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Accept that North Korea has nuclear weapons – and work from there.

Accept that North Korea has nuclear weapons

The precondition, though, should be no preconditions. As unpalatable as it sounds, it’s time humankind accepted that Pyongyang has nuclear weapons, that it won’t give them up, and to work from there.

World Leaders Must Accept The Reality Of A Nuclear North Korea And Work From There,, Inside Asia ,   CONTRIBUTOR, William Pesek Mr. Pesek is a Tokyo-based journalist and the author of “Japanization: What the World Can Learn from Japan’s Lost Decades.” 

Some national leaders surround themselves with “yes-men,” toadies who agree with anything they do. Wiser leaders choose advisors who speak up when needed. And then there’s South Korea’s Moon Jae-in, who wants to be his own “no-man.”

In recent speeches aimed at calming tensions with North Korea, Moon laid out a “four no’s” doctrine: No hostile steps toward Pyongyang, no military dramas, no regime-change ulterior motives and no forced “artificial” reunification. With all these assurances, Moon is trying to get Kim Jong-un to say “yes” to fresh dialogue and cooperation on the peninsula.

But there’s also a fifth “no” Moon needs to keep in mind — the near-certain answer to whether his gambit, however well-intentioned, will succeed.

Kim’s survival depends on his military  Consider, first, what Kim is up to with at least 11 missile tests this year: building deterrence abroad and energizing his base at home. The recent attempted test of an intercontinental ballistic missile was aimed, symbolically at least, at a Donald Trump White House pushing a more confrontational line on Pyongyang. It also targeted the trigger-happy generals peering over his shoulder. Kim needs to looks as strong and antagonistic as his father and granddad, if not more.

The influence of these Cold War relics is arguably greater than that of Trump, Moon or China’s Xi Jinping, traditionally North Korea’s main benefactor. Kim can take out foes, kill his uncle and order, allegedly, the assassination of his half-brother.

But his survival, and that of the dynasty, depends on preserving the loyalty of his generals and admirals. Trump has an “America first” policy. Kim’s manta is “military first,” and the volume is rising.

Moon’s olive branch won’t work

All this explains why Moon’s olive-branch strategy may be no more workable than Trump’s “we’ll bomb them” bluster. The common thread between both approaches -– Kim scrapping his nuclear weapons –- is a non-starter for a supreme leader whose survival depends on a military-provocation complex that won’t go along. From the military’s point of view, appeasing Moon would be grounds for regime change, Pyongyang-style. And Kim knows it.

“I’d put the chances of anything good coming out of this at close to zero,” says Bradley K. Martin, long-time Kim Dynasty expert and author of the forthcoming novel “Nuclear Blues.” Kim, he adds, “seems to think he’s on a roll, headed toward his goal of conquering the South. He’ll take any goodies Moon offers, put them in a sack and then swing the sack into Moon’s jaw.”

Moon’s outreach is welcome, of course. Ever-tightening sanctions these last 15 years got the global community nowhere (Moon is right to call his two predecessors’ hardline policies a failure). Nor has China proved willing to use its considerable financial leverage to bring Kim to heel. And Trump’s threats may be backfiring.

Kim testing his ICBM on July 4, the day Americans celebrate independence, seemed aimed at trolling the Twitter president. While Trump and Japan’s Shinzo Abe object, the first talks between Seoul and Pyongyang since 2015 can’t hurt.

Accept that North Korea has nuclear weapons

The precondition, though, should be no preconditions. As unpalatable as it sounds, it’s time humankind accepted that Pyongyang has nuclear weapons, that it won’t give them up, and to work from there.

This issue was settled in 2002 when then-U.S. President George W. Bush lumped North Korea in with Iraq and Iran as an “Axis of Evil” and then attacked Baghdad. Pyongyang and Tehran got the message immediately: Only nuclear deterrence can save them from Saddam Hussein’s fate.

In his recent book, “Understanding the North Korean Regime,” Keio University’s Atsuhito Isozaki argues Pyongyang also learned much from Muammar el-Qaddafi’s downfall in Libya. In 2003, he scrapped his nuclear ambitions for in favor of better ties with the international community -– only to be ousted and executed by NATO-backed rebels. In the five years since Kim replaced his father, Isozaki writes, Pyongyang has become “even more of a black box” to keep the world guessing about the level of North Korea’s capabilities.

What to do? There are a couple of levers the global community could pull. First, prod China to get serious about docking Kim’s allowance via secondary sanctions. Trump, Abe, the European Union and others could begin boycotting Chinese companies operating factories in border cities like Dandong, the epicenter of Kim’s ability to flout trade curbs.

Since Trump took office and lobbied Xi to tame Kim, Chinese trade with North Korea actually rose nearly 11%, according to official Chinese customs data. Reversing that flow would really get China Inc.’s attention.

Read more: Can China Meet President Trump’s Expectations On North Korea?

Second, Moon and Trump could try a “good cop/bad cop” gambit. Circumspect and unassuming, good-cop Moon would handle the outreach and carrots, cajoling Kim to step into the global economy. Trump, who’s hinted at military action more than once, would carry the stick, warning of red lines and preemptive strikes. This tag-team approach may at least convince Kim to freeze his nuclear arsenal at current levels, which is the best the world can really hope for.

Stop Kim from going any further

The good-cop role is becoming increasingly vital to keep Kim from monetizing his advancements. Just as Pakistan’s Abdul Qadeer Khan sold nuclear secrets to his father, Kim Jong-il, what’s to stop Kim Jong-un from opening a one-stop weapons-of-mass-destruction bazaar? If you think ISIS is scary now, just wait until it takes delivery from Kim Productions.

So, Moon is right to take a crack at resurrecting Korea’s 1998-2008 “Sunshine policy.” Family reunions, humanitarian exchanges, discussing military issues and Moon’s offer to meet Kim “anytime, anywhere” aren’t appeasement. They’re a recognition that the status quo of threaten, sanction, repeat isn’t working.

But if Moon or anyone else thinks they’re about to end Kim’s “no-man” ways, they’re dreaming.

Mr. Pesek is also a former columnist for Barron’s and Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter: @williampesek. The views expressed here are the author’s own.


July 22, 2017 - Posted by | North Korea, politics international

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