Friday, May 21, 2010

Time for the PLA to Dissolve the KFR

It's official.

The ROK has confirmed that North Korea attacked and sunk a ROK naval vessel last March.

This act of aggression tops off years of increasingly abhorrent and belligerent behavior on the part of the KFR, including the kidnapping South Korean and Japanese citizens, detonating two nuclear weapons (although at least one was probably a fizzle), helping Syria build a nuclear reactor, being the worst regime in the world WRT proliferation of nuclear and ballistic missiles and attacking a South Korean vessel last fall. All of this in spite the KFR's udder lack of respect for their own citizen's well being and North Korea's continued existence only as a criminal enterprise - wholly owned by the Kim family- masquerading as a real state.

This attack should be viewed by the U.S., ROK and Japan as the last straw. For too long we've acquiesced in the face of intimidation from the KFR; each time reassuring ourselves that if we just give in, just this once, just give them a bit more aid or a bit more time the regime will surely collapse under the weight of its contradictions and North Korea can follow its ideological predecessors into the dust bin of history.

But this assessment appears, increasingly, to have overlooked key features of the North Korea state-religion known as Juche. Juche, as B.R. Myers agues in the book The Cleanest Race has more in common with late-era Japanese emperor worship than with more Europeanized versions of Marxist-Leninism or Chinese Maoism. This is an important point to consider, because the Japanese, when faced with the loss of their empire, did not engineer a peaceful "soft landing" but instead lashed out in a wave of suicidal violence more fitting to a the death a cult than to a nation-state. Eventually, Japan had to be beaten into submission, because their death cultish state-religion prevented them from accepting a less destructive alternative.

With this in mind, and given the KFR's recent behavior, it stands to reason that eventually North Korea will choose to go down swinging, rather than negotiate a peaceful end to the regime. The main question that remains is how to tell the difference between North Korea's normal, brutish behavior and beginning of the end of the KFR? Given that Kim is in poor health, that North Korea's economy very nearly collapsed last year and that there is a likely a battle brewing over who will take the reigns once Kim is gone, I think its a good bet that we should consider this latest escalation an indication that the end of days for the KFR has begun.

Apocalypse! Nowish

So what should we do? Should we join China in postponing the inevitable by propping up the regime with food and fuel oil? Or should we take direct action against North Korea's military, hoping that a defeat of North Korea's army allows us to undertake an OIF style "regime change?" Alternately, how do we pressure China to take a greater interest in restraining or even dissolving the KFR?

A direct military strike should be a last resort. The KFR is China's version of Frankenstein's monster, and they should bear the brunt of both blood and treasure lost in its eventual disposal. Having said that, China should get to dictate peace terms. They get to pick the next generation of North Korean leadership and design the new North Korean political system. The ROK and the U.S. should publicly proclaim that reunification is a goal for the distant future, and not something that must be set in stone at the dawning of any post KFR end state. It is reasonable for China to want to mitigate the risk of humanitarian crisis on their border by maintaining some semblance of order in North Korea and it is in the interest of the whole world for North Korea's weapons systems to be peacefully secured and disassembled rather than be looted by hungry peasants - or, worse - greedy former DPRK officers seeking a "severance package".

China's takeover of the DPRK could take any form, but I'd give preference to a Romanian style "Ceausescu" scenario whereby the DPRK military disposes of the KFR and then surrenders the country whole to the PLA in exchange for cash settlements for high ranking officers and whatever immunity deals may be appropriate vis-a-vis Japanese, South Korean, Chinese, American and ICC legal systems. China would then be free to mine the DPRK for all the natural resources it can grab while slowly opening the DMZ to allow controlled visitation and eventual immigration into the South. Call it "humanitarian reunification"; allow families to reunite and eventually allow cross border travel while fire-walling the political and economic systems of the South off from the worst after effects of an extremely messy and expensive full on political reunification. Over 1 or 2 generation the people of the former DPRK will have to make their own decisions WRT independence, reunification or some sort of quasi-union with China.

