Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Godfather Offer for Korean Reunification

On February 12, North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in six years. Although the Korean previously yawned at North Korea's nuclear tests, there are reasons to think that this time is different from the last two, and we should start to worry. This is not to say that you should cancel your vacation plan of visiting Korea: the Korean can confidently say that today's Seoul, or any other part of South Korea, is exactly as safe as it was on February 11, and will remain so until something far more threatening than a nuclear test happens. Here, the Korean is talking about geopolitical concern--as in, how the situation will develop in the years ahead.

The most worrisome part is this round of nuclear testing is that, this time, North Korea seems to be successful in developing a real nuclear weapon, or at least very close to it. One of the reasons why the previous two tests were not as worrisome was because there was no real confirmation that those tests were successful. The first test did not even produce a kiloton of explosive power, and was derided as a "fizzle". The second test created a bigger bang, but the tremor it caused was still barely detectable

Not so this time: the test from yesterday registered 4.9 on the Richter scale, indicating that this is a real deal, or at least pretty close to it. It is estimated that the nuke from yesterday was approximately one-third of the power of the Hiroshima bomb, and four times greater than North Korea's second test. There is also a possibility that this bomb is a uranium-based bomb rather than a plutonium-based one, which means North Korea would be able to mass produce nuclear weapons. Further, it must be remembered that, only six weeks ago, North Korea successfully launched a rocket (which can easily be turned into an ICBM) that is able to strike the West Coast of the United States. The cash-hungry North Korea can attempt to sell some or all of its technology to just about anyone in the world.

I am not trying to be alarmist. I certainly do not think there is any danger of Seoul in a mushroom cloud, or a nuclear missile flying to Seattle, any time soon. (Really, I don't.) But I do worry about what will happen in 10 years or so. While there is no confirmation that North Korea has developed a miniaturized nuclear warhead that may be equipped onto an ICBM, the trend of development is unmistakable at this point: North Korea is forging its way to that point, and it will get there sooner rather than later.

Equally predictable is the likely reaction from South Korea and to a lesser degree, Japan. At this point, these two American allies are bereft of any more meaningful options to assure themselves that a nuclear weapon is not headed their way. Sooner or later, South Korea and/or Japan will want to arm themselves with nuclear weapons as well, or, at least equip themselves with the missile capacity to intercept any incoming nuclear weapon. Already, in response to the test, South Korean policymakers are starting to discuss the need to develop the capacity for "mutually assured destruction." (In fact, South Korea attempted to develop its own nuclear weapons in the 1970s, until the Americans put a stop to it.) A possibility that could be achieved even more easily is for the U.S. to re-deploy tactical nukes in South Korea--recall that, from 1958 to 1991, U.S. stored tactical nuclear weapon in South Korea until the first Bush Administration withdrew them.

This is not an appealing picture for the world's number 2 superpower, China. If there were nuclear weaponry available in South Korea and Japan, China would--not unjustifiably--consider the situation be a severe threat. It is not difficult to imagine that even a small spark, just one itchy trigger finger over, say, the dispute between China and Japan with respect to the Diaoyou/Senkaku Islands, could cause a nuclear war.

In sum, we could be headed toward a kind of four-way prisoner's dilemma: a situation in which the decision to pursue the short term interest, without knowing other parties' intentions, leading to the detriment of the long term interest for every player involved. (Here, infuriatingly, North Korea is the warden that holds the key.) Nobody--not U.S., not South Korea, not Japan, and not even China--wants to live in a nuclear tinderbox, yet we could be moving that way.

Is there a way out? If the Korean can propose a cockamamie scheme to fix America's immigration problem and put away the historical issue between Korea and Japan once and for all, why wouldn't he be able to come up with a cockamamie scheme to get out of this mess? Sure, the plan would require a level of boldness on the part of every party, such that it will almost certainly never happen. Which is why it belongs on a blog.

(More after the jump.)

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at

*               *               *

Here is the central consideration that drives this plan: what North Korea wants to achieve through a nuclear weapon is regime survival. Truly, this is the only thing North Korea wants. And North Korea will hang onto its nuclear weapon only as long as its regime--that is, Kim Jong-un and his cronies--continues to survive. This has been obvious from the very beginning of North Korea's nuclear development.

Ignoring this obvious motivation leads to disastrous results. The prime example of this was South Korean president Lee Myeong-bak's North Korean policy, which was particularly foolish. As he took the office, President Lee proposed a bargain with North Korea: if North Korea gave up its nukes and opened up its economy, South Korea would provide enough aid and investment to push North Korean per capita GDP to $3,000. How did North Korea react to that proposal? Two nuclear tests, bombing of a South Korean naval vessel and shelling of a South Korean island near the maritime border during Lee's tenure. Why? Simple: the North Korean regime doesn't give a shit about its country's per capita GDP.

This central consideration comes with a depressing corollary: it is likely that North Korea will never give up its nuclear weapon, because there is practically no way to truly guarantee North Korea's regime survival. For now, let us set aside the moral repugnance of bribing the North Korean totalitarianism that let 330,000 of its people starve to death and runs death camps that are properly comparable to Auschwitz. Practically speaking, North Korea is so decrepit, and its people so benighted, that there is no real way to achieve true stability with North Korea that guarantees the regime survival. Forget liberal democracy; North Korea would not even survive if South Korea surrendered today and agreed to reunify under North Korea's terms. If that were to happen, South Korea's wealth and quality of living--incomparably greater than those of North Korea--would destroy North Korea from inside out. The result is the same if North Korea were to develop economically. If North Koreans achieved a quality of living comparable to, say, Vietnam, the Kim Jong-Un regime would not survive.

