We Need A Radical New Approach On North Korea

The comments highlighted below in blue are by/from Col. (Ret.) David Maxwell, and his contact info is at the bottom of this page.  V/R, RCP, fortunascorner.com
David Maxwell:  I strongly disagree with ending the “one Korea policy” As Jay Lefkowitz argues.  I would submit that we have had a “one Korea policy” in name only and only paid lip service to it over the past 6+ decades.  We have never really pursed a strategy to support the unification of the Peninsula which of course requires a long term integrated strategy with the US supporting the ROK in achieving unification.  Despite our rhetoric we have de facto supported two Koreas from recognizing the DPRK as a member of the United Nations to conducting direct negotiations (Agreed Framework and others) to maintaining back channel communications (the New York Channel and multiple track 1.5 talks). And of course de facto recognition of the two Koreas is exemplified by the 6 party talks.  And I will not even go into the details of negotiating with the regime and how it has undermined or broken every agreement made with the ROK, US and the international community.  (And note that his argument may be undercut by reports that President Moon is calling for deploying the additional THAAD launchers and developing organic ROK offensive missiles and increasing the range of current systems).
I also think that the Kim Family Regime’s actions may also indicate another facet of its strategy that I have not recognized in the past. In addition to its standard blackmail diplomacy – conduct provocations to gain political and economic concessions (and also conduct provocations to support internal regime/domestic politics)  I think the regime’s actions are designed for immediate effect and to draw immediate responses from the US in particular but the international community in general so that policy makers and strategists cannot design and implement long term policies and strategies.  American and international politics demand immediate responses to north Korea provocations and the regime understands this.  The regime continues to create dilemmas for the ROK, US and international community and take away the ability to have the initiative for a long term strategy.
At the risk of beating a dead horse here is what I have written before (and below the article I have pasted some additional details and links.
I would like to see the development of a holistic strategy for Korea and Northeast Asia as part of a new American Grand Strategy.  We cannot have policy and strategy focus on a single north Korean threat but instead must develop policy and strategy that will ultimately solve the “Korea Question” (which comes from paragraph 60 of the 1953 Armistice that recognized that the only solution on the Korean peninsula was through unification and resolution of the “Korea Question.”) The Korean portion of the grand strategy would recognize and focus on the “Big 5” for the Korean peninsula:
    1. War – must deter, and if attacked defend, fight and win.
    2. Regime Collapse – must prepare for the real possibility and understand it could lead to war and both war and regime collapse could result in resistance within the north.
    3. Human Rights and Crimes Against Humanity – (gulags, external forced labor, etc) must focus on as it is a threat to the Kim Family Regime and undermines domestic legitimacy – and it is a moral imperative.
    4. Asymmetric threats (provocations, nuclear program, missile, cyber, and SOF) and global illicit activities.
    5. Unification – the biggest challenge and the solution.
The bottom line is that the only way we are going to see an end the nuclear program and threats and to the crimes against humanity being committed against the Korean people living in the north by the mafia-like crime family cult known as the Kim Family Regime is through achievement of unification and the establishment of a United Republic of Korea(UROK) that is secure and stable, non-nuclear, economically vibrant, and unified under a liberal constitutional form of government determined by the Korean people.
Until we develop a strategy that allows us to cope, contain, and manage the Kim Family Regime (which must include a strategic strangulation campaign to cut off resources that support the regime elite and fund the nuclear and missile programs) while we pursue long term, integrated, and cohesive actions that focuses on the above strategic aim we will continue to be in the reactionary mode while the Kim Family Regime maintains the initiative.
What is needed is a drastic change in our approach to the Korean Peninsula. Specifically, we should abandon our “One Korea” policy, long embraced by Republicans and Democrats. It’s no longer realistic or viable.

We Need A Radical New Approach On North Korea

With its latest provocation — a ballistic missile launch in the direction of Japan — North Korea is reminding Washington that its boast of having weapons capable of reaching the “heart of the United States” may not remain propaganda for much longer. The threat from Pyongyang should be one of President Trump’s most urgent priorities.

