Although we indeed have covered the topic at length, some comments in your previous piece have caused me to revisit the issue of North Korea. And, my thoughts surround a question that I’ve thought about since the questioning of how to deal with North Korea started to be floated around the media and the many other sources of political commentary. It would seem that North Korea is a problem without a solution, military or diplomatic. So, the question that pops into my head is: If all we can do is watch North Korea further advance itself, whilst under the protection of its nuclear program, what does that mean for its future as a player in the geopolitical arena?
We’ve already speculated about what North Korea is seeking to get out of all the hubbub that it’s causing around the world. It would seem that they want the Kim regime to survive with some stability, and they want to be taken seriously as a country. I say speculate, because the United States and North Korea have no formal diplomatic connections. So, information is sparse. It’s also incredibly difficult for the United States to informally gather intelligence – through spying and other such clandestine activities – due to North Korea’s infamously tight borders.
However, there are pieces of information available to us that back up the theory that North Korea wants to take a step onto the wider world stage. Not many people may know this, but North Korea has embassies in certain countries around the world, and they’re in places that you wouldn’t expect. North Korea has a surprisingly strong bond to Africa, as they trade substantial amounts of goods with them. Something interesting to look up after reading this, is the incredibly Stalinesque statues that the North builds for African dictators. So, perhaps the Hermit Kingdom is not so much of a hermit after all.
It would seem, although we don’t know for certain, that the North is reaching out to the rest of the world, whether with a hand of friendship or a fist of belligerence. Let’s just take that as a given that they want to become involved in geopolitics. Is North Korea even capable, due to its ideology, culture, brainwashed populace, etc., of fully integrating itself into the world community? From my perspective, I don’t see how it’s possible. At least, it’s not possible for North Korea as it’s currently situated. Which is why, at the end of the day, I don’t really know what the Kim regime is after, because further progress in opening North Korea up to the rest of the world greatly increases the risk of political reform or revolution.
After all, as I alluded to a little bit ago, the stability of the Kim regime is heavily predicated on the inability of North Korean citizens to fully think outside of government sanctioned propaganda. There’s infamous stories of North Korean children being taught arithmetic by way of counting how many American soldiers were killed in the math problem at hand. How does a population that inherently distrusting and hateful toward the United States integrate itself into a world that is full of American presence and influence? In my view, it’s a recipe for disaster. Now, perhaps they see how America and Americans really are, and change their outlook. But, it’s hard for me to say if that’s a possibility that we can look at with any seriousness.
On the other hand, it could be a viable reality that the further opening of North Korea presents the United States with a unique opportunity to utilize its best weapon – its culture – in surgical strikes, fitted with high-grade culture payloads, against the Kim regime. We’ve seen this before. We didn’t normalize our relations with Vietnam by dropping bombs on their jungles, and putting boots on the ground. We did so by feeding them McDonalds, and outfitting them with American blue jeans. Could the same thing happen with North Korea if their internal and external trends of minuscule reform continue? I don’t really know, but it’s interesting to think about.
Then, on the opposite side of the spectrum, there’s always the possibility that we continue to wait, to appease, and to hope for this situation to resolve itself, and North Korea is left to accumulate power without restraint. I can imagine a time, years or decades down the line, when this very same issue arises yet again: North Korea is making threats, lashing out, and threatening all-out war. However, this time, they have bigger bombs and better weapons. What are we to do then? Fall back into this cycle of sitting on our hands, and letting the North extort the rest of the world at gunpoint?
In our current situation, the whole world realizes that the North Korean problem should have been swiftly dealt with long ago, but we did nothing. While we find ourselves faced with a costly conflict, there is the very real possibility that further inaction will only lead to a situation of far more dire circumstances. While it’s understandable, to a point, that the United States and President Trump are being chastised by South Korea and Japan for considering military options, it will once again be South Korea and Japan who are in the crossfire if this problem rears its head yet again in the future.
While it seems that we’ve reached the same conclusion – that there is no solution for the North Korean issue – I knew as I started writing that I wasn’t going to miraculously solve this decades long problem. However, I think it’s important for us, and our leaders, to think about what the world could look like if we continue to exercise “strategic patience.” One guarantee about North Korea is that there are no guarantees, which frighteningly makes the future geopolitical makeup of the world very unpredictable.