Fundamentally, North Korean regime survives like the way any other totalitarian regime has survived in history--by constantly manufacturing a series of external, existential threats, which are used to justify the oppression of its own people. In short, North Korea needs crises to survive. And North Korea needs the nukes to continue manufacturing the crises. So why would North Korea ever give up its nukes?

*               *               *

So we are back to the four-way prisoners' dilemma: the U.S. will have its West Coast targeted with nuclear ICBMs, and will not be able to stop nuclear proliferation out of North Korea, while Northeast Asia rushes to another nuclear arms race. Nobody wants this to happen, but we are headed down that road anyway. But is there a way out?

Here is one way out: induce a rapid collapse of North Korean society, depose the Kim Jong-Un regime, and reunify the Korean peninsula. I know that this sounds implausible, radical and dangerous. But as long as the North Korean regime links the possession of nuclear weapon with its life, the only way to dispossess the nuclear weapon is to end that life. The timing has to be now, before North Korea does manage to actually put a nuclear warhead on an ICBM. Further, there are good reasons to think that this plan could work, and the risks of this plan is not as high as one might think.

This is how the plan could look like. The most important key word in this plan is "rapid." The collapse must be rapid--as in, within less than a month--in order to minimize the risk involved by taking away the time for the Kim regime to react. Because North Korea is so decrepit, this can be easily achieved as long as there is concentrated effort. The most efficient way is, obviously, through China. For example, North Korea imports nearly all of its petroleum from China. All of the petroleum passed through a single point in the China-North Korea border--through the city of Dandong. Shut down the spigot, and the North Korean economy (such as it is) grinds to halt within weeks. (In fact, China did shut down the spigot for three days after North Korea's second nuclear test, to express its displeasure.)

But there are a number of ways that South Korea alone can induce a collapse without the Chinese help. President Park Geun-hye, for example, could issue a statement reaffirming South Korea's constitutional provision that North Koreans are also the citizens of the Republic of Korea, and announce that any North Korean outside of North Korea will receive South Korea's diplomatic protection. South Korea could also establish a safe passage through the DMZ, and invite any North Korean to defect. These measures are designed to cause a massive stream of defection to the point that the regime could no longer control its people's movement. The U.S. can join in the party as well. Joshua Stanton's suggestion to hit the pocketbooks of North Korean regime's "palace economy" is a good one, and could also seriously destabilize the North Korean regime.

Next is the hard part: at some point along the way, China must join this plan. Ideally, China would join the plan from the very beginning and participate in the North Korean embargo. This possibility is admittedly remote, but not as outlandish as one might think. There is simply no love left for North Korea among China's populace, and there are signs that even the Chinese leadership is exasperated with North Korea. Although China taking an active role in North Korea's demise is unlikely, it is not unthinkable.

The more likely path is for South Korea and U.S. to force China into a choice. U.S. and South Korea can earnestly move toward collapsing the North Korean regime, and make China confront the question: do you really want to go to war against your first- and third-largest trading partners, over Kim Jong-Un? With the right kinds of inducement--the Godfather offer that China cannot refuse--U.S. and South Korea can get China on board.

What would such inducement look like? Given the importance of China in this plan, the inducement must cater to China's policy preferences to a degree that may seem excessive. Ultimately, China is keeping the North Korean regime on life support because of two benefits: (1) stability, and (2) buffer against the potential overland American invasion (however unlikely that may be.) With North Korea openly defying Beijing's orders to stand down on the nuke test, the stability rationale is already on weak grounds. China must be made to understand that, if North Korea can be pushed to the point of teetering, South Korea's absorption of North Korea--i.e. reunification--is the only realistic way for lasting stability, because South Korea is the only country in the world that has the ability and willingness to take on that task. With that in mind, this could be the package that South Korean and the U.S. can offer to China:
  • Right to occupy up to 3 North Korean cities for 100 years:  Like Hong Kong and Macau, China could occupy certain cities--say, Rajin/Seonbong and Shinuiju--and govern them for a century, however they would like.  Alternatively and/or in addition, China could be given special economic rights over North Korean resources, such as mining rights.
  • Shoot-to-kill border control:  This is harsh, but necessary to cater to China's interest. China simply cannot afford to have a million North Korean refugees streaming out of the country and into China. South Korea could also offer compensation for China's cost of arresting and deporting (former) North Koreans back across the border.
  • U.S. withdrawal of ground troops from Korea:  The rationale for this is obvious. If U.S. balks at this, South Korea and U.S. can offer to China that USFK will not be deployed to any other place in the Korean peninsula that it is not currently deployed in.
Under normal circumstances, China would likely say no to these offers. But if China is pushed into a decision in the face of impending North Korean collapse, these terms may be enough. In exchange, China could participate in the plan to collapse North Korea, or at least stand aside as South Korea and U.S. continue to shake the tree. For old time's sake, China could also offer a safe haven for Kim Jong-Un and his cronies to exile, accelerating the process of peaceful transition.

*               *               *

Unfortunately, this plan suffers from two large risk factors. First, China may not be amenable to the Godfather offer after all. Instead--perhaps because of clumsiness on the part of South Korean and American diplomatic corps, which is certainly not beyond their ken--China may perceive a South Korean/American attempt to collapse North Korea as a threat to itself. The result may be that North Korea survives, and remains even more hostile. But with skillful negotiation, which would include a firm reminder to China that shielding North Korea is not compatible with China's interest in the long run, this risk factor can be managed.

More significant is the second risk factor: the uncertainty as to exactly what would happen as North Korea collapses. Ideally, collapse will lead to a brief period of total anarchy, at which point the South Korean military could swoop in to take control. But many things can go wrong in this process. The collapse, for example, can take the form of a rival group (that is not much better than the current regime) taking over the country. Once the rival group takes control, it may aim North Korea's nuclear weapon to anyone who dares to take over.

