Rex, with North Korea, strategic savvy, not strategic patience!
May 2, 2017
We are Crazy, so Waltz Me Around Again Willy!A few weeks ago, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson proclaimed the ending of the doctrine of strategic patience with rogue regimes like nuclear North Korea. At the U.N., however, he seemed to be suggesting we can seek a resolution of the crisis through economic pressure and diplomacy. In response, the North Korean regime fired a ballistic missile. It exploded but the response tells all about the North Korean willingness to find any meaningful compromise. We’ve tried such solutions for a few decades. They have not worked.The basic theme of North Korean response can be posited as “We are crazy, so, Waltz me around again Willie.” The dictators, father and son, only used our diplomacy as a respite to advance their nuclear and ballistic missiles programs. In our view, more negotiation will be interpreted by both North Korea and Iran as more of Obama’s strategic patience.Yes, this time China is more helpful. Donald, Secretary of Defense Mattis and NSA H.R. McMaster deserve credit for using the attack on the Syrian airport in the midst of dinner with the Chinese president to change Chinese perceptions. They do have economic clout with North Korea. Although we are not convinced Beijing wants to replace the friendly communist regime on its borders with another South Korean-type one, they are already convinced them that freezing North Korea’s testing of nuclear weapons is in their interests. Don´t we know the steps of this U.S. - North Korean waltz by now? Menacing threats against democratic U.S. allies, South Korea and/or Japan, while testing WMD or its delivery system. “We are crazy,” is the implicit message, “and you better send a high-level person to mollify us and give our starving country (above all its nomenclature and military) economic aid.”President Clinton fell into the trap after sending special envoy Jimmy Carter to Pyongyang in 1994. In October 2000, he sent Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Her successor, Condi Rice, described Albright’s mission rather unkindly as her “… somewhat infamous visit…” complete with a stadium presentation of more than 100,000 North Koreans in a “cultural performance…” intended to invoke a presidential visit. But the intended goal of verifying U.N. inspections of nuclear development and turning over spent fuel rods was not achieved. In October 2008, before the presidential election, the North Korean dictator tried to lure another high envoy into his hermit kingdom. President Bush initially rejected that option. “No! That would really legitimize him!” But Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, nevertheless dittoed Madeleine’s mistake. She drew criticism from Vice President Dick Cheney on how she tried to reach a nuclear weapons agreement with North Korea. He recorded Rice saying to Bush, ‘“Mr President, this is just the way diplomacy works sometimes. You don´t always get a written agreement.”’ Calling Rice´s advice on this issue “utterly misleading,” Cheney further complained that she made "... concession after concession to North Korea and turned a blind eye to their misdeeds.”Sadly, some of her proposals were approved by Bush. North Korea was removed by Rice from the State Department´s list of terrorist-sponsoring states! “It was a sad moment,” commented Cheney, reversal of so much of what we had accomplished in the area of non-proliferation in the first term.”. Recalled Bush’s defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, “Rice and Ambassador Christopher Hill, [the diplomat who convinced Condi to appease North Korea and is now pontificating on American TV], seemed to believe they could obtain North Korea’s agreement to end its WMD programs.” In 2014, President Obama sent DNI James Clapper on a secret, mission to North Korea, ostensibly to secure the release of two hostages, which he did. But we still don´t know all the details of the presidential message. What was he negotiating about? Was it once again waltz me around again Willy?Rex Tillerson must not repeat the mistake of the other two secretaries of state. Rather than giving into their usual pattern of blackmail, hostage-taking, promises, withdrawal from negotiations, U.S. high-level visits, resumption of negotiations, more lies and more threats. Trump and his top team are surely looking at options, while they sit out this dance. We hope they are drafting other options -- something similar to what Bill Clinton seriously considered before he sent Madeleine Albright to waltz with Willy.Our chosen option must be framed by strategic savvy, rather than going back to strategic patience. Besides strong economic measures in combination with China, we have only three options. One is to dismantle the North Korean nuclear program in a single, massive surprise strike. However, this option is extremely dangerous and very costly.A second one is to freeze North Korea’s nuclear testing by preventive cyber warfare or other very limited, military means such as a strike on the launching pad and hope they get the message. This is unlikely to provoke an attack on Seoul. The young dictator likes his power, big parades, his wife, the food that his skinny people never get, and killing an occasional relative now and then. He doesn’t want to die and he knows if he attacks Seoul, he will.The third option is bankrupt --strategic patience. If we simply engage in negotiation with North Korea before showing we mean business, they will cheat, and will also continue aiding Iran in their own development of nuclear weapons and deliveries systems. The decision to negotiate will be surely interpreted by foes and friends as a continuation of Obama’s strategic patience. Strategic savvy dictates we must not allow North Korea to continue their nuclear testing. No more waltzes please, Willy!
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