Skip to comments.Why We Won't Invade North Korea
Posted on 01/14/2003 12:39:33 PM PST by nina0113
Why We Wont Invade North Korea
By Orson Scott Card
Weve been hearing it from a lot of anti-Bush commentators including some who should know better:
Why are we preparing to invade Iraq, which has no nukes yet, when were using diplomacy with North Korea, which actually has them?
Of course, you can take that as a self-answering question. Lets see which is safer to invade, the country that almost has nukes, or the country that already has them?
But the real answer is much more complicated.
First, lets keep in mind what were actually trying to accomplish in Iraq. We arent preparing to invade because Saddam Husseins been a bad boy, or because we want to have an America colony in Mesopotamia. Its not a punishment, its not retribution.
You cant fight a war to prevent something thats already happened. Preventive war to keep North Korea from getting nukes is impossible.
At the same time, it is absolutely imperative that North Koreas nukes be neutralized. But how is that to be done?
For some Americans, the first thought is, Send in the Marines!
But military action should never be the first resort. Every time you use military force, you teach your enemies how to defeat you the next time. The best use of military force is to create the impression of invincibility and then avoid testing it.
Conventional military action is not quite the last resort, however. I would put nuking them back to the Stone Age even farther down the list. Even lower than sending Bill Clinton to negotiate another great treaty.
Most people dont understand what President Bush means when he says that we will pursue a diplomatic solution.
He doesnt mean that well negotiate with North Korea. What would be the point of that? They dont keep their treaties anyway.
The diplomacy that will solve the problem is happening right now between us and China.
Thats right, China. Because this is Chinas problem as much as it is ours.
The only reason North Korea exists as a separate political entity is because in the early 50s, when UN forces had virtually overrun all of North Korea, China sent a huge army that flung us back south. Only when each army held roughly the territory that had been North or South Korea before the war did the Chinese agree to an armistice.
This was a huge victory for China, and it remains one of the proudest moments in their history. Never mind that it has meant 50 years of desperate poverty and utter lack of freedom, while being forced to virtually worship a couple of megalomaniacal dictators. China beat the US-led allies and kept North Korea safe for communism.
Do you think theres even the slightest chance that China would let the US conduct any kind of military action against North Korea without massive retaliation?
At the very least, there would be a prompt invasion of Taiwan. At the worst, it might mean some level of nuclear war certainly against South Korea, and quite possibly against Japan and even the US.
Foreign policy is conducted in the real world. In the real world, madmen like Saddam Hussein respond only to credible military force and sometimes not even then. For the safety of our friends and allies in the region (notably Israel, Turkey, Jordan and Kuwait), and to protect the First Worlds vital oil supplies from domination by a ruthless enemy, it is reasonable to strike that enemy before he wreaks devastation again.
In that same real world, however, there are opponents whom it is simply too dangerous to fight, unless you are forced into it. If China or Russia attacked us, of course we would defend ourselves. But we would have to be insane to provoke either of them into war.
Thats why we left Russia to deal with Chechnya without our interference while using military force to protect Bosnia and Kosovo from the Serbs.
Does this mean that were like bullies, picking on the little guys while leaving really dangerous enemies alone?
Not at all. It means that while we have a moral responsibility to prevent truly dangerous or evil actions wherever it is within our power to do so, we cant do it where it is not within our power without unleashing worse evils on the world.
Militarily challenging Russia over Chechnya would almost certainly have plunged the world into a massive war, to no good end.
Likewise, taking military action in North Korea would lead to immediate war with China. And sane people dont want that.
So what do our negotiations with China consist of?
Cutting through all the diplomatic niceness, heres what we undoubtedly said to them:
Youre the ones who kept us from getting rid of the Kim dictatorship 50 years ago. So now its your responsibility either to take away their nukes, or get rid of the Kim government and replace it with a sane one.
To which the Chinese almost certainly replied, Perhaps we can work something out. You can take the first step by withdrawing all military support from Taiwan. After all, why should we be responsible for North Korea, which isnt part of China, while you wont let us take responsibility for Taiwan, which is an integral part of China?
Our reply: We will not discuss Taiwan.
Their reply: Then we will not discuss North Korea.
All this was absolutely predictable and led nowhere. Heres how we raised the ante: All right. Since you have allowed North Korea to develop and build nuclear weapons, while we have prevented the much-more-technologically-advanced South Koreans from doing so, we have no choice but to level the playing field so that North Korea will not be able to threaten our allies.
Those options would include:
(1) Stationing tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea ... with the option of placing them under the control of the South Koreans.
(2) An embargo or even a blockade of North Koreas ports, so that China becomes the sole supplier of all goods to North Korea.
(3) Holding China economically responsible by cutting back or cutting off trade between the US and China.
None of these options would be tolerable to the Chinese. Putting nukes in South Korea would humiliate the Chinese leadership. Putting them under South Korean command would terrify them.