This risk is real, and I do not intend to minimize it. But I also believe that this risk is less than one might think. North Korea's conventional war-making capabilities are practically nonexistent at this point. Its weapons are antiquated and rusty, and North Korea lacks the petroleum to operate them for any meaningful stretch of time. What North Korea can do is to attack Seoul with artillery and short-range missiles exactly once, before American and South Korean air force reduce the artillery and missile bases to rubble. Indeed, this capability, along with China's backing, is the only measure of deterrence that North Korea possesses. But a proper emphasis should be placed on the word "deterrence." Once the deterrent force is used, it is no longer a deterrent force. Again, North Korea has little capability to wage a conventional warfare. If the South Korean military begins to push across the DMZ, what would be the point of shelling Seoul? Sure, hundreds of thousands of Seoul citizens could die. But that would not stop the South Korean advance.

Which leaves us with North Korea's nuke. We know that it is real. We also know that it is not yet at the point that can be effectively weaponized and delivered to the target. (This is, again, a big reason why North Korea should be disarmed sooner rather than later.) Also, even if North Korea has weaponized nuclear bombs, we know that it cannot possibly have more than a handful of them. In that case, North Korea's nuclear weapons are ultimately just another form of deterrence writ large. Once used, they no longer deter.

The gamble--indeed, probably the most central gamble in this entire plan--is that the North Korean regime (whether headed by Kim Jong-Un or some other dictator) would not have the capacity, or willingness, use its nuclear weapon as it stares down its inevitable demise. There is a good chance that they do not have the capacity. Even if they do, it would not be rational for them to use the nuclear weapon. And regardless of the external image to the contrary, the North Korean leadership has always been a rational actor--ruthless, murderous and terrible, but still rational.

But desperation is known to cause irrationality. Does anyone in the world have the stomach to gamble with a potential nuclear weapon hitting your soil? Likely not, so there goes this crazy idea.

Got a question or comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. History repeats.
    Back in the 1970s and the 1980s they used to fear the "Mutually Assured Destruction". We're in the second historical period of fear of another wave of the nuclear arms race. But nowadays it appears very threatening, because it seems almost anyone can afford it these days. I'm not understimating N. Korea, I'm just considering some countries of the middle east and speculations and such.

    Not the mention the radiation spreading from all the nuclear tests around the world...

  2. I would love the DPRK to fall.

    But the moment one has dreams of sending the army over the DMZ the reality of 1'000'000 dead or more is a very very sobering thought.

  3. This is a fantastic article

  4. China seems to have placed some stones on the Go board for the option of taking over North Korea themselves. Kim Jong-Nam lives there and has been allowed to talk to the media. Rumor speaks of China providing their own armed security at one of the special economic areas, and having hundreds of thousands of soldiers stationed near the border.

    If North Korea guns down too many Chinese traders, or seizes one too many PRC-owned businesses, or makes one too many armed border incursions (rumored -- if true then it's in nobody's interest to confirm it), then China might well decide that a strategic buffer works better if you own it.

  5. While you are right to see China as the key to integration, there are a great many things that have to line up before the Chinese will abandon north Korea.
    To begin with China cannot be seen as conceding anything to the West. The newly minted Chinese Premier will not be keen to look like post-Cuba Khrushchev straight out of the gate.
    Don't forget that the Chinese suffered huge numbers of casualties in the Korean War too. TK is better informed on matters of face than me, but it appears that anything that looks like a surrender after that degree of suffering would be intolerable.
    And do not forget, China is a super-power and a touchy one at that. It cannot afford to be seen to be humiliated.
    This apart from concerns about security and refugees identified in the post.
    Perhaps if the newly integrated Korea were to agree to have a relationship with China similar to that of the Choseon Kings to the Emperor, the Chinese might agree.
    Korea and the US might find this objectionable.
    Not easy.

    1. Agreed on all points, but hopefully winning cities + economic rights + pushing U.S. ground troops out of the peninsula would appear to be a win for China. That's the idea.

    2. As a Chinese nationalist, here is my personal opinion.

      1) If you think China wants to colonize Korean cities, then you are CLEARLY out of touch of the entire geopolitical situation in East Asia.

      2) China wants a post-unified Korea aligned with Chinese strategic security interests in the region, namely as a buffer state against a re-militarized Japan.

      3) If you think China wants to replicate what the Japanese did to Korea in the early 20th century (ie. colonize Korean territory), you are fundamentally not understand China's geopolitical ambitions.

      4) China's geopolitical ambitions is to use Korean peninsula as a buffer state against US troops stationed in re-militarized Japan, because of China's historic fear of Japanese militarism through the Korean peninsula.

      5) Unless post-unified Korea is aligned with China's strategic security interests in the region, China will not assist South Korea in toppling the North Korean regime.

    3. For some reason, it's easy to imagine South Korea agreeing with China to keep Japan in check; reunifying the peninsula would be a very nice bonus. The United States is used to having allies at each others' throats: Turkey and Greece come to mind, as does Saudi Arabia and Israel. Korea and Japan would just add to the set. The question would be how much a united Korea trusts China.

  6. The insanity of this situation is, that no state and very few interest groups want it to change. Certainly, most South Koreans, and at least reportedly a significant percentage of Chinese leaders and bureaucrats couldn't be bothered to worry, or have a stake in the odious regime's survival. The only group raising a ruckus are neocons in the US. This points to the only relevant fact: there are enough factions with disproportionate power to maintain the status quo against an insurgency that seeks to gain a foothold in a future North Korea for resource extraction and whose favored means, sanctions, centers around banking interests. Tragically, the one group of victims whom no one really bothers to query about their view of a future North Korea - actually I doubt many would even stay if given the chance - are the citizens of the gulags themselves, but that doesn't stop neocons from blathering for them.

