Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Obama and North Korea

I'm going to resist the urge, already cropping up among some on the right, to bash President Obama over the current situation with North Korea. In fact, I think that his statements of resolute support for South Korea, combined with the current show of naval force, and diplomatic efforts directed at China comprise a reasonable response at this time. I've written a number of posts about North Korea, (which can be found by clicking the "North Korea" label below), that outline my views on U.S. policy toward that country. I'll quote myself here,

North Korea doesn't need to be "engaged" or talked to; it needs to be contained & deterred. Our diplomacy in that regard should be directed at China, with the intention of making it very clear to the Chinese that we expect them to maintain a certain degree of control over their insane client state. As a rational actor, we expect China to prevent the insanity of North Korea from spilling over its borders. As long as they keep Kim Jong Ill on a short leash, there will be no need for U.S. involvement - a win/win for both the U.S. and China.
If we do talk to North Korea it should be in a language that it understands: clear, unmistakeable threats. As I've written before, we should do everything possible to make the North understand that if it starts a war it will not be a limited conflict, and we will use the full power of the United States against it -- which would include directly targeting and killing the communist leadership and destroying North Korea as a political entity. This should also be conveyed to China in the strongest possible terms.

I have no confidence in the president to carry out a realistic policy of containment with regard to North Korea. But so far he appears to have reacted well to the current crisis. It is not the job of the U.S. to fight South Korea's battles for it, or to take the lead in responding to an attack on South Korean territory. This isn't 1950. South Korea is now a powerful state in its own right. It has to decide how best to respond. Unfortunately, the best time for a response has now passed. In my opinion the South should have delivered a serious message immediately after the attack, not just counterbattery fire, but air strikes against the North Korean artillery that bombarded South Korea. In other words, they should have made it clear that agression would be met by overwhelming force. That's the sort of thing dictators understand. It may be that South Korea's artillery fire inflicted major damage and wiped out the North Korean batteries, in which case the response was appropriate. We don't have enough information to know.

But what to do now becomes much trickier. A punitive strike of some sort on North Korea after the fact will not go over well with China, and will allow North Korea to pose as a victim for those who choose to see it that way. And from the U.S. perspective, we don't need to get dragged into an unnecessary regional war, so it is in our interests that the South doesn't act recklessly. I'm not sure at this point what can be done that hasn't already been done. 


  1. What would be your opinion of trying some covert ops? Pick an objective that would make the point to the regime that we can and will answer their provocations with force. Of course, deny everything in public.

  2. I think that might be a good idea, but that South Korea should take the lead.

  3. I had written a short rant about what I saw as appeasement, then your longer, more thoughtful treatment caused me to go back and articulate my position with a little more depth. Feel free to set me straight.