How to deal with North Korea

While I’ve been purposefully avoiding any news shows or blogs this weekend, the situation in North Korea forces me to post this potential solution to the problem. Let’s start with some premises.

1. NK is a buffer state for China. It exists at China’s will.
2. NK is a clear and present danger to its own people and to the world.
3. China, belligerent and “ascendant” as she may be, is linked to our currency and to our consumption of her cheap goods.

While I could add details and subheadings to the above, I think the premises are sound. If not please correct me.

With that in mind, why shouldn’t America, in the person of its CEO, simply offer China the ultimatum below.

Dear Hu,

This nation tires of the dangerous and evil games played by Kim Jong Il. He is a dangerous man who is actively destroying his own people. The United States has played the diplomatic games with this madman long enough, yet fully realizes that we have no optimal military option.

Given that you have it with in your power as a nation to change the nature of NK, and that you clearly are using NK as a threatening buffer state, I see no reason to remain diplomatically engaged with the buffer state puppet – Kim Jong Il. I think we will deal with your nation alone.

With that in mind, I offer the following ultimatum. You will immediately begin the process of forcing regime change in NK. The best solution would be for you to begin the process of reunification, but I would be happy to hear other alternatives.

If you fail to begin this process, I will use all my administrative powers, and lobby Congress to use its powers to shut down all trade with China until such regime change is effected.


President Obama (or his successor)

Why shouldn’t we use trade as weapon in this situation? Aside from hurting Walmart’s stock price for a few quarters and losing a few transportation jobs in the interim, why can’t we do this? Discuss.

22 thoughts on “How to deal with North Korea”

  1. Oh, it would be such a happy comeback of traditional diplomacy with the Celestial Empire. Foreign trade is the first and most important mean of diplomacy and I would bet it scares more than the threat of a hundred bombs on an industrial complex.

  2. Well, I guess if you ignore the uncomfortable fact that China is subsidizing all of those inexpensive items at Walmart and Target and thousands of other stores, and a trade war will drive America farther down the road of this recession, then it’s a great idea.

    Phrase it another way and it doesn’t sound so nice:

    To the American people,

    This administration is incapable of any meaningful diplomatic effort in the drive for regime change in North Korea. Therefore we are going to raise the prices of most consumer goods in the hope that the Chinese take care of our problem.

  3. Raise the price of consumer goods? The consumer would be better off with out the cheap chinese toxic crap. AND there is less money for the Red Army to buy weapons with. It’s a win-win. The people who voted to give China permanent most favored nation trading are traitors.

  4. Totally cutting off trade with China would not only affect consumer goods. Supply chains for business-to-business products also frequently include made-in-China components. Not being able to get cheap toys at Wal-Mart is one thing; not being able to get MRI machines and CAT scanners or being able to deliver Boeing airliners to customers that have put down deposits on them is another.

    Alternate sources are surely available for many of these components, but it would take time to locate the sources and ramp up production.

  5. The trade sword has two edges. China’s edge may turn out to be sharper than ours. Add to that the blowback from others who will conclude that the United States is an unreliable and politically driven trading partner, and the idea doesn’t sound good to me. I would prefer simply offering China a protectorate over North Korea. That would eliminate the threat of a world conflagration sparked by one of the North’s antics, and would not necessarily eliminate or even delay the eventual reunion of the two sections. An historical precedent is the reunion of the Soviet protectorate in the East with the rest of Germany.

  6. so many cassandras, wailing that we can’t protect our own interests. i wouldn’t make an announcement/ultimatum, just a de facto ban on all chinese goods. this is in fact the perfect time to find alternatives to chinese products, ass the economy is so dormant. it’s when things are humming that disruptions would be painful. i might sing a few chinese subs too, without admitting it.

  7. I would take a different tact.

    I would say to China:
    Look, your guys in NK have not responded to any of our entreaties, instead they spit in our face and ratchet up tensions. We have practically begged you to intervene, instead you given half-hearted promises and affected no change or even given the appearance of wanting change. Because we value security and stability North East Asia, we think it only prudent to assist our allies South Korea AND Japan in swiftly instituting their own nuclear weapons programs so that they may defend themselves against your client state. We will announce this move on X date unless you have a concrete solution, beyond promises, that can move us forward.

    Trade makes a great weapon, but we are too interlocked with them and it would hurt as almost as much. This alternative is a threat that can be drawn out, feinted, and/or completed without directly affecting the US economy.

  8. “A little learning is a dangerous thing;
    drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
    there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
    and drinking largely sobers us again.”

    — Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744)

    “The consumer would be better off with out the cheap chinese toxic crap.”