  7. Very informative and thought-provoking post! However, I find it unlikely that Japan would pursue offensive nuclear weapons. I believe that the Japanese public wouldn't allow it, given that they have been firm and vocal in past reactions to any talk of even entertaining the idea. By and large, they quite clearly do not want nuclear weapons in their country, and would likely vehemently oppose any action that took them in that direction.

    1. Actually, Japan has been turning sharply right-wing in the recent elections, and their prime minister wants to amend the Peace Constitution. Would not be surprised if Japan had a serious nuclear armament movement in the next 5 years or so.

  8. A workable option may be the establishment of a permanently neutral unified Korea on the model of the deal worked out between the USSR and NATO in 1955 regarding Austria. Perhaps this could be incorporated into the South Korean constitution?

    Of course, the US would have to remove all armed forces from South Korea.

    Handing over Korean cities/ resources as a sop to China seems like storing up trouble for the future (would they ever hand the cities back?) as well as a betrayal of the right of self determination for the people living in those cities.

    A problem which I think you may underestimate is the economic cost of reunifying Korea. Reunifying Germany exerted a serious cost on the former West Germany- and the population of East Germany was proportionately lower and per capita GDP proportionately much higher, than that of North Korea compared to the South.

    Personally, I think the current situation is likely to continue for some time. Inertia is a powerful force.

    An excellent, well written and informing blog as always.

    1. U.S. will not remove all armed forces from South Korea, period. Even removing just the ground troops is a significant concession on the part of the U.S. This may not be politically correct to say, but we are dealing with two imperial powers, not one.

      As to the cost, I actually think it would not be that bad. There is an excellent Goldman Sachs report that projected the cost, and it is not nearly as bad as everyone thinks it would be. The underdeveloped North Korean economy actually presents an opportunity for South Korean firms.

  9. Excellent post, TK. I agree with your premise that something must be done now. Seriously, I don't know what we've all been waiting for. As a NYer, I am more concerned about NK selling nukes to Al Qaeda.

    But I have several questions and concerns. How exactly would we depose Kim Jong Un and his cronies? Would he step down just because China, US and SK demand it? Would we need to assassinate him and his top advisors? What about high ranking military personnel? Would they just hand over the country or fight until death; if not out of loyalty for Kim Jong Un, out of sense of self-interest, patriotism and sovereignty? Just how far down the political/military personnel would we need to go for this regime change?

    I can't say I agree with giving China rights to 3 NK cities. It will lead to a host of problems later on with patriotic uprisings and I am just fundamentally opposed to the idea of a unified Korea only to let a foreign country take a piece of it (although I agree with you on the need for a pragmatic approach). You don't think an economic incentive (trade favoring agreements) coupled with the complete withdrawal of USFK would be sufficient? I understand that China uses NK as a buffer; but if the US is no longer there, why is a buffer needed? And if NK no longer exists, what rationale is there for the USFK to be there?

    1. KJU will not step down unless he was facing imminent death, basically. We might need to assassinate him, but the better path would be for some country (likely China) to offer a place for exile. I can tell you this for certain though--there will be no fight to death on the part of North Korean military. Any loyalty for the system has long evaporated.

      Complete withdrawal of USFK is not possible. Remember that U.S. still keeps a massive ground force in Germany too, although there is zero reason for them to be there. Economic incentives are not enough. SK and China are already discussing free trade agreements, so if there is going to be any more inducement, more needs to be on the table.

  10. This blog post does not describe some cockamamie scheme to solve the North Korea nuke problem - it describes the rather mainstream hawkish version of Strategic Patience (one that even LMB has endorsed), along with some sweeteners to get China on board. (I do see problems with some of the suggestions - granting shoot-to-kill rights might be a violation of the Rome Stature, illegal under international law, leading the Republic of Korea open to trial in the International Criminal Court and so on, but that's besides the point.)

    Of course, getting China on board with strong enough sanctions to make North Korea reform or collapse has been a longstanding problem. A big part of it is getting China to trust the guarantees that are made by the US and SK. Even if it is originally and successfully negotiated in good faith, for example, the Constitutional Court might declare it unconstitutional to give away North Korean cities to China, and force a reunified Korea to take them back from China. If this plan could be implemented, without China's involvement - at least until the collapse has occurred - then solving the problem is a lot easier. (Note that China can be involved earlier - just that, if everyone else has a unified plan that can cause the NK regime to collapse first in a way that China can't prevent, then it'll be a lot easier to convince China to negotiate a deal regarding reunification.)

    Of course, there might be another way to do this. Convincing China that NK will never reform on its own and that, unless it collapses and the nuke situation is resolved post-collapse, the US will definitely launch a military strike against NK within X years to prevent it from becoming a direct threat to the US - might work. I think this is the reason why China reacts more harshly to NK's nuke tests and missile launches than it did to the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong. The former increased the threat from NK towards the US (increasing the risk of a US pre-emptive strike near China's borders), while the latter did not.

    1. This plan is not a strategic patience, actually--it is definitely more hawkish and more activist.

  11. Gordon Longhouse - International law does not recognize suzeranity. I'm not sure that restoring the old tributary relationship is even possible, assuming all parties agreed to it (and the fiercely independent, democratic and free South Koreans likely would not).

    humesbastard - Wrong. Some people in the gulags have escaped and made it to South Korea. Their views, and the views of other defectors from North Korea, are widely known. Most hate the regime, but would go back once the regime has fallen. A large minority of North Korean defectors, in fact, have taken part in the political movement in South Korea, joining the conservative faction and calling for the end of the North Korean regime.

