Guest contributor John Rolls
The mind of dictator Kim Jong Un and North Korean elites is seemingly incomprehensible to the U.S. Department of State, that continues to believe a policy of escalating sanctions will eventually persuade Pyongyang to surrender its nuclear missiles-although the policy has failed for 25 years.
Most Americans, and apparently the President of the United States himself, are losing faith in a negotiated solution to the North Korean nuclear missile threat.
Thae Young Ho-More Appeasement Please
Enter Thae Yong Ho, high-ranking diplomat and North Korean defector, who in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on November 1, 2017, told the State Department and the foreign policy establishment exactly what they want to hear:
“We should continue the current momentum of sanctions and campaign of diplomatic isolation. I think it is the only way to force North Korea to give up its nuclear ambition,” according to Thae.
A privileged member of North Korea’s aristocracy, defecting as deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom in 2016, Thae Yong Ho’s testimony is highly valuable-less for his recommendations, and more for what it reveals about the thinking of North Korean elites.
Thae recommends a personal meeting with Kim Jong Un warning that continued nuclearization will only end in catastrophe. But offering, in exchange for surrendering nuclear weapons, normalization of international relations, security guarantees for Kim’s dynasty, and economic benefits to build a prosperous North Korea.
But wait. Wasn’t that President Bill Clinton’s deal, his Agreed Framework (2004-2012)? Yes, it was.
If the U.S. now revives an even more generous version of the Agreed Framework, would that confirm to Pyongyang that nuclear blackmail works? Certainly.
Thae Yong Ho is obviously an intelligent man, sincerely seeking a negotiated solution to growing nuclear crisis with North Korea. But he also obviously has been immersed so long in the waters of the western diplomatic community that he has absorbed its idealistic values, swallowed whole its boundless faith in negotiated solutions, and “gone native”-which is why he defected.
“Some people do not believe in soft power but only in military options,” according to Thae. As if the problem in Washington is too little diplomatic patience, and too many hawks wanting to bomb North Korea.
In fact, Washington elites-including in the Department of Defense-are so terrified of a nuclear war with North Korea that military options, even surgical conventional strikes, may no longer really be on the table. Only President Trump himself gives hope to those of us who believe the time for diplomacy is past.
The Truth Will Not Set North Korea Free
Thae Yong Ho speaks hopefully about how “soft power” and patient diplomacy liberated Eastern Europe from Soviet domination, led to the disintegration of the USSR, and won the Cold War. He is confident that if only the North Korean people knew the truth-that Kim Jong Un is not God, that North Korea is not Paradise, that Freedom is possible, that life is better everywhere else in the world-then the North Korean regime would have to change or face revolution.
So Thae’s “soft power” strategy for denuclearizing North Korea is Radio Free Korea and somehow smuggling to the North Korean masses the means to access the internet and learn about the outside world.
Thae, who lived the life of a highly privileged member of North Korea’s elite, appears unaware, or insufficiently aware, of the lives of absolute oppression, brain-washing, and perpetual fear that is the lot of most North Koreans. Other defectors, Yeonmi Park, for example, daughter of a North Korean government official, was raised to believe Kim Jong Un is God and that he could read everyone’s thoughts.
Such an Orwellian 1984 thoroughly brainwashed society is the least fertile ground imaginable for re-educating North Korea’s fanatically loyal people.
Thae himself lived in the West for many years as a diplomat with full access to the truth about North Korea from mass media and the western diplomatic community-yet he did not turn against North Korea and defect until facing return to Pyongyang with his westernized children. Thae’s example is not encouraging for the prospect of raising revolution among North Korea’s masses. Nor have North Korea’s masses revolted when starving to death and imprisoned in concentration camps by the hundreds of thousands.
So Thae’s hope that better informing North Korea’s people will compel Pyongyang to reform, or spark regime change, is unrealistic. Revolution in a North Korea armed with ICBMs that can strike the United States may not even be a good idea.
