prefer trading with a nuclear China to maintaining a stand-off with a non-nuclear China.

Why is North Korea any different?

(Above: SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA – MAY 27: South Korean war veterans participate in a anti-North Korea rally in front of City Hall on May 27, 2010 in Seoul, South Korea. North Korea declared to cut all the ties with the South as a punishment for being blamed for the sinking of a South Korean warship.)


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  1. collapse expand

    Opening North Korea to free trade with the rest of the world would expose the vast gap between North Korea and the rest of the world. I mean, it would essentially destroy the North Korean government’s control over its people.

    It’s a bloodless and clean way to end the regime, and that’s why North Korea won’t let it happen.

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