    Paul Cuunningham - That's a good idea, but would China believe it? Constitutions can be changed - the US does it every time it passes a constitutional amendment, and SK is considering an amendment to its constitution right now. As for dealing with the cost of reunification, one idea that I had was for NK to become a South Korea Special Administrative Region post-collapse, maintaining its separate economy and laws - and then handing its administration over to China for a period of time (50 or 100 years). China would maintain its buffer region, and since it is performing the administration of NK, it would be responsible for reforming its economy in the China-style of economic reform. But I don't think it would work - China would likely have to send a lot of its own troops to control NK, draining military resources from elsewhere on a long term, even permanent basis, and having China bear the cost of NK's economic reform while getting nothing in return in the long run is probably not very appealing. (Not to mention significant political opposition from the people of both Koreas.)

    Helen Melon - Once NK's economy has collapsed, the rulers at the top won't be able to control it anymore. The top people, and the next level down, might be able to huddle together in a bunker or something with enough supplies to try to wait it out, but the cadres down from there can no longer be bribed. Without oil and gas, the entire NK military shuts down. Without the middle men to obey the will of the regime and an army to enforce it, there is no way for the Kim dynasty to stay in power. They might survive in a bunker somewhere for a long time, or even escape to sanctuary outside of NK, but they certainly won't be running things anymore.

    1. You are right about the restoration of the old tributary relationship being possible or even desirable. The point I was trying to make was, given that reunification will not take place without Chinese consent and given that reunification will be seen as a real and/or symbolic loss to China, what will it take to get the Chinese onside?
      The Chinese seem to have a grudge against history in that China was once great and then was humbled.
      An outcome to the reunification of Korea that saw China restored to the position in North-east Asia it had during the 13th and 14th centuries might be attractive to the Chinese leadership as an exchange for reunification: something they could sell to the CCP and Chinese people.
      With respect, nothing else I have seen on this blog would entice me as a member of the Chinese leadership to face Korean reunification with equanimity.
      All of which goes to show, it will not be easy.

  12. My opinion is that "within a month" is not rapid enough and indeed much too dangerous because that's all the time they need to do something crazy. North Korea is the mother of all worst worst case scenarios and that calls for a super-rapid approach, as in, send in Team Six commandos to take out Kim Jong Un first and then all the rest of his top supporting people immediately afterwards. That "Inducing Regime Change" through external political pressure is not a good idea is evidenced by the fact that LMB is currently suggesting doing the same thing. Being on the same side is LMB is never a good sign.

    1. Trust me, I am absolutely not a fan of LMB either. But his NK policy was terrible not because he was hawkish, but because it lacked any sort of consistency. LMB talked a lot of hawkishness, but actually didn't implement any real hawkish policy. LMB still paid a lot of cash money to NK just like his predecessors, and Gaeseong is still open.

    2. This is entirely a guess as to whether the theory applies in this case but the reason why some ideas are offered to the public is because it is an extremely unworkable, undoable, or just plain bad idea that will rattle very few people in power and therefore have little to no consequence, but which might quiet down the demands being made by people who aren't as important. As it stands now, the chances of a rapid plan for regime change being agreed to by all the important countries is miniscule to none. So it's "safe" to broadcast that idea to the public. Whereas if one of the countries seriously considered the doable option, they wouldn't broadcast it at all, because the doable-ness would scare the shit out of many important people.

  13. Isn't it time for Washington to rethink its global hegemony, though? Why are we still in Korea and Germany? We're picking up everyone's defense costs (and breeding resentment from citizens of other nations) while bankrupting ourselves. Are we really concerned that NK will invade SK if the US troops are no longer there? Do you think so? Is it just the military industrial complex that is promoting these police actions for self-serving reasons? This Forbes article frames this argument:

    If there is credible intelligence that NK is sharing results of its nuke tests with Iran, do you think Israel will take action? And as history has shown, Israel will have no qualms about launching a preemptive strike (more likely an intelligence operation or an assassination plot against NK than a military strike). In terms of global support, Israel would be better off trying to overthrow NK regime than bombing Iran. Just throwing ideas out there as it seems there are no good options.

  14. "China must join this plan. Ideally, China would join the plan from the very beginning and participate in the North Korean embargo. This possibility is admittedly remote, but not as outlandish as one might think. There is simply no love left for North Korea among China's populace, and there are signs that even the Chinese leadership is exasperated with North Korea. Although China taking an active role in North Korea's demise is unlikely, it is not unthinkable."

    If Japan is the unsinkable aircraft carrier, then South Korea is the unsinkable landing craft.

    Until that changes, neither China or Russia will tolerate a unified Korean Penisular. Its be plain stupid to let it happen. The Russians will not tolerate US allied troops so near Vladivostok. Vladivostok is not Kaliningrad Its not a matter of liking the North Korean government that China or the Chinese citizenry have and will support it, its a matter of survival and you live with the Kim/card you are dealt with.

    If destablisation from the South or the US works, Chinese troops will cross the rivers and make sure the status quo prevails or better (worse depending on which side you are on), there could well be annexations, (and you know, the ground work for this has been laid) and god knows what. And from the Russian side you will see quick deployment of Backfire bombers, Iskanders missiles...

    Also, without the Long March, would Mao be Mao?

    1. According to the interview with the outgoing president Lee Myung-bak, China has been signaling for years that it is no longer opposed to South Korea-led, peaceful reunification. ( In exchange, South Korea has been signaling that, even after reunification, USFK will not advance further north.

      Russia has no practical means to stop anything.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. To paraphrase the British PM Margaret Thatcher on German Reunification:

      "Although I stated my support for peaceful Germany self-determination in 1985, I had only give my support for German reunification because I am convinced it would never happen." [To Gorbachev:] "We defeated the Germans twice! And now they're back! ...We do not want a united Germany"

      Also, once South Korea retains command and control of South Korean military war-time operations from USFK command, then it will be in a slightly more advantageous position to negotiate the status of US troops post-unification. Now, it doesn't even have an separate military command independent of US influence, so the proposal for USFK to not advance further north should be taken as a grain of salt, just like any global power's support of peaceful Korean unification.

