What a conservative foreign policy towards North Korea would look like

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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Conservative foreign policy intellectuals say the Obama administration should respond to Tuesday’s nuclear test by North Korea by clearly recognizing that North Korea will never be persuaded to give up its nuclear weapons — and that the only long term solution to the North Korean problem is the end of the North Korean regime.

“The only way to deal with the threat posed by a nuclear North Korea … is the reunification of the Korean peninsula peacefully,” former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton told The Daily Caller.

“The North Koreans are never going to be talked out of their nuclear weapons,” he said. “They’ll never consent to verification that will allow us to believe with confidence that they would meet any commitment to give up nuclear weapons.”

“First you have to come out and admit and state that North Korea is in fact a nuclear weapons state, which happens to be true but would also help clarify things,” said Dan Blumenthal, director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute and a former commissioner on the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Tuesday’s nuclear test was North Korea’s third, the first coming in 2006 and the second in 2009.

Blumenthal says the reticence to declaring North Korea a nuclear state exists in part because some “still believe [North Korea] could be talked out of becoming” a nuclear state.

Steve Yates, a former national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, said in an email that the U.S. must “[r]ecognize that nature of the regime has not changed and neither has the strategic choice to acquire nuclear weapons.”

“Typical negotiations and sanctions will not work,” he said.

Nicholas Eberstadt, a scholar at AEI who has written extensively on North Korea, agreed that recognizing reality must be the first step in developing “a strategy for making a bigger North Korea problem into a smaller North Korea problem.”

“We have to start by recognizing that North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are their highest priority of state,” he said.

“The second thing we need to recognize is whom that love letter is directed towards,” he continued. “This program is directed at creating a pistol that it can point at America’s head. The intended destination of these nuclear-tipped rockets is the United States mainland.”

The regime is seeking to use its program to create nuclear-tipped missiles in part to break America’s alliance with South Korea so that it can achieve the “to us seemingly impossible ambition of unifying the Korean peninsula, which is to say unconditionally absorbing South Korea on the Kim family’s terms,” said Eberstadt.

Like Bolton, Eberstadt agreed that the only real solution to the North Korean question is an end of the current North Korean regime, which makes sense considering he is the author of the 1999 book, “The End of North Korea.”

“The North Korean nuclear problem is the North Korean regime,” he said. “And the North Korean nuclear problem will face us until we deal with a post DPRK North Korea.”

But how do you get there?

Bolton says the key is getting China on board by convincing it that having a westernized and united Korea on its border does not pose it any real threat.

“It means working with China and convincing the younger generation of China leaders that this ugly piece of baggage that North Korea represents is something that they don’t need as a buffer zone between them and us and South Korea,” he said, admitting that this is “no easy task.”

China is in many ways North Korea’s lifeline, supplying it with roughly 90 percent of its energy. While Bolton says that presidents since Bill Clinton have “ineffectively” tried to convince China to get tough with North Korea and its nuclear program, he doesn’t see the effort as hopeless if done right.

“The China policy is schizophrenic right now,” he said.

“They say they don’t want a nuclear North Korea because it will lead to instability in northeast Asia that impairs Chinese economic development. And that’s right. … But then they don’t do what they need to do, what they uniquely could do, to stop North Korea from being a nuclear weapons state, because they are afraid they will collapse the regime, and that that will lead to South Korea and the United States going in — as we have plans to do and have had for decades — and leading to the reunification of the peninsula.”

“What we need to convince China is that they should not fear reunification, and in fact if they want stability in northeast Asia, the only long term path to stability is reunification,” he added.

While China’s cooperation is important, Eberstadt believes there are steps the U.S. can take now to minimize the North Korean threat that don’t require China’s cooperation.

“We can reduce the North Korean threat to begin with by redoubling our alliance efforts with Japan and South Korea, by increasing missile defense [regionally and internationally], by increasing economic penalties on the regime, and by doing what we should be doing anyhow with respect to a human rights campaign for the worst human rights violator in the universe,” he said.

“We probably should also be encouraging our South Korean allies to facilitate a real underground railway out of North Korea. North Koreans are by constitutional right automatically South Korean citizens. We saw how that happened in Germany in 1989.”

As for China, Eberstadt said, “If Chinese politicians are so blind to think that this ticking time bomb that they share a border with isn’t going to have just a huge blowback on them, let them wait a little while.”

Yates said that the U.S. should also cut the North Korean regime off from the financial system, like it did in 2005.

“North Korea’s access to international financial markets should be cut off [as was done in 2005] and not restored until complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement of all nuclear capabilities,” he said.

But all four agreed that American clarity on what it faces with North Korea is critical.

“Focusing on nuclear deterrence and the coordination of nuclear deterrence with our allies Korea and Japan will at least stop the extortion or the false premise that somehow we can convince North Korea to not obtain nuclear weapons,” Blumenthal said.

“So there would be a dose of reality that I think would be injected into the process and that at least would have a better chance of protecting our vital interests in not being attacked and not having our allies attacked.”

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