Wrong message on North Korea
The Obama administration is revealing a dangerous naiveté regarding North Korea. In response to its threat to attack the United States and its allies, senior administration officials outlined plans for a limited “response in kind.” It is hard to conceive of a more misplaced message to send to Pyongyang at this uncertain moment.
To a North Korean regime with a record of indifference toward the welfare of its own people, the U.S. promise of only a limited response to any military provocation is tantamount to an invitation for Pyongyang to strike South Korea, Japan or even the United States — knowing that it would face not overwhelming retaliation but rather a modest and manageable tit for tat.
Rather than use U.S. military power to deter North Korea from taking any actions, the White House has ceded initiative and escalatory dominance to Pyongyang.
The first challenge in statecraft is to understand the perspective of all the nations with relevant interests. Here, the major challenge to U.S. strategy toward North Korea is to recognize the role of China. President Barack Obama is fond of saying that North Korea's threats and belligerence “only deepen its isolation.” Except they don't.
Despite perennial assertions that China's leadership is tiring of the conduct of its client state, the facts tell a different story — one in which North Korea can continue to count on its most important ally. At the end of the day, China prefers a North Korean buffer, even with the Kim family in charge.
And thanks to recent White House ruminations, the Kim regime can conclude that any allied response to whatever aggression it may be pondering would be limited.
Washington and its allies must understand that resilient nuclear threats from states such as North Korea seldom lend themselves to quick fixes or grand bargains. Instead, those allies should combine military deterrence and human rights advocacy as part of a long-term solution.
From a military perspective, making clear before any shots are fired that the United States will respond proportionally only highlights the U.S. reluctance to offer our allies in South Korea and Japan the full benefit of our security umbrella.
Washington and its allies would be well served to reprise the emphasis they placed on human rights and nonviolent political transition during the final decade of the Cold War. While North Korea is hardly fertile ground for a dissent movement, history shows that even in such tightly controlled environments, some will one day form a political opposition. But they will need help.
A limited but perceptible increase in independent media focused on North Korea — especially defector-run radio stations — provides such an opportunity. Thus did Poland under communist martial law eventually become free — especially with the tailwind of nearly united political support from the free world combined with convincing military deterrence. The same can happen in North Korea in our time.
Jay Lefkowitz was President George W. Bush's special envoy for North Korean human-rights issues. Christian Whiton was deputy envoy and is the author of the forthcoming book “Smart Power: Between Diplomacy and War.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Liriano strikes out 12, leads Pirates past Mets
- Hinderliter sets personal best while winning PIAA gold in javelin
- Women’s walk across Koreas’ DMZ denied; they cross by bus
- Cleveland protests of officer’s acquittal mostly peaceful
- Ex-Baldwin, Pitt star Pinkston not giving up on NFL dream
- Pirates notebook: Substance rule a sticky subject
- Montoya passes Power on final lap to win Indy 500
- Flash floods in Texas, Oklahoma kill 2; hundreds of homes gone
- After bruising safety crisis, U.S. car watchdog shows its bite
- Unquestionable courage & sacrifice
- Indianapolis 500 notebook: Ganassi drivers stumble early