    4. Assurances about US forces. Well I am pretty sure they know about this.

      As to what China will do. Now lets hear it from US side.

      My bet, if North Korea collapses, it will be definitive, Goguryeo was and will once again become "Chinese".

      As to Russia being toothless, remember Georgia, no one dared intervene physically. All the US could do beside diplomatic noise was send a coast guard ship, not a frigate but coast guard to the Georgian port with humanitarian supplies. And after the Cheongnam incident, all 3 Russian naval flagships were in the Vladivostok area.

      As to going one on one with the US, without DF41s, the US survelliance plane was forced down in Hainan and return after dismantling it into pieces. Now with DF41s (some say its still being tested but then again remember how up to date everyone was with the J-10 deployment), what do you think?

      I can understanding and am sympathetic about wanting a return to a unified K/Corea. The three kingdoms period wasn't a happy time for us 'TangRen' but any attempt right now to "encourage" regime collapse in North Korea is well, ill advised.

    5. Andrew Wu - Agreed about assurances. It'll be very hard to convince China that these sort of promises will be kept - and even if they are made in good faith, unforeseeable events down the line might force SK and the US to backtrack. This is is why it makes more sense to have the US withdraw troops from SK altogether immediately after reunification - an immediate action with immediate benefits, rather than a long term promise that might be broken at some vague point in the future. China already has experience with the US's good word at withdrawing its forces (military bases in Taiwan before 1978 and intelligence ones in Hong Kong before the handover).

      Georgia is not a relevant example - it is not a member of NATO (which would have given it protection akin to a defense treaty) and the US has no military bases on it. It doesn't have a defense treaty with the US the way SK does. Also, South Ossetia didn't pose the same sort of direct existential threat that NK does to the US (due to its nukes and missile launches).

      Another point - Russia's interests do not automatically align with China's. The border with NK is smaller and their fear of US bases there is probably insignificant compared to, say, getting Ukraine to join NATO or the EU.

      I can see your point about China moving in immediately after an NK collapse, but there's increasing evidence that the ROK would send its troops north immediately upon an NK collapse as well. Two of the largest militaries in the world (PRC/PVA and ROK) would end up confronting each other. If they were to fight each other, this would become a dangerous situation with an unpredictable outcome. So if China is going to do anything, it's certainly in China's interest to hold dialogue about it in advance.

      Also, another U.S. site makes the point that moving PLA troops into NK upon collapse wouldn't be anything like a permanent occupation, but simply a border-securing action:

      In any case, a China annexed-NK would arguably be safer and more peaceful than the current situation. If China was in complete control of NK, they'd probably get rid of all the nukes and stop the provocations that the North Korean regime currently engages in. Installing a new but nominally independent regime in NK as a successor is easier to justify and less expensive (as compared to the military and economic cost China would have to bear to annex North Korea), but is considerably riskier. The person who ends up in control of NK might turn out to be someone who acts like a Kim dynasty clone and restart all the ongoing drama once more. So if China is involved at all, the best bet is control over some sort of multilateral initiative - it has the benefits of costing China far less than total annexation, but China would be able to let other members of the initiative (like the US) do the dirty work of deposing a new regime that became too dangerous or nuke-happy.

      But even so, a China-annexed NK is still better than the current scenario of an independent NK with nukes and missiles, propped up with reluctant Chinese support. If China were to cut off support in NK to trigger a collapse and annex it, that'd be a genuine change in China's stance.

  15. This is fascinating stuff.

    China doesn't want a nuke race in the region and it doesn't want to lose face. It has been propping up NK but that is really embarrassing.

    What if China did what the US likes to do in Latin America: send in its own troops to perform regime change? Coordinate an understanding with the US/SK/JP beforehand so that they know not to jump in to the mess. Swing in from the North, depose the regime, distribute food . . . then . . . ?

    Then, trade over administrative control of NK over to SK, on the condition that China indefinably fulfill its obligation to provide military protection North of the DMZ. You keep the military status quo but you get rid of the threat of a nuke race. You also get a lot more economic development in Manchuria if you have a united Korea across the border. Military-dominated (ahem, "protected") buffer state with progressive Western social-economic policy. Also, China gets to demonstrate the capabilities of its military -- its bona-fides as a World Power -- useful in preserving territorial integrity ("Tibet? Are you watching?") and when disputing over the ownership of various sea rocks.

    Heck, the present flag of Korea, depicting the relationship of Yin-Yang, seems like the perfect metaphor for such an arrangement.

    The problems here? I don't know if the Chinese government has a sufficiently focused executive branch to pull off a secret scheme like this, and how do you convince the West not to believe the promise of a united Korea in exchange for temporary annexation? Also ... what do we expect the NK military to do to, say, Seoul, when they are under attack from their Northern Border? Also ... the Japanese will totally love seeing China flexing its military muscle ... hrmm. And, could the Chinese military quickly take out the North? Would the cost and casualties be perceived as worthwhile?

    Variation on a crackpot idea: can the NK regime be bought off? They can "invite" the Chinese military in in exchange for a 200-year voucher for the cadre and their families to live at some fancy resort well outside of some authority that could prosecute them for crimes against humanity . . . ?

    1. I wonder how US can justify permitting SK/Japan to acquire nuclear weapons (ostensible to offset the 'threat' of NK nuclear weapons), while denying the same priviledge to Iran (ostensible to offset Israeli nuclear dominance in the Middle East).