    Wow. The last time I checked we were still a democracy. But thanks for making the decision for us. I’ll bet you would fit in perfectly in the Obama administration.

  9. I have often wondered how long it would take for American manufacturers to ramp up production in the absence of Chinese goods and if the cost would be insane or not.

    I speak of the only industry I know, HVAC. Virtually all residential furnaces and air conditioners use components made in China, as does the aftermarket. One example – I can’t imagine the cost to start up a factory in the US to make fractional horsepower motors (I believe there are none made in the US as of now).

    The ramp up time in my industry would be incredible as most models go through five years of testing before mass production is begun. I can’t even fathom how this would affect the industrial side of combustion, a/c or refrigeration.

  10. I think I might be tempted to play a somewhat subtler game. I might prefer to encourage WalMart to explore the possibilities of establishing lines of supply in India or Southeast Asia.

    Or Taiwan.

    And make it clear to China via back channels why this was being done and what remedies could slow or reverse the course of it.


  11. Some comments seem to fail to recognize our nearly complete dependence on China for rare earth metals which are necessary for our modern economy and technology

  12. Sourcing is generally moving from the PRC to “china plus one”. The first step prior to giving anything like an ultimatum to the leaders in Beijing is to survey and ensure that the vast majority of serious suppliers have all acquired their “plus one”.

    If you want to scare the pants off of the PRC leadership, have the President of the USA publicly urge all companies who depend on PRC components and suppliers for their supply chain to build up a 6 month buffer and that accomplishing this within the next three months is very important. There’s no need to actually make any sort of threat on a particular issue, much less an ultimatum. The deliberate removal of our choke collars (supply chain, borrowing) will terrify the PRC leadership and lead to a great deal more forward movement on issues important to us.

    Now I don’t think that we’re anywhere near the point where we need to take measures even this drastic. An ultimatum would be an order of magnitude harsher.

  13. China so loves Korea that it prefers that there are two of them. To Beijing, a united Korea would be a younger, poorer, much crazier, more nationalistic, Japan, but with a common border from which several million physically stunted and mentally deficient refugees would spill.

    Since China has to bear a lot of the financial costs of subsidizing Pyongyang, a better strategy is to ratchet up those costs by squeezing the DPRK’s revenue flows by stopping North Korean ships at sea, confiscating contraband, going after their multiple black market industries, their money laundering in western banks. No more western aid, trade or humanitarian shipments of food supplies. Warn Pyongyang that further incidents will result in a naval blockade of the DPRK and then selectively turn away ships, say those carrying oil or vital raw materials.

    If North Korea lashes out militarily again, hit back at a demonstration target that matters to the regime, like their hacking/sigint center run by Kim Jong-il’s chubby bastard son. War means collapse of the DPRK and China’s leaders know they will have to clean up that mess.

  14. we think it only prudent to assist our allies South Korea AND Japan in swiftly instituting their own nuclear weapons programs so that they may defend themselves against your client state.

    I might phrase it a tad differently. Something along the line of: “Withdraw our objections to the creation of their own nuclear weapons programs by our allies in Asia.”

    Japan is considered to be functionally about 10 turns of the wrench from having a nuclear deterrent. It is suspected that they have the components to warheads ready for assembly. They certainly have the nuclear, technological, and industrial base to have readied them decades ago. Their space program’s boosters are more than capable of ICBM accuracy [if you can get 350 lbs. into a selected orbit with a 150 mile apogee, y’all have an ICBM. They got a 500 lb.+ probe to make a landing on a freaking asteroid and returned.] It only takes one to make a threat of retaliation.

    South Korea produces a family of cruise missiles with a range sufficient to put Manchuria within easy range, let alone North Korea. They have commercial nuclear fuel reprocessing plants and their own reactors. They could have built nukes back in the 1970’s, until US pressure on Park Chung Hee stopped them.

    Then there is the kicker, that it would imply but not state openly. Taiwan.

    Taiwan was in joint weapons production with both Israel, and the former South African regime. Both of which have/had nuclear weapons. Taiwan issued requests for bids for submarines of types that would be perfect carriers for a seaborne nuclear deterrent using cruise missiles. Their nuclear weapons program was supposedly halted at the demand of President Clinton in the late 1970’s. Lying to Clinton probably is not a crime in Taiwan. They have since gone into series production with a family of cruise missiles, whose CEP makes absolutely no sense with conventional warheads. Close does count in horseshoes, hand grenades, and tactical nukes. I consider it quite possible that Taiwan has a small nuclear deterrent already, and China unofficially knows it. They do not want to be put in the position of officially knowing it.