Economic sanctions against North Korea would force China, whose economy is not all that robust, to assume the huge burden of keeping North Korea afloat the way the USSR did with Cuba for so many years.
As for sanctions against China itself its economy has become significantly tied to trade with the US. America could trigger a major recession or perhaps even a depression in China, even if we couldnt persuade other economic powers to join with us.
Now, the Chinese know that none of these options would be painless for us. Stationing nukes in South Korea would provoke massive anti-American demonstrations in that country and in Japan as well.
An embargo against North Korea would be slow and sievelike, while a blockade would be casus belli and lead to confrontations between us and friendly powers.
And a cutback in US-China trade would hurt our economy, too, and there are those who think our own highly-evolved economy is less resilient than Chinas more primitive one. (I think, however, that they are wrong.)
But even though the Chinese know that we are reluctant to use any of these options, they also know that President Bush means what he says, and, because he is his fathers son, they believe he will act on his threats even if it means political risks.
And there is another factor that the Chinese leadership always has to keep in mind: the possibility that any of these events might trigger domestic disturbances, a coup or even a revolution within China.
Dictators live in constant terror of a mob of civilians swarming through their palaces or office buildings, dragging the dictators out into the streets, and killing them.
The Chinese have very clear memories of what happened when communism fell in Romania. Thats why they ordered soldiers to fire on their own people in Tiananmen Square.
But theyd rather avoid any possibility of this. So at some point, if they believe that we are sufficiently earnest about the urgency of neutralizing North Koreas nuclear threat, they will decide that it is in their best interests to do something about North Korea.
And heres what theyll do. Theyll talk to Kim and let him know that he has two choices.
(1) Kim lets the Chinese come in and take away his nukes and run his nuclear reactors and make sure he never gets nukes again. In exchange, the Chinese will make loud public guarantees that North Korea is now under their nuclear umbrella, so that there is no need for North Korea to have its own nuclear program.
(2) The Chinese cut him off from all economic and military aid from any source, and let it be known that they very much want a new, anti-nuke government in Pyongyang. Kim knows he wouldnt last a week before one of his enterprising generals perhaps one of those already in the pay of Beijing decided that a change of government was in order.
One way or another, North Korea would be de-nuked. And it would all be done through diplomacy.
The reason none of this could work with Iraq is that there is no power in the Middle East comparable to Chinas situation vis-à-vis North Korea. We are the only nation that can put a stop to Saddams ambitions.
But the key, of course, is that none of these conversations would take place in public. China can only bend to US pressure when they are not seen to be bending to US pressure.
In other words, if President Bush openly threatened China, then China could not cooperate with us without losing face with the risk of a coup.
That is why President Bush cannot answer his critics. There is no answer he could give that would not wreck the diplomatic process.
When an American pundit or politician criticizes President Bush for being a hypocrite or a bully because hes using diplomacy with North Korea and the threat of war with Iraq, it tells us one of two things.
Either the critic is hopelessly ignorant about geopolitical and diplomatic realities or the critic knows that President Bush cannot respond to his criticism, and therefore the critic can make political profit at the expense of American foreign policy.
In other words, those who make this particular accusation against the president are either squirrels or snakes: either chattering stupidly or poisonously biting the president while hes trying to protect us and our friends from a serious danger.
I prefer to think that these critics simply havent thought things through. And Im happy to point out that few of those who have made this particular accusation are responsible officeholders.
You dont throw rocks at the guy whos trying to tame the tiger.
And what about me? Havent I just made all those private negotiations public?
Of course not. The Chinese dont care what I say. I dont speak for the government. I dont have any contacts in the White House or the State Department.
Im just a guy who knows how to read a map.
Orson Scott Card, author of more than 50 books of fiction, has lived in Greensboro since 1983.
Unfortunately, though I consider him to be basically a good president, President Bush is incapable of taking this step as most of his advisors would be incapable of thinking of it. Bush the Elder demonstrated this problematic inflexibility -- simply put, people over 30 remember clearly when China was (supposedly) useful as a check on the USSR's influence. They have ceased to be any use at all for quite some time (if they ever were useful) but the Bush family remains close to the Chinese business and political communities and the Bush Administration flirts with the most insanely pro-Chinese intellectuals (e.g., Henry Kissinger).
And I would be screaming it louder than anyone - the stench of kimchi on a crowded Metro is unbearable.
so that China becomes the sole supplier of all goods to North Korea.
Geography check, the Russian Primorskiy Kray district has a small border with North Korea, and a busy rail line from Vladivostok and back.
And then there's always airfreight and shipping along China and Russia's sensitive coasts.
But the important part of the article is true: China's monster, China's problem.
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They do, estimates are in the 3-6 range. Small ones about the size of tactical nukes. They also have missles capable of hitting south korea and Japan, and possibly Alaska.