The Last Laugh Hypothesis: An Alternative Foreign Policy for North Korea

Thursday, June 25, 2009

North Korea, however reprehensible its government, has the same right to have weapons, nuclear or other, as we do. If, let’s say, Denmark decided it wanted nuclear weapons, would we be threatening economic sanctions and forcibly boarding their ships? Of course not. We don’t like North Korea, but that we don’t trust its government is no excuse for telling it what to do. Lots of countries don’t like or trust our government. Do we tolerate them telling us what to do? Do we really even care what they think? The fact is, we pick on North Korea because we are big, strong, wealthy and we can get away with it.

The fact is, we have no moral ground to tell North Korea to stand down. Our nuclear arsenal is huge. We have the technology for delivering those weapons over vast distances and with incredible precision. And we are the only country to have ever used one, twice. Where exactly do we get off telling another country that it can’t have the weapons we already have in abundance, and refuse to dismantle?

Unfortunately, in the process of throwing our weight around with characteristically impatient foreign policy, we have created a world in which tough talk and threatening to build nuclear weapons is a way to get our attention. The more they pound their chests, the more we pound ours which may work for gorillas and adolescents on a school playground. As foreign policy, however, it’s a counterproductive waste of time, money and, quite possibly, lives.

Let’s try something very different. Instead of punishing the North Korean people for their government not behaving the way we would like, why do we just step back and let its government build whatever weapons and suppress its people as it sees fit. Let’s put aside the guiding principal that no country whose government that isn’t democratically elected has quite the same sovereign rights as one whose government is. Instead, let’s open our economy to this rogue nation, avoiding only certain high technology sectors for now.

Mind you, I’m not suggesting that we offer economic assistance, or cooperation which is really what I have in mind, as a reward for not developing nuclear weapons. That would just be encouraging bad behavior. No. What I’m suggesting is that we stop talking about nuclear weapons and make an unconditional offer of open, bilateral economic development with the United States and other western nations. “What can our economy do to work with your economy? …No strings attached.”

The objective is to link their economy to ours and do everything we can, through our private sector and without US government assistance, to improve the quality of life for the North Korean people. It will take time, years, but the magic of economic development will eventually have its effect, gradually at first, but then increasingly so. Over time, government leaders will come and go, overseeing an increasingly open North Korean society that serves a growing class of entrepreneurs and business and other professionals who demand the freedom to enjoy the benefits of their labor and creativity.

And one day, the North Korean government we once distrusted, rightly so, will have made the transition to democracy which Capitalism demands, and will no longer care about the nuclear weapons we once feared they would build. Why? Because, to put it simply, people with stuff will do their best to take care of it and acquire more stuff – which doesn’t give them the time or motivation for warmongering.

One thing’s for sure. Whatever we’re doing now isn’t working. Why not give economic development a chance? The current regime in North Korea will think it has won, has made its point, oblivious to the irrepressibly infectious capitalism we spread to every economy we touch. Fine. It is a victory without substance, of rhetoric we can easily tolerate, without the sticks and stones which are our real concern. Years from now, when the current government is history and North Korea is the new South Korea, we will have had the last laugh.


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4 responses to “The Last Laugh Hypothesis: An Alternative Foreign Policy for North Korea

  1. First of all I do see where you are attempting to go, but lets keep in mind that North Korea has a reputation for threats and lets face it they are kind fanatic. Second, we have never used a nuke on another country. They were atom bombs and regardless of the ethics behind using bombs that large let us not forget that Japan without any good reason other than a crazy power trip attacked us first. We simply showed our might and ended it. granted it was brutal I will agree. I also agree on your theory of leaving them alone and more or less profiting from rebuilding their economy. I mean why not? I would like to give you an example of why I do not agree with letting other governments oppress their people. I used to think it was stupid to even be in the desert helping the Iraqis. Why spend our money but I have come to realize that that is a selfish attitude. I spent over 2 years in Iraq and the one thing those people truly fear is the fact that the USA and the other coalition forces will someday leave. Every Iraqi I ever spoke with wants us there and if they can’t go live in the USA or some other developed country then they want the next best thing. bring the development to Iraq. I assume that the North Korean people would feel the same.

  2. Hi. Thanks for your comment. It highlights the debate I’d like to see in Washington between the use of military resources and economic development as foreign policy tools to improve the quality of life within opponent countries and relationships with their governments. What are the relative costs and benefits of these alternatives, not just for any specific country, but in terms of our impact on other peoples and their governments who watch and react to our every decision.

    The likelihood is that we need both, but under precisely what circumstances? My sense is that military action should be limited to truely short-term intervention with limited objectives, while economic development is the preferable tool for non-emergency, long-term foreign policy.

    Stop back again when you have time.

    – wf

  3. Interesting post and thought-provoking comments too.

  4. Thanks for stopping by. – wf

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