    We would not be making a direct threat of action by us against China. But the threat would be there. If China were to respond by rattling sabers at Japan, the ROK’s, or Taiwan their reaction just might provoke exactly what the Chinese do not want.


    Oh, by the way, the encouraging of secondary sourcing for raw materials and components for assembly is a good thing. Assuming that we had a President and Congress that was on this country’s side; it would be a no-brainer to encourage such with tax incentives. And it might even lead to the idea of domestic energy production being no longer heresy.

    Subotai Bahadur

  15. we are not dependent on china for rare earth elements. in fact, we have some of the largest deposits on the planet (in aggregate). up until now, we haven’t been mining much of ours.

    if we are genuinely so dependent on china for key components than maybe the government should subsidize their production here.

    some people have very odd priorities.

  16. “If you fail to begin this process…”. Oh, they may well begin it alright. And then back off, and ‘adjust’ and ‘modify’ the terms and drag things out … and then we have an election.

  17. A couple of points—

    First and foremost, North Korea is a diplomatic fiction, i.e., it has not existed as an independent state for decades, any more than the former East Germany was an independent actor during its fabricated existence.

    Kim Il Sung started out as a somewhat independent nationalist, until he was beaten in the Korean War and had to beg for massive Soviet assistance and Chinese intervention. From that point on, he was a totally owned creature of the Chinese, and the malignant dwarf that succeeded him is even more so. My guess is that the next generation loony doesn’t use the bathroom without permission from Beijing.

    If China removes its support and direction, the NK regime collapses within days.

    Secondly, all these suggestions are contingent upon the US being capable of actually taking any significant action in the first place. I haven’t seen any indication of that for many years, and the current collection of inept buffoons are just as unlikely to develop anything coherent as I am of being able to fly by flapping my arms.

    Thirdly, as one of the commenters mentioned, any diplomatic or economic ultimatums will simply result in another endless series of tactical maneuvering by the NK and Chinese, while the world-wide “find something wrong with what the US is doing” lobby spends all its time obstructing and impeding the formulation of any effective unilateral or multi-lateral policy.

    Fourth, opening the door for further nuclear acquisitions by Japan and SK would be a significant error. They are traditional enemies, and still hate and mistrust each other. At some point they are more likely to use any such weapons on each other rather than China.

    We need to stop playing the game that has been going on for decades. The deck has always been stacked, and we have no chance of ever getting anywhere as long as we maintain the many fictions that prop up the current situation.

    Go directly to China, and tell them in no uncertain terms that we are no longer talking to their insane poodle, but will instead hold them directly and immediately responsible for whatever their puppets in NK try to pull.

    Of course, this scenario requires a political regime in this country that has some credibility and competence—that will almost certainly have to wait until 2013 at the earliest.

  18. “China has signalled its readiness to accept Korean reunification and is privately distancing itself from the North Korean regime, according to leaked US embassy cables that reveal senior Beijing figures regard their official ally as a “spoiled child”.

    News of the Chinese shift comes at a crucial juncture after the North’s artillery bombardment of a South Korean island last week that killed four people and led both sides to threaten war. China has refused to condemn the North Korean action. But today Beijing appeared to bow to US pressure to help bring about a diplomatic solution, calling for “emergency consultations” and inviting a senior North Korean official to Beijing.

    China is sharply critical of US pressure tactics towards North Korea and wants a resumption of the six-party nuclear disarmament talks. But the Guardian can reveal Beijing’s frustration with Pyongyang has grown since its missile and nuclear tests last year, worries about the economic impact of regional instability, and fears that the death of the dictator, Kim Jong-il, could spark a succession struggle”

  19. It’s gratifying to see all these comments on this post. The critiques are good, but I think some of the “China is 10 feet tall” arguments are off base. No matter what massive tide of financial ruin swamps the world, the US still occupies the highest ground. It will be the last to suffer and the first to recover.

    Next, as an unapologetic free trader, I am not proposing this for “jobs” or protectionism. It’s merely a privilege of sorts to have access to our market, and owning a rabid-dog buffer state disqualifies you.

    I think this proposal is doable. Sadly, as a nation, we lack the resolve to do it.

  20. I came to a very similar conclusion. I said we need to not have six way talks, but five way talks. N. Korea has a known position and we should not accept it so there’s really no reason to include them in the talks. S. Korea should take the lead with the objective of unification. We should remove our troops immediately but keep our carrier group in the area. Then we have tariffs on all Chinese goods until unification is well on its way.

  21. What IS the US government role in Trade? Support American companies? Support American workers? Protect Americans from poor quality products? Encourage global trade? Use to encourage or discourage global political policy?

    Just like the question of what the government role is in US society, as we’re asking about nationalized X (cars, mortgages, health care, etc).

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