27 January 2013

North Korea: why sticks just might work, Charles Armstrong notwithstanding

Poster's disclaimer: The article discussed in this post starts with a disclaimer: Editor’s note: Charles Armstrong is the director of the Center for Korean Research at Columbia University. The views expressed are his own.
The article, published by CNN, Why sticks don't work with North Korea, drew my attention immediately. The headline works and, coupled with the impressive title of the author in the disclaimer, promised an answer to one of the life's most persistent questions in one easy read. Imagine my disappointment when I finished it, when I was so surprised by not finding any answers that I just had to go through the piece again (and again, right now, to make sure).

For the major part of it, the article recounts failed attempts to get NK to negotiating table and to restrain its thirst for arming itself with nukes and nukes delivery means. Being a scholarly essay focused on one subject only, the article doesn't mention the bloody nature of the most murderous of existing regimes. But then the article doesn't offer much even in the way of advice.

A typical passage related to the Pyongyang visit by Google CEO Eric Schmidt:
The visit was criticized by the U.S. State Department, and doesn’t seem to have produced anything of significance so far. But the very fact that North Korea allowed the visit suggests Kim Jong Un is interested in bringing modern technology to his country, to improve the state of the North Korea economy through connections with the outside world.
On one hand, the visit was useless, but on the other hand Mr Armstrong offers an intriguing suggestion. How that suggestion is supposed to be helpful - it is up to our learned author to explain, but he wouldn't.

And the author continues in the same vein: tantalizing remarks that hint at some superior knowledge that is, probably, kept in the author's vault in Columbia and is not to be shared with some mere pedestrians. Like in this statement:
The dilemma, though, is that North Korea can only embark on serious reform from a condition of what it considers absolute security, in which neither the leadership nor the country as a whole is threatened by hostile outside forces.
What is meant by "serious reform" and who says any "serious reform" is contemplated by the man who currently seems hell bent on becoming more of a pest than his predecessors? What are the "hostile outside forces" that threaten NK?

The final two paragraphs of the piece really do take the cake. Start with this passage:
So, where do we go from here? The United States and the United Nations have little choice but to impose sanctions in response to North Korea’s actions, which clearly violate earlier sanction conditions.
So, on the face of it, sticks and more sticks, is the advice, right? Not so quick, buster, the paragraph isn't over, here comes the next sentence:
But it is hard to see how such sanctions can deter a determined and defiant North Korea, especially if the sanctions are not rigorously enforced.
And if you thought that the dithering and self-contradictions are over, try this one for size:
The best we can hope for is that the latest confrontation will finally bring all sides together – including both Koreas, the United States, China, Russia, and Japan – to solve this issue.
A confrontation that will bring both sides together: isn't it a tough nut to crack for a simple reader? By now you have, probably, reached the only possible conclusion: the author doesn't really know what to do with the pesky NK leadership. And you are, most probably, right at that.

But wait, there is more. If you thought that Mr Armstrong is done playing with your mind, which by now must be mightily confused, here comes the punchline:
Diplomacy, not threats or sanctions – and certainly not military action – is the only viable path to resolution.
Got it? First you are shown that diplomacy doesn't work. And that tough measures (as Mr Armstrong sees them) don't work too. And then...

Imagine a dog that decided that the best way to get food is to bite a man. Seeing that the method works, the dog comes to a conclusion that to strengthen the message it should bite the man after the meal as well. And that it should increase the number and the strength of bites with time. Now, the conventional wisdom would be to take a good hefty stick to that dog. And, in case the stick doesn't work, to try a bigger stick. As a last resort, if no manner of stick works, one should put the dog down.

Unless, of course, one is heavily invested in canine research and can't do without that dog. Numerous bites notwithstanding.

And meanwhile: North Korean leader vows to move ahead with nuclear test

How are your shins doing, Mr Armstrong?


SnoopyTheGoon said...

The "National Defense Commission" of the DPRK had this to say recently: "Settling accounts with the U.S. needs to be done with force, not with
words as it regards jungle law as the rule of its survival." So they certainly seem to think the stick is the best method for dealing with us.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Oh yeah. It is a pity some people high up in the administration see it differently.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

The Norks are just trying for more aid. They would never have enough ICBMs not to have to regret firing one or two at us--- not that I would miss California, Oregon or Washington State, you understand

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Be it as it may, so far they are rather successful in their blackmail. As for California - let's wait a bit, I still have a vested interest in that place.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Well, they're probably only capable of hitting San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, so your vested interest should be okay.

SnoopyTheGoon said...