      Hence, if US wants China's support to de-nuclearize Iran, then it would certainly not agree to a nuclear SK/Japan. I am fully confident China is not afraid of an nuclear arms race in East Asia for this exact reason, as the US heavily relies on China's support to denuclearize Iran, which is a far vastly bigger danger to US national security than NK.

  16. The Goldman Sachs study suggested a Hong Kong style reunification - this would require maintaining separate economic regimes and border control - and possibly even separate systems of laws and courts (as is the case in HK today). I'm not sure that's even legal under South Korean law right now (though TK would know this a lot better than I would) - I guess reunification would be the perfect time to redo the Constitution though.

    I thought of another issue with issuing diplomatic protection to all North Koreans. Right now, South Korea doesn't do that until the North Korean has entered South Korea and gone thru Hanawon. Some countries misunderstood this policy though, and refused asylum to North Korean defectors on the grounds that they were South Korean nationals and should return to South Korea, even though they had never been there. This aspect of TK's idea could re-open that whole can of worms all over again

    Gordon Longhouse - The People's Republic of China has shown itself to be practical and realist many times over its long history, especially when it comes to foreign diplomacy. I agree it'll be very difficult to get China on board with anything, but they might settle for less than a 13/14th century restoration of status - especially if conditions are just right. Actually, a return to China as leader of a group of protectorates contradicts some of its modern principles - that of peaceful development and nonintervention and that of adopting a low profile.

    Helen Melon & Paul Cunningham - Even after Korea is reunified and both China and an a reunified Korea become full US allies and NATO members, the US would still want to have its air force and navy around the area. The US has a lot of international commerce that flows through the Pacific Sea, and it needs to protect that somehow.

    Andrew Wu - I agree with TK on all points. In addition, Russia opposed the attacks on the Cheonan and was willing to issue a presidential statement condemning North Korea by name - and it was Putin who was behind it iirc. In some ways, Russia has been more supportive than China regarding NK.

  17. My personal opinion as a Chinese nationalist.

    1) China is not afraid of SK/Japan becoming nuclear, because US would lose China's support to de-nuclearize Iran if she permitted SK/Japan attain nuclear weapons status. US would lose moral support throughout the world in her campaign to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons if she allowed SK/Japan to have nukes. So China is very confident that the US would rein in her allies from developing nuclear weapons, as it goes against US agenda of non-nuclear proliferation and would hurt China's support on the Iranian issue.

    2) China has prepared for the inevitability of war when it's largest trading partner (US) if Taiwan (ROC) declared independence, so the economic consequences has been pre-factored into strategic risk calculations. Also, China can send "PVA volunteers" to aid North Korea and resist ROK-American aggression like last time, thereby passing the need to formally declare war on her trading partners.

    3) China will accept nothing less than a post-unified Korea aligned with China's strategic security interest in East Asia. If the South Koreans cannot even remotely satisfy the condition of full eviction of US influence from the Korean peninsula, there is no way in hell China would hand over North Korea to the South Koreans.

    4) US would request China to intervene under an UN Mandate to secure 'rogue nuclear materials' in the event of regime collapse, because neither US or China wants the nuclear materials to get into the wrong hands, and Korean unification at the point would be a distant second priority for both China and the US.

  18. Futurist -

    1) The US could publicly disagree with SK/J nuclear armament but do nothing behind the scenes to stop it, thereby publicly remaining consistently anti proliferation. It's also possible that events could happen (a NK nuclear missile test that "accidently" lands in a populated area of Japan, for example) that could quickly turn public opinion. Alternatively, the US might be forced to buy SK/J off by hosting tactical nuclear weapons on its bases there - which would practically be the same thing. In any case, a nuclear NK would definitely lead to more involvement in the region from the US military, not less - which I assume would be China's goal.

    2) This time around, SK/J have missiles that can hit China directly. If a member of a PVA kills ROK troops, it's plausible to me that SK might retaliate militarily against China directly. That scenario is a lot riskier and would not be a simple repeat of the War to Resist American Aggression. Also, remember that it was this involvement in the Korean War that led to Taiwan being separated from China - if those PVA troops hadn't fought in NK, the PLA would have been able to make it to Taiwan. Today, relations between the PRC and the ROC are at their warmest level - but the uncertainty caused by a war between China and the US would likely change that. Remember that some people (Joshua Stanton) are calling to allow Taiwan to nuclearize in response to NK nuclearization.

    3) I don't see this as being a problem. There is a lot of sentiment in SK to get the US out of it for good. This sentiment is so strong that SK has already successfully forced through renegotiated SOFA agreements with the US along with the planned end of the joint command. Once reunification has occurred, the major rationale for USFK being there is gone - and the bases in Japan are probably enough for protecting international commerce from pirates.

    4) I disagree. It'd be very close on the minds of SK, which would force the issue to be alive for the US, which would also force it to be dealt with by China. It wouldn't be distant at all.

    I think Iran is a bad example - Israel is widely known to have nuclear weapons, but has not publicly or officially acknowledged it the way NK/India/Pakistan has, providing quite a bit of wiggle room. I don't think anyone seriously thinks that Israel (or a nuclear SK/J) would have the same sort of proliferation risk that a nuclear Iran/NK would. Besides, if push came to shove, the US sees a nuclear NK as a bigger threat to stability than Iran (as evidenced in the latest State of the Union speech) and will likely act accordingly.

    I agree that China doesn't have any intention to colonize any part of Korea the way Japan did. (I'm guessing that the offer of control of border cities was to move the China-Korea border further down, so no real China territory would be at risk if things suddenly flared up, and also to create a buffer to keep ROK troops away from real Chinese territory.)

