We have always tolerated North Korea’s brutality, time and again. We did so because we have always had a genuine longing for peace on the Korean peninsula…. But now things are different. North Korea will pay a price corresponding to its provocative acts,” he said. “I will continue to take stern measures to hold the North accountable. — President Lee Myung Bak
1. Take North Korea to the U.N. Security Council and spend a lot of diplomatic capital to get China to abstain from our draft of a “very angry letter” that China will just ignore anyway. Insert mandatory clip:
Now, I suppose it’s possible that the resolution to come may include some really tough enforcement provisions — such as authorization to board ships on the high seas, or a ban on mineral exports — that will be even harder for China to circumvent, but China has hardly slowed its support for Kim Jong Il and its facilitation of his proliferation activities since UNSCR 1874 passed. If South Korea and the United States are really serious about getting China’s attention, they’re going to have to get serious about things that China cares about more than any U.N. resolution: imposing trade barriers on Chinese imports, freezing the assets of Chinese companies and banks that funnel aid to North Korea, helping Taiwan to nuke up, and beginning talks on the establishment of a regional missile defense shield that would include Taiwan, and destabilizing North Korea. China can’t have it both ways forever.
2. Halt all trade with North Korea, but with the exception of the Kaesong Industrial Park, an exception that swallows the rule.
“North Korea’s trade with the South has accounted for up to 38 percent of its total trade volume and makes up 13 percent of its gross domestic product. With the dollars obtained through inter-Korean trade, the North has expanded its businesses with China. It (the trade with the South) also helped Pyongyang to cushion any negative external risks such as sanctions by Japan, while acquiring dollars needed to govern the country,” the report said.
“If we push for a measure to suspend the trade, it could translate into a decline in its trade with China and make it tough to find other business partners as a result, dealing a direct blow to its regime by blocking it from obtaining dollars,” it added. The report noted that a trade ban by the Seoul government would have a maximum level of impact if China follows suit, which it expects could place Pyongyang under a situation where “it has to think about its life or death.” [Yonhap]
The author then paused to exhale the lungful of smoke he’d been holding as he wrote that entire passage.
3. Expand South Korea’s participation in John Bolton’s Proliferation Security Initiative, though the details of that cooperation remain to be seen.
4. Conduct joint anti-submarine drills with the U.S. Navy. Horse, barn, door.
5. Close the Jeju Strait to North Korean shipping, meaning that North Korean ships will have a slightly longer trip between the east and west coasts.
6. Turn on the loudspeakers at the DMZ, a conspicuously stoopid idea. Ditto the large electronic sign boards. This isn’t 1970, and the small number of North Korean troops at the DMZ who will hear or see those messages are the best trained, most disciplined soldiers in the North Korean army. Sure, a few have defected in recent years, but why just poke Kim Jong Il in the eye absent a prospect of having any real subversive effect? Technology provides the means to reach far more North Koreans to far greater effect today. For example, South Korea could put up a tall antenna just south of the DMZ, broadcast a cell phone signal to North Korea, and then dump tens of thousands of cheap phones on the North. Bye-bye information blockade. And we haven’t begun to talk about flooding the North with radios, MP4 players, and cash to stimulate markets and smuggling. For its part, North Korea says it will shoot at the loudspeakers:
“If the group of traitors challenges the just reaction of (North Korea), this will be followed by stronger physical strike to eliminate the root cause of the provocations,” he said, arguing his troops are enraged by the sight of South Korean equipment.
President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. On February 2, 2010, President Obama decided not to restore North Korea to the list. Discuss among yourselves.
On a slightly more promising note, the South is also saying it will also send leaflets to the North by balloon detailing the result of the Cheonan investigation. I’m not sure this is going to cause much grief or outrage among the North Koreans who read the leaflets. Still, it’s good to see South Korea finally dip its toe back into the information operations business again. There are so many more promising things the South can do if it really gets serious about this.
If this is all that President Lee intends to do, North Korea will have gotten away with murder, and Lee’s warning that “[f]rom now on, the Republic of Korea will not tolerate any provocative act by the North and will maintain a principle of proactive deterrence,” will fail to reestablish deterrence. Frankly, it’s difficult to see what good Kaesong is really doing for South Korea today. Clearly, it’s not going to attract substantial new investment or become a manufacturing center for exports. I can understand that President Lee wouldn’t want to shut the place down while there are still potential hostages up there, but you’d think that if Lee intended to shut the place down, he’d have made those arrangements before this announcement.
Fortunately, this doesn’t appear to be a complete list yet. Lee is sending his diplomats out to push as hard as they can for diplomatic support from China, Russia, and a whole cast of characters. But as long as South Korean money continues flowing into Pyongyang, it’s going to be difficult to ask other countries to do what’s really going to hurt Kim Jong Il’s regime and constrict its finances sufficiently that it will be unable to feed its army and pay its bureaucracy.
For its part, the Obama Administration is reviewing “existing authorities and policies” with respect to North Korea, which has to mean, at a minimum, that North Korea goes back on the terror list, although this would hardly be a complete response by itself. Unfortunately, Secretary of State Clinton is already talking like the United States will slow down the transfer of operation wartime control to ROK forces. And while I agree that this probably isn’t an especially good time to signal withdrawal or disengagement from Korea, one lesson we’ve learned from the Cheonan incident is that South Korean military dependence is more conducive to complacency that it is to a capable and vigilant defense. The United States can provide better support to the South from the air and sea than with vulnerable, forward-deployed ground forces. Above all, we can help South Korea improve its own self-defense capabilities, capabilities that were allowed to deteriorate under ten years of leftist rule.