KOREA: STRATEGIC PATIENCE = STRATEGIC PARALYSIS
April 1, 2014 · in Analysis
Korea: Strategic Patience = Strategic Paralysis
Finding the Ideal Path to Reunification to Solve the Nuclear and Human Rights Issues
“Strategic Patience,” America’s approach to North Korea, has only gotten us strategic paralysis. If the desired effects are changing North Korean behavior, fostering good faith efforts towards denuclearization, and restarting the six party talks, Washington cannot point to any real successes. There are two major challenges in North Korea: the regime’s nuclear weapons program and its human rights atrocities. There is also the threat of war and the effects of regime collapse. The United States has worked for twenty years to try to end North Korea’s nuclear program and the United Nations just published its comprehensive Commission of Inquiry report on the abhorrent human rights violations being committed in the North. Yet neither of these efforts has or will likely result in changes in this troublesome country, or the achievement of objectives desired by the U.S. and the international community.
Elimination of the nuclear program or liberating North Korea by force are not options, as the second and third order effects would be too severe to the Republic of Korea, the region, and the world. Some policymakers rely on China to influence the North to end its nuclear program and wait patiently for the regime to change its behavior; however, this has not achieved the desired effects to date.
Why haven’t we gotten anywhere? Based on our knowledge of the nature of the Kim family’s regime and its strategy, it is clear that North Korea will not give up its nuclear program under any circumstances, and the horrendous human rights atrocities will not end as long as the Kim regime remains in power. If that is the case, the question is this: what policies and strategy should the United States and the Republic of Korea develop and implement?
The answer lies in the 2009 U.S–ROK Joint Vision Statement that says the Republic of Korea and United States will seek peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula. This vision was reaffirmed in May 2013 when South Korean President Park Geun-hye and President Obama met in Washington. Reunification has long been overlooked—seen as a distant dream—discounted because of the disparity between North and South, or viewed as an exclusively Korean problem. Little international attention has been paid to reunification and even less planning and no preparation made, save for the work that the Republic of Korea has done over the years.
But it is time to recognize that no change will occur on the Korean Peninsula unless there is reunification, and that the international community, and in particular the United States, should stand behind and assist the Republic of Korea in developing a path to reunification.
Some will ask how we can think about reunification when there is the threat of provocation, regime collapse, and conventional and nuclear war from North Korea. The common belief is that as long as these threats exist, there can be no possibility of reunification, let alone peacefulreunification. However, this is the very thinking that has led to the current strategic paralysis when it comes to addressing the North Korean problem.
The ideal path to peaceful reunification is built on respect, reconciliation, reform, rebuilding, and reunification (R5). The operative word is ideal. Some will immediately discount this as a mere dream; however, such a path can form the basis of a strategy and supporting campaign plan that provides multiple benefits even if peaceful reunification is not achieved in the near-term.
We should defer to (and support) the reunification plan of the Republic of Korea as President Park has initially described in her speech in Dresdenon March 28, 2014. In addition to the points made in her speech, the ideal reunification plan that we should support will likely reflect several key objectives:
- Provide full support to President Park’s policy of trustpolitik.
- Develop a comprehensive information operations and influence campaign to inform the North Korean population about the outside world and educate about the benefits or reunification.
- Establish peninsula-wide land ownership policies to include compensation vice recompense for those with pre-1948 claims in the North.
- Develop military integration plans with specific focus on how the two militaries will be integrated and how senior military leaders will be treated if they support reunification.
- Conduct detailed planning for infrastructure development and identify required government and non-government investment.
- Conduct detailed planning for economic transition and ultimately integration.
- Conduct detailed planning for the integration of governmental/administration functions.
- Conduct comprehensive diplomatic coordination for international cooperation for support of reunification.
Again, these are just some of highlights of an ideal and desired path to reunification. While we should strive to follow this path, the Kim regime has a vote and for various reasons may not agree. Unfortunately, there are three other paths that the North could pursue, any of which could be more likely than an embrace of the principles of an ideal reunification plan.
Bottom up internal resistance to the regime appears to be growing among parts of North Korea’s population and even within the periphery of the political elite and military. This could create the first alternative to the ideal reunification path. Such resistance should be monitored, assessed, understood, and possibly supported, to include through an unconventional warfare campaign led by the Republic of Korea. Although it is unlikely to lead an “Arab Spring” phenomenon, given the regime suppression mechanism, it is still possible and cannot be discounted. Such grassroots resistance could lead to a coup that might then seek reunification with the South. The danger with internal resistance is that it can lead to conflict within the North, which could grow out of control and spill over into the Republic of Korea. However, if there was a regime change, with or without conflict, there would eventually be opportunity to get back on the ideal path to reunification. All the planning and preparation that has been previously conducted would still have value after regime change that followed from internal resistance.
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