Yet so far, despite the White House’s sharp rhetoric about how North Korea will not be allowed to continue its nuclear program and how China must bring North Korea in line, Mr. Trump’s policy appears to be as ineffectual as those of his predecessors. The proof? With every missile launch, the North moves incrementally closer to having a delivery system for its nuclear arsenal that can reach Seattle and San Francisco.

What is needed is a drastic change in our approach to the Korean Peninsula. Specifically, we should abandon our “One Korea” policy, long embraced by Republicans and Democrats. It’s no longer realistic or viable.

North Korean soldiers, rear, looking south at a photo op among officials commemorating the signing of the Korean War Armistice agreement. Credit Pool photo by Jung Yeon-JePhoto by: Pool Jung Yeon-Je

Ever since the cease-fire that halted the Korean War in 1953 and maintained the border between what became North and South Korea along the 38th parallel, the official stance of the United States has been to support a unification of the peninsula under the leadership of its close ally, South Korea. This, of course, is anathema to China, which more than anything else wants to reduce the influence of the United States in Asia.

Under no circumstances will China tolerate what it sees as a client state of the United States (and a vibrant free-market democracy) on its most porous border. The reality on the ground, as difficult as it may be for the Trump administration to stomach, is that despite America’s great military and economic might, it has very limited influence over North Korea. China, on the other hand, has substantial influence over the North: More than two-thirds of North Korea’s trade is with China. The reality is that the path to resolving the North Korea crisis goes through China.

The challenge for Mr. Trump is to find a way to persuade the Chinese that a regime change in North Korea — or, at the very least, serious containment of its nuclear ambitions — is actually in China’s best interest. Short of such a strategy, the president is left with two options, neither of which is practical: He can use force to decapitate the Kim regime on his own, or he can escalate America’s presence in the region by increasing the number of American troops and moving short-range missiles into South Korea and Japan to have an effective response to a first strike from Pyongyang.

The former option would destabilize the region and cause millions of North Koreans to seek refuge in South Korea and China. The latter option faces serious political obstacles. First, China’s foreign ministry spokesman made clear in June that any uptick in United States military presence in the region would “severely damage China’s security interests and undermine the regional strategic balance.” Second, Moon Jae-in, the newly elected president of South Korea, is vocal in his opposition to the installation of the THAAD (terminal high altitude area defense) antimissile defense system that the Pentagon has sought to deploy in South Korea.

So what can Mr. Trump do? The worst possible outcome would be for him to sit back, as some of his predecessors have done, proclaiming ever more red lines as North Korea methodically tests missile after missile. Eventually — and perhaps imminently — the Kim regime will develop a successful ballistic delivery system for its growing nuclear arsenal. And that will present a grave threat to Americans, not just those living in Alaska.

The right option, though painful, is to negotiate with China. Diplomacy is all about carrots and sticks. And the time is right to offer China a real carrot by making clear that our aim is no longer a unified peninsula. A major benefit of abandoning our “One Korea” policy is that if China does not reign in the Kim regime even after the United States assuages China’s concerns about American influence, the United States will then be on much stronger footing in resorting to sticks, such as unilaterally increasing its military presence in the region and deploying a missile defense system, much like Ronald Reagan did in the 1980s when he announced he would put missiles in Britain, Italy and Germany to send a message to the Soviet Union. Moreover, despite paying lip service to unification of the peninsula for reasons of nationalism, it isn’t clear that most South Koreans really want to absorb more than 20 million North Koreans into their nation. So a reversal of American policy could well lead to greater regional stability.

We should hope that the time doesn’t come when the United States has no alternative other than to challenge North Korea militarily. It’s not that Washington lacks the power to do so effectively. It’s that military action, as we have seen over the last two decades, brings with it unforeseen and often problematic collateral consequences. But diplomacy is ineffective when it is untethered from a realistic assessment of the needs and interests of all the relevant parties. And that is what has plagued recent administrations. If the United States finally wants to start making progress in its effort to combat more than a decade of nuclear expansion by North Korea, it has to start by dropping a cornerstone of its Korea policy.