Disarm Nuclear North Korea Now
The Cold War with the USSR, that did eventually discredit communism among the Russian people and achieve regime change peacefully, lasted 45 years. Do we really have years or decades to wage a new Cold War with North Korea, when geostrategic and technological circumstances have changed radically?
There are many compelling reasons-including the mindset of North Korean elites described by Thae Yong Ho-to act militarily now. (See my article “Disarming Nuclear North Korea” Family Security Matters, September 29, 2017, for one example of limited conventional surgical strikes that could disarm North Korea of those nuclear forces posing the greatest threat to the United States, could be executed in a few hours, and are calculated to minimize escalatory risk.)
Risky as even surgical conventional strikes against North Korea may be, the dangers of continuing patient diplomacy are far riskier. Some of these dangers are explained below.
Mutual Assured Destruction Not A Good Idea
Buying time for sanctions and diplomacy to peacefully disarm nuclear North Korea means entrusting our lives to a Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) relationship with the psychopath in Pyongyang.
North Korea can already make an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack that would blackout the North American grid and threaten the very existence of the United States. Will Kim Jong Un tolerate watching North Korea ground-down, and regime survival threatened, by economic sanctions-and not revenge himself on the U.S. with an EMP attack?
U.S. economic sanctions moved Imperial Japan to attack Pearl Harbor in 1941, forcing a peaceable and isolationist America into World War II. Yet Japanese Emperor Hirohito was a paragon of humanity and non-aggression compared to Kim Jong Un.
North Korea Will Sell The Bomb
Thae Yong Ho testifies that North Korea will sell nuclear weapons to Iran and to anyone: “Absolutely, because North Korea is a country who wants to sell anything for the hard currency.”
“U.S. Intelligence Community Claims North Korea Transferred 3 Nuclear Warheads To Iran” is the headline of an article by Franklin Lamb published in EurasianReview.com yesterday (December 10, 2017).
According to Lamb, citing sources in the U.S. Intelligence Community: “The three DRNK nuclear warheads and the ‘dirty bomb’ deliveries to Iran allegedly took place during the Spring of 2017. They were transported under heavy guard from Pyongyang’s Sunan International Airport on four separate North Korean regularly scheduled passenger flights of its Air Koryo airline to Iran…”
These unconfirmed allegations, whether or not they are true, are entirely plausible.
This alone-the risk of an A-Bomb or H-Bomb transferring to Iran or terrorists-is reason enough to destroy North Korea’s nuclear weapons program now.
North Korean Nuclear Weapons Non-Negotiable
Despite Thae Yong Ho’s endorsement of patient diplomacy to disarm nuclear North Korea, his description of the paranoia and deep distrust of the U.S. by North Korean elites would seem to make a diplomatic solution impossible.
Thae testifies the example of Libya looms large in the minds of North Korean elites. Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi gave up his nuclear weapons program, in exchange for promises of normalized relations with the West, only to be betrayed. NATO intervened in the Libyan civil war against Gaddafi, who was executed by his own people.
Likewise, in Iraq, dictator Saddam Hussein’s failure to complete his nuclear weapons program contributed to a Second Persian Gulf War with the U.S., and Saddam’s defeat and execution, according to North Korea’s interpretation of events.
Thae acknowledges this history makes the U.S. untrustworthy to Pyongyang. He fails to explain why these precedents are not insurmountable obstacles to a diplomatic solution in the minds of North Korean elites.
Why Thae and the U.S. State Department would trust North Korea to keep any promise to give-up nuclear weapons, after it cheated on the Agreed Framework and has repeatedly broken its word and international law, is a psychological mystery.
North Korea’s Nuclear Hair-Trigger
Thae Yong Ho’s testimony implies nuclear command and control arrangements may be on a hair-trigger, with low-level commands pre-authorized to launch nuclear missiles if North Korea is attacked. According to Thae, Pyongyang’s thousands of artillery and missiles in range of Seoul-armed with conventional, chemical and biological warheads-are pre-authorized to destroy South Korea’s capitol immediately, if North Korea is struck.
The same logic applied to ICBMs would virtually guarantee nuclear missile strikes on the U.S. by accident or miscalculation.
