Alex Massie

How to deal with a problem like North Korea?

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As Yglesias notes, it's uncanny how too many conservative pundits continue to believe that every problem is a nail and the only tool the United States possesses is a hammer. Now, like everyone else, I have no idea how we should deal with North Korea. And even that assumes that there is some kind of a deal that can be made. One thing I would ask, however, is that since NK seems to rather enjoy its pariah status - in as much as any paranoid regime can be said to enjoy anything - one wonders if increasing or tightening sanctions on NK is the most sensible tactic. In some sense, might this not actually confirm the North Korean diagnosis of their situation and actually make them more, not less, determined to annoy the rest of the international community? 

If that were the case - and, to repeat, I don't say it is - then the alternatives, counter-intuitive though it may be and thus always vulnerable to accusations of being daft, deluded or simply trying too hard, might be to either a) ignore North Korea and deprive it of the attention it seeks or b) smother it with kindness by reducing and relaxing sanctions in the hope that bringing NK into the international community will hasten its end. Who benefits from the current approach? Not the people of North Korea anyway. Is it possible that - as with Cuba - we're actually helping the regime even as we implement measures that are designed to frustrate it? Maybe!

Then again, the rest of the international community might not be very interested in change in NK. At least, not rapid and therefore highly uncertain change. Suppose Pyongyang were to fall and fall quickly? Chaos! What on earth would replace it? How would the US, China and Japan, to say nothing of South Korea, handle the power vaccuum that emerged? And that's before you even consider the likely humanitarian catastrophe and the question of who'd pay for, or take responsibility, for that. And what about reunifying the peninsula? Would the South really want that, not least since they'll have seen the damage German reunification did to west Germany's economy (a price that is still, probably, being paid)? Who the hell knows?

Consequently, we're left with a position in which it's more convenient, in many ways, for all parties to maintain the status quo. That is, you might say, at least a known known. And those are preferable  - in such delicate and dangerous situations - to anything that suggests, let alone encourages, uncertainty.

Alternatively, you could take the Bill Kristol line and argue  -surprise! - that the US should attack  North Korea. Because, you know, two wars aren't enough. Three, if you count the one that some folk want to have with Iran. Seriously:

But, as I say, I dunno. I'd be interested in hearing more from Charles Crawford on this.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articlePoliticsdiplomacynorth korea