Additional thoughts:


1.  The KFR will not give up its nuclear and missile programs.

2.  China and Russia will not solve the Korean Question or force the KFR to give up its nuclear and missile programs.

3.  China and Russia will exploit KFR threats to undermine US credibility and split the ROK/US Alliance.

4.  A pre-emptive strike will not be able to eliminate the KFR nuclear and missile threats.

5.  A pre-emptive strike will result in a catastrophic response from the north.

6.  Survival of the KFR remains the vital national interest to the north, thus it can be deterred from catastrophic attack.

7.  The regime will not trust any security guarantee by the US and will not waver from the belief that the US seeks the end of the KFR.

8.  Sanctions do not help the problem without enforcement by China and the international community.

9.  KFR global illicit activities provide hard currency to support the regime and nuclear and missile programs

10.  The north will only submit to unification if the KFR remains in power.

11.  The north is prepared to achieve unification by coercion of the ROK or force.

12.  The most important deterrent to resuming hostilities by north Korea is to sustain the illusion that the Kim Family Regime will continue to survive.

13. Policy of the Trump and Moon administrations are mostly in accord re: NK and should remain constant — both agree to (1) pursue denuclearization of North Korea in a peaceful manner—i.e., without seeking ‘regime change’; (2) to the use of sanctions/pressure as diplomatic tools; (3) and to supporting South Korea’s lead role in re-opening inter-Korean dialogue

14. Emboldened by the above, President Moon Jae-in will doggedly pursue the policy tenets and principles that support his new Berlin Doctrine.

15. The only way we are going to see an end to the nuclear program and threats and to the crimes against humanity being committed against the Korean people living in the north by the mafia-like crime family cult known as the Kim family regime is through achievement of unification and the establishment of a United Republic of Korea that is secure and stable, non-nuclear, economically vibrant, and unified under a liberal constitutional form of government determined by the Korean people.

8 Contingencies
1. Provocations to gain political and economic concessions.
2. nK Attack – execution of the nK campaign plan to reunify the peninsula by force.
3. Civil War/Chaos/Anarchy.
4. Refugee crisis.
5. Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster relief.
6. WMD, loss of control – seize and secure operations.
7. Resistance to foreign intervention (e.g., insurgency).
8. How to handle the nKPA during regime collapse short of war.
3 Guiding Principles:
1.  Defense of ROK is paramount – all decisions must support defense of ROK against the full range of threats from the north.
2.  Must provide options to national policy makers – early decisions required to overcome the law of physics: time, distance, and space.  Must have the right capabilities in the right place for employment at the right time.
3.  Transparency is critical when dealing with the 5 Parties and international community (except for the classified program to support internal resistance).  Must have decisive and consistent themes and messages.  This is not the situation in which we should employ deception.  Only through clear articulation of alliance priorities and intent can we have a chance of reducing the chance of conflict due to misunderstanding of intentions.  Examples for consideration (and these should be consistently expressed by the ROK/US Alliance):
            A.  Defense and Security of ROK is the number one priority.
            B. UNC and ROK/US CFC have the following priorities:
                        (1) Security of nuclear weapons, followed by chemical weapons and then the biological program
                        (2) Security, health, and welfare of the Korean people living in the north.
                        (3) UNC and ROK/US CFC desire to work with all interested nations to bring security, stability and long term peace to the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia.
                        (4) UNC and ROK/US CFC will support the establishment of a unified peninsula – a United Republic of Korea.
7 Steps of Preparation
1. Shared vision – a new durable political arrangement**
2. Roles & Missions  – national responsibilities for action
3. Organizational Framework for operations  (UNC/ROK/US CFC, independent operations, other)
4. Command, Control, Coordination, and liaison processes & methods (including information sharing)
5. Concept of operations for deploying required forces (air, land, and sea)
6. Resource commitment – which countries provide what
7. And most important  – information/psychological preparation of the environment

1. The previous administration’s policy has been known informally and unofficially as strategic patience.  It rests fundamentally on two pillars:  first is maintaining effective deterrence and being prepared to defend against and defeat a north Korean attack the ROK and second it is focused on causing the Kim Family Regime to give up its nuclear weapons.  In fact all US diplomatic initiatives rest on the condition that the north must show that it is committed to denuclearization.