North Korea has no early warning satellites or long-range early warning radars to provide up to 30 minutes of notification that an attack is incoming, so they can retaliate. They have tactical radars that could provide very short warning, 5-10 minutes against bombers that are not flying below radar. Most North Korean missiles, including ICBMs, are liquid-fueled and need a lot more time, at least 90 minutes and perhaps hours, to be readied for launch.
So North Korea must depend upon strategic warning provided by its paranoid intelligence services and military leaders (relying at least partially on western press and TV reporting) to decide if they are about to be attacked, and therefore must launch a retaliatory or preemptive strike.
Or North Korea may also rely upon its friends, Russia and China, to warn them when they must launch missiles. Thus, Beijing and Moscow could use North Korea to wage a nuclear war by proxy-merely by misinforming Pyongyang.
Washington elites and the State Department refuse to face the fact that this is the real reason China and Russia will not help the U.S. disarm North Korea through negotiations. Russia and China helped build the North Korean nuclear threat to serve their geostrategic interests.
North Korea’s nuclear hair-trigger, that could be pulled by so many different fingers, is another reason to destroy at least North Korea’s ICBMs immediately.
North Korea’s Plans For Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear War
Thae Yong Ho’s testimony reveals, inadvertently, that the only reason Kim Jong Un has not yet attacked the United States may be because of his confidence in the efficacy of nuclear blackmail: “He would continue to blackmail America with a possible nuclear war against America and…to pull American forces from South Korea.”
Thae testifies that Kim plans to use nuclear threats to force the United States to abandon South Korea, which can then be conquered by the North. According to Thae, Kim Jong Un sees “the existence of a prosperous and democratic South Korea…by itself a major threat toward his dynasty..he also believes it necessary to drive American forces out of the peninsula. And this can be done, he believes, by being able to credibly threaten the United States with nuclear weapons.”
According to Thae, North Korean elites see in the Vietnam War good reason to think they can win a new Korean War. In their view, Vietnam proves American political will can be broken. When the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam, South Vietnam quickly weakened, enabling easy conquest by North Vietnam.
Thus, North Korean nuclear weapons are not just for deterrence and regime survival, but to launch a war of aggression.
North Korea A “Crazy State”
Strategic thinker and historian Edward Luttwak long ago categorized North Korea as a “crazy state.” North Korea’s exceptionally violent and oppressive history has spawned a warped strategic culture, generations of elites with bizarre interpretations of reality, grossly exaggerated threat perceptions, and hyper-aggressive. To outside observers from different societies with a more benign history, especially democracies, North Korea appears irrational, insane, “crazy.”
Thae Yong Ho’s testimony unwittingly confirms the “crazy state” diagnosis for North Korea. For example, Thae describes how Pyongyang interprets the origins of the Korean War as further proof that the U.S can be cowed by nuclear blackmail.
According to Thae, North Korean elites see U.S. fear of nuclear weapons and susceptibility to nuclear blackmail dating back to January 12, 1950, when Secretary of State Dean Acheson excluded South Korea from the U.S. Pacific “defense perimeter” in a speech to the Washington Press Club. Thae testifies North Korean elites believe the Soviet A-bomb tested in 1949, U.S. fear of nuclear war with the USSR, moved Acheson to exclude South Korea from the “defense perimeter.”
So Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, launched the Korean War-despite the presence of U.S. troops in South Korea and U.S. possession of nuclear weapons.
Apparently, North Korean elites learned exactly the wrong lessons from the Korean and Vietnam wars, seeing in both evidence of U.S. weakness.
MADness Of Patient Diplomacy
Mutual Assured Destruction is likely to become exactly that against North Korean elites enamored of nuclear blackmail, and ready to go to war over a mistake made in a speech at the Washington Press Club.
The Free World fears Kim Jong Un’s reckless behavior now, when he has only a dozen ICBMs. What will the North Korean “crazy state” do when it has 50 or 100 ICBMs?
Patient diplomacy is becoming our form of insanity. Disarm nuclear North Korea now.