North Korea, etc.

Aaron Friedberg, recently returned to Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School after serving as Dick Cheney’s deputy assistant for national security affairs, had an op-ed in yesterday’s Washington Post that soberly assesses the difficult task in dealing with the Kim Family Regime’s (KFR) nuclear arsenal.

Friedberg argues that because Kim Jong Il cares only for his survival, the great powers must craft their approach to exploit this:

The only way to move him is by confronting him with a stark choice — turn over existing nuclear weapons, dismantle production facilities and submit to rigorous international inspections, or face a steadily rising risk of overthrow and untimely death. This demand can be sweetened with promises of aid and peace pacts, but in the end Kim needs to be presented with an offer he cannot refuse.

The aim, suggests Friedberg, should be to squeeze the KFR to exploit divisions within the regime by disrupting the flow of goods that enables Kim to reward his supporters, with the hope that it will lead to a palace coup (an outcome that I suggested should be the goal for the region’s powers here). Friedberg recognizes that China and South Korea’s support for this course of action is essential to its success, although it is unclear whether these countries, North Korea’s two greatest trading partners, will be willing to pressure the KFR to the point of undermining Kim’s support.

Arguably, the US, Japan, China, and South Korea should discuss quietly how to hurry along regime change from within, with China and South Korea taking the lead in encouraging rebellious elements in the regime and the US and Japan promising support to stabilize the new regime. This plan may be fanciful, but it seems to be the only way to reverse a rapidly-worsening situation.

Kim must go: his nuclear gamesmanship dramatically unsettles the regional balance of power and weakens the US position in East Asia. But regime change will happen only if China can be assured that the successor regime will be as keen on regional stability and economic development as Beijing.

Meanwhile, Washington must learn to live with a nuclear DPRK. Doing so entails strengthening the US-Japan and US-RoK alliances and ensuring that Pyongyang is aware of the consequences of nuclear misbehavior (classic nuclear deterrence). It may even entail talking to Pyongyang directly. A nuclear Japan should remain a last resort — and in any event, it is not for the US to decide whether Japan goes nuclear. Japan must have that debate itself (although the reaction to LDP policy chief Shoichi Nakagawa’s remarks indicates how far Japan has to go before it will carefully weigh the costs and benefits of a nuclear arsenal of its own).

These options are not great; but then US North Korea policy has been busted for decades.

I walked around Tokyo this morning, where it was sunny and warm. Having never been here for autumn and winter, I’m curious how Japan’s climate transitions from summer to winter. In Chicago, after all, it already snowed. Will it gradually get cooler, with a crisp chill in the air, or will it get cold suddenly, without warning?

In the afternoon I went to the Maruzen bookstore in the Marunouchi Oazo building. Looking at the Politics section, I was amazed at the diversity of information available to Japanese readers, including books designed to provide laymen with in-depth background information on foreign and security policy: manga explaining Japanese defense policy, colorfully illustrated guidebooks providing detailed information about the rise of China and the North Korean threat, prominently displayed political manifestoes, and translations of foreign (usually American) books on international politics. While I can’t say who reads them, the selection is impressive.

Oh, and I learned that according to the Nagatcho Power List (Nagatacho is Japan’s Capitol Hill), Keiichiro Asao is the 65th most powerful figure in Nagatacho, which is more impressive than it sounds because there are only three or four members of the opposition DPJ in the top fifty, making him one of the DPJ’s leading lights. So that’s exciting.

Lastly, as my posting at 1:30am might suggest, I’m still terribly jet lagged.

2 thoughts on “North Korea, etc.

  1. It depends on which Japanese you ask.In general, the Japanese public fears the North Korea, although much of the Japanese response has been driving by the \’拉致問題\’ — the abduction problem. Revelations of North Korea\’s kidnappings of Japanese citizens put a human face on the North Korean threat. It also propelled Shinzo Abe to the premiership.But while the Japanese fear North Korea and its burgeoning arsenal, they are by no means united in favor of an arms buildup. Nor does Japan seem ready to scrap entirely the legal and constitutional restraints that have limited its national security policy throughout the postwar period.And that\’s without mentioning the fact that Japan\’s defense budget has stagnated in recent years, despite the North Korean threat, meaning that even if Japan wanted to develop a conventional deterrent force, it would be hard pressed to pay for it.


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