North Korea: Peace? Nuclear War?
William Overholt, editor (anthology)
This new volume collects essays by some of the world’s leading experts on North Korea from all viewpoints all parties, and several countries. Based on the chapters, Overholt’s controversial overview highlights key points: The North Korean nuclear situation is the world’s greatest risk of nuclear war and America’s greatest risk of devastation of the homeland. Most commentators base their analysis on the past. But North Korea’s current situation is radically different from the past. •\tKim Jong Un, unlike his predecessors, was educated in the West (Switzerland). •\tHe knows that, in order to survive a desired 40 or 50 year career, he must fix the economy his father wrecked. •\tHe has shifted the country’s priorities toward economic growth and early results are positive. •\tNorth Korea has also opened to a degree that has irreversible consequences. Before, a professor being caught with U.S. books attracted a prison sentence. Now they are encouraged to get as many Western books as possible. The people know how much better life is in China and South Korea. Going back to the story that life is much better in North Korea is no longer an option. •\tChina and the U.S. have stopped saying that North Korea’s nukes are the other country’s problem; both are fully engaged. •\tPerhaps most importantly the two Koreas themselves have seized the initiative. At the same time, the two sides both have strong historical reasons to distrust the other. •\tThe two national leaders have flaky reputations. •\tBoth leaders lack support from their national establishments. •\tWhile each side’s position is defensible, the two positions are radically opposite. The U.S. says, we can’t trust you, so we want to see denuclearization before we lift sanctions. North Korea says, we can’t trust you, so we won’t feel safe denuclearizing until you make peace and lift sanctions. •\tThis is a hard situation to negotiate. But it is not impossible. Defining the game as denuclearization virtually ensures defeat. The game is peace. Without a credible peace regime, the North would be insane to abandon its only credible defense. The idea that we can tighten and tighten sanctions and force them to denuclearize is, and always has been, a fool’s errand. North Korean leaders look at that scenario and say, “That’s what Qaddafi tried.” The critical US job is to define alternative peace regimes and decide what it is willing to give up. That’s what negotiations are about—what valuable things each side will give up in return for a deal. What outcomes are possible? If North Korea proves intransigent, then China will be willing to impose much harsher sanctions and to discuss joint military action. If North Korea negotiates in reasonable good faith, taking into account its vulnerabilities, then the U.S. has far more at stake than in the past. •\tThe price of torpedoing a negotiation with unreasonable demands will be far higher than in the past. •\tThe price of negotiating a deal and then not performing, as we did with the Agreed Framework, will be far higher than in the past—in terms of relations with China and a strained alliance with South Korea. Under any scenario, Japan is going to be vulnerable and bitter for a decade or two. This is unfortunate but unavoidable. If there is a credible peace agreement, it will be a result of Sino-American cooperation. The result could be far more than denuclearization—an end to a Korean state of war that has persisted for 70 years and a breakthrough in Sino-American relations.