Dealing with the DPRK
Given that I’m very far from an expert on East Asian politcs — and that North Korea is the most opaque nation on the planet — I recognize a certain need to tread very carefully when it comes to commenting on the state’s recent behavior. But just arguing for the opposite of whatever John Bolton says has never failed me before, and his recommendation that America attempt to reunify the Korean peninsula seems particularly ill-advised, even for him.
If the World Bank’s estimates are to be believed, the North Korea’s population is roughly half that of South Korea’s. Despite that, the Democratic People’s Republic is unable to properly feed its citizens, to the point where roughly a third of the population is malnourished (including half of the country’s children).
No denying that this is an outrage. But toppling the North Korean regime and trying to create one unified Korea would only pass the humanitarian crisis to South Korea — a government that I doubt has the economic capacity to absorb millions of starving people. All any attempt at forced reunification would do is make an already unstable situation even more so.
Seems to me that the Obama administration is already taking the better approach here: leaning on China to encourage North Korean stability. Beijing is the predominant regional power, and the Council on Foreign Relations describes it as both “North Korea’s most important ally” and its “biggest trading partner.” Not only do they have more leverage over the DPRK, but they also have more to fear from regional instability.
(By the way: as far as last night’s especially erratic behavior from the DPRK goes, The Economist has the most plausible take I’ve seen. But who the hell knows for sure? As Donald Rumsfeld would say, this is a known unknown.)