Dealing with North Korea

Dealing with North Korea

by Matt Morain

Instability is poised to rage through Southeast Asia, andWashington is standing idly by.

What, or who, is the straw lingering inches above the camel’sback? Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s unpredictable and paranoid leader,and son of notorious dictator Kim Il Sung. Kim Jong Il has packedthe powder in the keg and given the rest of the world thematch.

In response to his escalating nuclear program in 2002, Japan hasbegun to remilitarize and rearm, showing a willingness to pursue amore aggressive national security stance. In December 2001, Japansank a North Korean spy ship disguised as a squid fishing vesselthat was gathering reconnaissance in Japanese territorialwaters.

The biggest nationalism issue in Japan today is due to a gradualinstability in Southeast Asia. Complete remilitarization of Japancannot occur until Article 9 of the American-drafted constitutioncan be revised.

Article 9, in essence, 1) commits the country to pacifism bylimiting its armed forces and forbidding a standing army, 2)ensures a staunch anti-nuclear stance, and 3) creates difficultyfor Japan to provide actual military support to its allies.

Japan’s decision to go nuclear is designed to deter North Koreaand China from targeting it as their weaker neighbor. They have thecapability: according to Greenpeace, Japan already possesses 38,000kilograms of radioactive material – it only takes five kilograms tomake one nuclear weapon. A few nimble parliamentary persuasionslater, and Japan careens down the road to 7,600 nuclearweapons.

If indeed Japan decided to accelerate its nuclear program, itwould make it the fifth nuclear power in Asia, alongside China,India, Pakistan and North Korea. South Korea would then have nochoice but to follow suit, making the region incredibly unstable.China needs to step up and volunteer a more active role in itsregions political issues. The country has, without a doubt, assumedleadership of Central and Southeast Asia. Its gross domesticproduct (GDP) growth rate – eight percent in 2002 – was the highestin the world. It, rather than Japan, is being looked to as the mostimportant future economic partner for Southeast Asian countries.Ironic then, that China still receives foreign aid from Japan, yethas increased its defense spending by double digits for 14consecutive years. Japan is giving money to China so it can buildits massive military and intimidate Japan in turn.

This won’t be China’s first go-round in settling borderdisputes. Since 1991, it has resolved border conflicts withKazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Russia, Tajikistan and Vietnam. Inmany of these negotiations, China has been on the more compromisingend of the deal, often taking fewer concessions to ensure thearguments get resolved.

China’s goals concerning North Korea are simple, yet stilldifferent from Washington’s. China wants to defuse crises, preventa conflict on its border and improve its international standing.Washington’s program of making North Korea a more open society hasproved largely unsuccessful, thanks in large part to a lack ofcooperation from Pyongyang.

What is Washington to do? First, the government needs to realizethis is not a situation that can be resolved from the White House,Congress, or the Supreme Court. It is an internal situation, andone that needs to be resolved accordingly.

First, Japan should be allowed to rearm and establish a standingarmy, but not a nuclear-equipped one. Permitting Japan to establishitself as a legitimate security force would make North Korea andChina to reconsider their views about Japan, and treat them with aserious respect. They’ve paid for their nationalism hubris for 60years; it’s time to let the past be forgiven.

Second, Washington needs to engage in direct, bilateral talkswith Pyongyang. Many of the international incidents perpetrated byNorth Korea have been done so purposefully in order to raiseawareness for direly needed food and other international aid. Anopen dialogue needs to be created with North Korea before the U.S.can pull other nations into the diplomatic foray.

Finally, multilateral talks need to be established with Northand South Korea, Japan and China to ensure an arms race, or an evenmore disastrous nuclear arms race, won’t occur. The situation’sresolution would have more positive long-lasting effects if itcould be accomplished from within the region, rather than from aforeign influence like the U.S. or E.U.

To accentuate the seriousness of the situation, take a lessonfrom Shingo Nishimura, the right-wing member of the ruling LiberalDemocratic Party: “Kim Jong Il is Hitler and the Japanesegovernment is behaving like Chamberlain.” Don’t let thelong-awaited sequel to World War II happen in Southeast Asia.