Kim’s Last Chance To Sit At The Grown-Up Table

The comments highlighted in blue below are by/from Col. (Ret.) Dave Maxwell & his contact info is at the bottom of this page.  RCP, fortunascorner.com
David Maxwell:  Unfortunately I do not think the “little general” will fear total economic isolation and it will not change his behavior. (Plus we have to question whether we can really orchestrate an effective comprehensive strategic strangulation campaign.)
 
Conclusion:
Even if one takes issue with what is perceived as brinksmanship on the part of President Trump, the North’s threats and provocations going back nearly 70 years cannot be ignored. They need to be better managed. Kim wants his country to be recognized as a nuclear power. If the U.S., working closely with China, South Korea, Japan, Russia, and other countries, grudgingly extends that recognition then Kim will have the responsibility to behave like a responsible stakeholder and not the petulant “little general” he has been up until now. He needs to understand the total economic isolation that could threaten his survival will be of his own making.
 
This reality is far from ideal, and the relationship with the North under Kim will continue to be fraught with tension. The prospect of full-scale war with countries possessing nuclear capabilities is far worse. It is not naïve to hope and expect that all participants see it this way.

Kim’s Last Chance To Sit At The Grown-Up Table

When I was stationed in South Korea, readiness to thwart possible aggression from the North was a daily reality. It still is, although now the threat extends well beyond the Korean peninsula. It is both essential and possible to de-escalate current tensions with diplomacy, pragmatism, and strength.

Even after more than 60 years, the devastation of the Korean War animates North Korea’s disdain for the U.S. and South Korea. While the U.S. military is second to none, we still must remember that the North Korea military is the 4th largest in the world with over 1 million service members. Not to mention, that the eerie Demilitarized Zone or “DMZ” is located only 30 miles from Seoul. The fact that open warfare has not recurred since 1953 is due in part to successive South Korean leaders’ willingness to tap cultural and historical kinship that unites all Koreans along with the rationale imperative of self-preservation on both sides of the 38th parallel and beyond.

Before the current crisis South Korean President Moon Jae-in, in office, only three months, reflected on the spirit of the late Kim Dae-jung. Jailed by South Korea’s former military rulers, Dae-jung eventually won the Nobel Peace Prize and served as South Korea’s president. Kim Dae-jung focused on family repatriation, the Kaesong industrial complex near the DMZ that facilitated economic development in both Koreas, and even an ill-fated proposal for a cross-border railroad. Had it not been for the recent provocations from the North, continued engagement may have been a path that Moon was likely to want to reconsider.

Now that we have learned that North Korea has likely accessed ICBM capabilities and miniaturized nuclear weapons, this indeed may be the time for less belligerence and more steely focus on diplomacy and engagement. Just because the United States can neutralize Kim Jong-un’s threats to the United States does not mean we should. No one appreciates this more than President Moon – over one fifth of his countrymen live in greater Seoul.

The persistent existential threat from Kim notwithstanding, Moon has made the focus of his presidency internal reforms. The country is a global economic powerhouse supplying autos, consumer and commercial electronics, appliances and more to markets around the world. However, a lot of younger Koreans feel the system has become calcified and corrupt. They are not entirely wrong.

Moon was elected to replace a president brought down by a complex and at times bizarre bribery and a pay-to-play scandal involving some of the country’s big corporations. Lee Jae-yong, who is expected to take the helm at Samsung in the very near future, could be facing 12 years in jail as a result of the scandal that has dealt a serious blow to the prospects of one of the top economic drivers of the Korean economy. Reports that strategic planning inside Samsung has ground to a halt and that Samsung is operating like a “headless octopus” according to Bloomberg should greatly concern President Moon. Whatever happens in this high-profile case, Moon will need to press ahead with comprehensive plans to open the economy to more entrepreneurship and unleash the competitive spirit of the country’s small and mid-size businesses.

The reason South Korea’s economy is so important at this time is that leaders of countries are better able to engage in strategic foreign policy and high-stakes security initiatives when citizens are confident about their current and future economic prospects. In the coming months, it will be easier for Moon to win broad public support for unilateral engagement with the North and play a leading role in multilateral efforts to defuse tensions if the prospects are good for economic stability, steady growth and reform.

Other players in this dangerous chess match have similar domestic pressures. President Trump needs to come through on promises he made to the millions of Americans who feel left behind economically. To some extent, China’s Xi in China and Russia’s Putin know stagnant job growth and wages pose political risks to them. Even Kim is concerned with the tougher sanctions the UN Security Council recently approved – itself an important victory for the U.S. – will tarnish his personality cult.

Even if one takes issue with what is perceived as brinksmanship on the part of President Trump, the North’s threats and provocations going back nearly 70 years cannot be ignored. They need to be better managed. Kim wants his country to be recognized as a nuclear power. If the U.S., working closely with China, South Korea, Japan, Russia, and other countries, grudgingly extends that recognition then Kim will have the responsibility to behave like a responsible stakeholder and not the petulant “little general” he has been up until now. He needs to understand the total economic isolation that could threaten his survival will be of his own making.

This reality is far from ideal, and the relationship with the North under Kim will continue to be fraught with tension. The prospect of full-scale war with countries possessing nuclear capabilities is far worse. It is not naïve to hope and expect that all participants see it this way.

V/R
David
David S. Maxwell
Associate Director

Center for Security Studies
The Walsh School of Foreign Service
Georgetown University
Office: 202-687-3834
Cell: 703-300-8263
Twitter: @davidmaxwell161

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