Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Monday, October 28, 2002
So first off, kudos to The New Republic for publishing people like Adam Garfinkle's piece on how to deal with North Korea. Yeah, I know, TNR is hawkish on Iraq, so Garfinkle is an ideological soul-mate. But I think it's noteworthy that under Peter Beinart's leadership, which has steered TNR's ship firmly in a more liberal direction, the magazine continues to publish strong and important pieces by people like Peter Berkowitz, Gregg Easterbrook, Adam Garfinkle, Robert Kagan, Leon Kass, Charles Krauthammer and John McWhorter, any of whom you might just as well read in The National Review Online or the Weekly Standard as in TNR. There's no comparable publication out there, on the right or left. End of commercial.

That said, I'm highly skeptical of Garfinkle's proposal for dealing with Korea (in a nutshell: get all the Great Powers together to coax and pressure North Korea into a slow, staged surrender to a South Korean takeover), because it is premised on the very unlikely agreement among the great powers in this matter.

Russia is not going to give up the Kuriles for cash, and Japan is not going to pay for them. And apart from cash, Russia has no incentive to go along with this deal, since it is minimally threatened by North Korea. (Similarly, Russia would be a minimal obstacle to unilateral American action to "take out" North Korea, since the Hermit Kingdom is not a Russian but a Chinese ally.) Russia has an interest in avoiding a refugee crisis in its Far East, true. But they are hardly going to surrender territory to prevent one.

China, meanwhile, would be horrified of the prospect of American troops on its border. And no amount of reassurance would convince China that this would not be the outcome of reunification. Russia, it was said, was similarly afraid of German reunification, but it happened nonetheless. But it happened because of a remarkable confluence of circumstances, including the implosion of the East German regime, the fundamental weakness and naivete of Mikhail Gorbachev as a leader, the determination of the Kohl government to achieve reunification, and the general collapse of Soviet power. The North Korean state has not imploded, and it's not obvious that the "Dear Leader" understands that extortion cannot go on forever. The South Koreans have not shown determination to absorb the North, but to befriend it; they are led by a Willy Brandt, not a Helmut Kohl. Moreover, they have the example of German economic failure since reunification to caution them against the economic consequences of such a policy. Finally, and most importantly, the Chinese are not weak, are not led by a Gorbachev, and they have the example of German reunification before them to illustrate the consequences of retreat at the frontier: collapse at the center. The Chinese, as we, believe that the end of the Soviet Empire began with the fall of the Berlin Wall. They do not want the same to happen to them.

And how does North Korea threaten China? If the Japanese showed any sign of nuclearization, that might indeed frighten the Chinese into cooperation. But there is no sign of such a movement; rather, Japan seems determined to withdraw further and further into its shell. So long as Japan and South Korea are willing to pay ransom, North Korea's aggression serves Chinese interests. And if we let China know that we're expecting it to bring North Korea to heel, then North Korean aggression could serve Chinese interests even more, as China gets to play good cop to North Korea's bad cop, and extract Western concessions in return for the promise of keeping North Korea relatively restrained. China's long-term foreign policy aim is the expulsion of the United States from the western Pacific and the establishment of a Chinese zone of dominance stretching from Kamchatka to Indonesia. Selling out one of their few clear allies will not serve that objective in any way.

Finally, Japan. Japan will go along with whatever we devise for the penninsula so long as there is no threat of war. But without a threat of war, there will be no incentive for China, much less North Korea, to cooperate with an effort to bring about peaceful reunification. That's our key problem. If Japan were threatening unilateral action, the United States could come in and say to China: your interests are better served by our mediation than by Japanese rearmament. You bring North Korea along and we'll bring Japan along. But so long as Japan is more inclined towards appeasement, we can make no credible threats, and so long as we can make no credible threats any plan will ultimately devolve into appeasement.

And this brings me around to a major bugaboo of mine: America has forgotten how to have allies. We have gotten used to thinking of our allies as dependencies, and this has corrupted our relations with them. The Left thinks they are dependencies, and is embarrassed, and so wants us to defer to them, restrain our power, subject ourselves to international institutions where one state has one vote regardless of the relative natures (free or unfree) or power (weak or strong) of the regimes in question. The Right thinks they are dependencies, and expects them to heel, and obey their master. These are both terribly wrong attitudes, and are getting us into more and more trouble.

We do not want weak allies. We want strong allies. Strong allies must be reckoned with in their own right; they cannot be counted on simply to follow our leader. Of course, we will aspire to remain by a fair margin the strongest among our allies as among our enemies. We shall seek to remain the dominant power. But we cannot defend all of our common interests that we share with our allies without our allies' active and vigorous support. Our position on Iraq is weaker than it might be because European nations - who are more threatened than we by the rise of radical Islam - are trying to avoid their responsibilities as they did in the Balkans. Our position on North Korea is weaker than it might be because Japan - who is more threatened than we by a nuclear armed lunatic in Pyongyang - prefers not to assert itself in its own defense, and leaves us seeming silly should we try to assert ourselves in their stead. We need allies who are strong and vigorous, who assert themselves against us some of the time even as they understand that their most important relationship is with the world's superpower, because allies who do not do this are unlikely to be useful to us when we need them.

If this is true, it has significant implications both for our choice of allies in the world (the only major, rising power in the world whose interests roughly coincide with America's is India) and for how we relate to longstanding allies like France and Germany. It has even more significant implications for how we relate to internal political developments in countries like Japan, Turkey and Israel, where we have tended to prefer governments that are tractable to government that are more nationally assertive, even if the latter retain a pro-American orientation.

As for what I think we can do about North Korea, I honestly don't know. My instincts tell me, though, that Kim Jong Il will not be toppled gently from his pedestal unless he is utterly deprived of outside support. That means stiffening Japan's spine and driving a wedge between Beijing and Pyongyang. These are predicates as well of Garfinkle's proposed solution. But neither he nor I know how these are to be accomplished.

(An aside: the biggest threat from North Korea is not that they would nuke Seoul or Tokyo, though that is significant, but that they have happily assisted the development of the Iranian, Iraqi and Lybian nuclear and missile programs. In other words: it's not the evil, it's the axis. But in this regard we may have passed the point of no-return; after all, we've read that Pakistan was the source of much of North Korea's nuclear know-how, and now the DEBKA-oids are claiming that North Korea's nukes include Iranian bombs sent there for testing. The cats are out of the bag. Anyone have a plan for herding them back in?)