2.  However, the north has no intention of giving up its nuclear weapons and missile programs.  The regime has rewritten its constitution to name itself a nuclear power.  It believes that nuclear weapons are key to the survival of the Kim Family Regime which is the single vital national interest of north Korea – not survival of the nation state or the prosperity and welfare of the Korean people living in the north.  The regime believes that it must have nuclear weapons to deter the US from attack.  It believes that the US will not attack a nation with nuclear weapons and it looks to the example of Saddam and Qaddafi as to what happens when a nation does not develop nuclear weapons or gives them up (and the Libyan case makes the regime distrust the US more than anything else).  Nuclear weapons are also a key tool as art of its blackmail diplomacy as the threat of use, proliferation, as well as holding out the possibility of talks provides the regime with leverage to use with the US and international community.  Lastly, the regime wants to be recognized as a powerful nation and having nuclear weapons is key to such recognition.

3.  What does the north want?  It has no intention of negotiating away its nuclear weapons program,  It wants to be recognized as nuclear power.  In fact it would like to be so recognized on a par with the Russia, China, the UK, France, US, Pakistan, and India.  It would be willing to negotiate with the US but it wants to do so and focus on limitation and reduction talks in the same pattern as the US-USSR SALT and START negotiations during the Cold War

Whether or not the regime collapses will be a function of the internal dynamics of the regime unless there is a deliberate strategy to conduct “strategic strangulation.”  This would require a concerted effort by the international community to deny hard currency and goods to the Kim Family Regime (KFR) through interdiction of all its illicit activities around the world from money laundering to counterfeiting to drug trafficking to sales of military equipment.  If the regime was sufficiently “strangled” and cut off from external support then we might see the conditions rise that could cause regime collapse along the lines of Robert Collin’s Seven Phases of Regime Collapse (see Robert Kaplan’s 2006 Atlantic article -linked below).  However, I am doubtful that the international community would be supportive of such a strategy.

If hard currency and luxury goods were cut off the regime could lose the support of the elite which could lead to regime collapse.  As we were conducting planning for north Korean instability and collapse in the 1990’s we defined regime collapse as the inability of the Kim Family Regime (thought the Korean Workers Party) to “govern from the center” (I.e., Pyongyang) combined with the loss of coherency and support of the military.  Those two conditions can lead to active resistance to the regime, then fracture, and then formation of a new national leadership (or not) – See Robert Collins’ Seven Phases of Collapse.

However, when thinking about causing the deliberate collapse of the Kim Family Regime we must keep in mind that the single vital national interest for north Korea is survival of the Kim Family Regime.  Its single strategic objective is to reunify the peninsula under regime control to ensure survival of the KFR.  This means when faced with imminent collapse Kim Jong-un may make the deliberate and from his perspective very rational decision to execute his military campaign plan to reunify the peninsula by force.  This means going to war.  This is why we have to take a holistic approach to the Korean security situation and look at it in terms of what I call the “Big 5.”

An Information Based Strategy to Reduce Korea’s Increasing Threat

Unification Options and Scenarios: Assisting A Resistance

Beyond the Nuclear Crisis: A Strategy for the Korean Peninsula

Should The United States Support Korean Unification And If So, How?

Irregular Warfare on the Korean Peninsula

Information and Influence Campaign in north Korea When, Why, and How?

When North Korea Falls

A Preemptive Strike on North Korea? Does it make sense? What comes after? What comes before?

One comment

  1. Chien-ming Huang · · Reply

    A better approach is to seek diplomatic means to initiate talks that will air out grievances and probe the real needs of all sides in the Korean standoff. The US and other nations should strongly support the Charter for Permanent Peace to lead China to democratize and end its support of Pyongyang. According to the Democracy index there are 50 nations still under the yoke of autocratic dictators. All democracies should back Taiwan’s drive for constitutional reform to achieve greater democracy and freedom. This would inspire China’s 1.4 billion people to seek democratization of the CCP and pressure North Korea to adopt democracy as well, leading to the birth of world peace.

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