Unfortunately, it seems China wishes to maintain the status quo for the time being. Like the scene in Goodfellas where Tommy and Henry "bust the joint out" (h/t Tom Barnett), China seems to plan on using their proxies in the DPRK to keep the people in check while the PRC carts away everything that isn't nailed down. If they're sending food and cell phones to the people it's not the worst deal ever, but if North Korea becomes a defacto colony of the PRC then China will have to take full responsibility for the actions of the DPRK's military.  That means they owe the ROK an apology and monetary damages to the families of the sailors killed. If China ins't in control of the DPRK's military, then they better take control, and that is why a PLA sponsored coup is the best solution for everyone.

So what if China refuses? China seems less than enthusiastic when it comes to dealing with reality on the ground in the DPRK, as though if they just keep wishing maybe the KFR will morph into Deng Xiaoping. This is unlikely. As I said above, Juche is militant state-religion cum death-cult, and I don't see a true soft landing for the KFR in the offing. So the choice comes down to what type of "hard" landing the powers that be (U.S., PRC, ROK, Japan) desire. Do we want to bide our time, waiting for the other shoe to drop - possibly on Seoul, Beijing and Japan - or do we want to conduct a "controlled burn", so-to-speak, collapsing the KFR at the time, place and pace of our choosing, allowing the world the opportunity to prepare before D-Day?

Secretary Clinton is in China this week, and whatever else is on the agenda should be pushed aside so that she and her Chinese counterparts can focus on a single question:What is to become of the DPRK? Clinton should begin by handing Hu a map of the DPRK and a pencil and asking him to draw a line to indicate how much of a "buffer state" China would ultimately like to keep  between themselves and the South. This meeting has one rule: whatever Hu asks for he gets, period. If he wants to keep the 38th, fine. If he wants to move the border far north to some small rump-state DPRK, well, that's ok too. As long as Hu is ready to pull the plug on the DPRK's military, he gets what he wants.

And if Hu says no, the U.S. should be prepared to really turn up the heat on the both the DPRK and the PRC. Hillary should be prepared to tell Hu that we're prepared to lose Seoul to collapse this regime, and that in two weeks the U.S. Navy will begin regular exercises just outside DPRK territorial waters. She should be able to tell him that we're re-listing the DPRK as a state sponsor of terrorism and ending all humanitarian assistance to people of the DPRK, save a daily messages blasted, in Korean, from south of the border letting the North Korean people know that if they rise up to overthrow their government we will support them. Clinton should warn the PRC that the U.S. will be getting very aggressive with our exercises, pressing closer and closer to DPRK territory each day and that the president will be giving a public address in two weeks where he offers full American assistance to any DPRK general who participates in a coup against the regime. The U.S. should also dump counterfeit North Korean currency into their economy anyway we can. These are all things the U.S. can do, by ourselves, and should do if China refuses to play ball.

Beyond unilateral action, the time has come for Japan to make one of their periodic cryptic statements about their nuclear program. Only this time, they should do it with defense ministers from South Korea and Australia present. And it should be followed by all three countries formally stating their intentions to withdraw from the NPT and conduct a joint test of a prototype nuclear weapon in the Australian outback if the KFR is still in power in 12 months.

This leaves China with two choices, take the DPRK down - and set up a situation where the PRC still gets to profit - or let the chips fall where they may and see what those crazy Americans do. If the DPRK decides to blow itself out in a blaze of glory, China is likely to suffer as much as anyone. Large Chinese cities, probably including Beijing, are almost certainly in range for North Korean missiles, and both Japan and South Korea are protected by sophisticated ABM systems, whereas Beijing is a fairly soft target. Even if somebody takes out the KFR's ability to launch missiles, China will surely face a massive influx refugees, some of whom may be KFR special forces on a suicide missions.

Collapsing the KFR is one of those global public goods that would benefit the whole world for decades to come. I've predicted that collapsing the KFR could make Clinton the best SECSTATE since Kissinger and Obama the best foreign policy president since Richard Nixon. Doing it the right way, on positive terms, would not only bolster Obama and Clinton's legacy but could also be remember as the moment when China stood up to take a responsible position on regional security. This historic mission is cause worth undertaking.

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