    I think it's ironic that you mention a Korea aligned against a remilitarized Japan. This would be a reunified Korea's default state (if China sat out and did nothing) - the historical tension between Korea and Japan is too great. SK today already aligns with China on historical and cultural issues against Japan (e.g. revision of textbooks, comfort women, no permanent security council seat for Japan, etc). It's really NK that's driving a military alignment with SK/J on the same side. If China supported and assisted a Seoul-led Korean reunification effort, then it'd get what it wants - a reunified Korea that would no longer have any reason to align itself with Japan, and one that would take China's side in strongly opposing Japanese remilitarization.

    1. Far from Korea -

      1) SK/Japan is already under US nuclear umbrella, so unless US wants China to arm Iran with nuclear weapons, the US will not arm SK/Japan to have nuclear weapons. Also, more US military involvement seems to create a more bellicose NK behavior, so more US military involvement isn't necessarily a stabilizing factor, as evidenced by the multiple nuclear tests, sinking of ROK naval ship, and bombing of ROK island. In fact, the repeated nuclear tests is meant to bring US to sign a non-aggression treaty with NK, so US military involvement is highly counter-productive if it is meant to denuclearize North Korea or intimidate it into submission.

      2) Yes, very small portions of China will be under South Korean missile ranges after US recently lifted the missile range limitation treaty imposed in the 1970's, but given the small portions of China under threat and few if any meaningful arsenal of said missiles, it is hardly a decisive strategic factor mitigating the Chinese leadership from consider intervention in Korea.

      PVA soldiers killed US troops, and US did not retaliate against China directly. One has to learn from history rather than speculate on the future. If a PVA soldier killed an ROK troops, ROK will not retailiate against China directly, since it would give justification for China to expand the war against South Korea, which is something South Korea does not want, since the US-ROK treaty specifies protection in the event of provocation by an external nation, not if SK attacks a foreign power.

      Also, the notion of nuclear Taiwan is pretty much impossible, I don't know why any serious discussion on geopolitics would even remotely mention a nuclear Taiwan as a strategic deterrent against the Chinese. Knowing the Chinese, they would pre-emptively nuke Taiwanese nuclear installations before Taiwan ever acquired a nuclear weapon to secure her independence with.

    2. Futurist -

      1) I find the concept that China would arm a nuclear Iran to be laughable. Even if China attempted to do this (which it wouldn't), Israel would perform a military strike against Iran and stop this from going any further. I agree that the US arming SK/Japan with nukes is unlikely. It might do so if the only alternative was that SK/J would develop their own weapons - and it's widely expected that they could do so quickly. That's also unlikely to happen, but it's not a zero probability event.

      I contend that more US military involvement being a destabilizing factor is false - after Yeonpyeong, massive military exercises were staged, which NK did not respond to (beyond a few statements).

      In any case, the US would never sign a non-aggression treaty with a nuclear NK, and NK wouldn't give up its nukes willingly even after such a treaty had been signed (from their point of view, how else could they trust the US to keep to it?). So this is a non-starter.

      2) What world are you living in? The Hyunmoo II C has a range of 1,500 miles. Shanghai is 540 miles from Seoul. Beijing is 594 miles away. You might have a point about limited arsenals, but Seoul definitely has the capability to hit major populated areas of China, so this is still a strategic factor to be taken seriously.

      Realistically though, this won't happen - both Beijing and Seoul have shown themselves to have cool enough heads to talk things through diplomatic dialogue long before it got to the point where both sides started firing missiles at each other - as LMB pointed out, they've already been talking for several years, however marginally. Besides, they and the US all share common goals - getting rid of WMD in NK post-collapse, for example.

      3) PVA soldiers never made it close to the US's borders. The Imperial Japanese Navy did, however. Look what happned to them. North Korea is the ROK's Oahu, metaphorically speaking. (Remember that ROK's current constitution claims the entirety of NK as part of it.) The other bit is that, if PVA attack and kill ROK troops, and the ROK escalates, and China escalates further and attacks South Korea directly, US public opinion would probably see this as China attack SK first (when the PVA attacked).

      4) The answer is that a nuclear Taiwan would be a total disaster for China. They'd be forced into considering violating their own "no nuclear first strike" principle, and taking other kinds of military action that'd ruin all the goodwill that they've managed to build up thus far. Realistically, this wouldn't happen - Taiwan doesn't really want nukes anyways afaict and SK and the US each have enough bargaining chips with China that no one would need to use this option. Remember though that the fate of Taiwan was linked to the Korean War 60 years ago.

      Another point to make - The PLA has 2,285,000 active personnel and 800,00 reserve, or 3,085,000 total. ROK has 2,900,000 reserve with and 506,000 on active duty. That's 3,406,000 total. And that's not accounting for PLA troops that are "locked-in" and thus not be available in an immediate conflict (those stations in more restive areas of China for example), whereas most of the ROK troops would be available immediately. And the ROKA is in much better shape than it was 60 years ago.

      China holds a lot of cards, but it doesn't hold a straightforward trump card here. It'll have to tread as carefully as everyone else.

    3. FarFromKorea -

      2) China is the second country on earth (after the US) to accomplish mid-course interception of a ballistic missile, and third country on earth (after US, Russia) to accomplish terminal phase interception of a ballistic missile. If China possess the technology to defeat BALLISTIC missiles in mid-course and terminal phases, then defeating CRUISE MISSILES (ie. Hyunmoo IIC) would be a walk in the park and a piece of cake indeed. If you can't even differentiate between a ballistic missile limitations treaty and cruise missiles range, then I'd highly doubt your qualifications to speak on any military issues.

      4) China has 55-65 million surplus/excess males that will die without a bride, that is more than enough to re-populate North Korea twice over and more than enough to repel any ROK invasion of DPRK, no matter how many reserves ROK can pump out (without economically imploding on herself in the process), so I wouldn't worry about the manpower question on China's part. Simply lunatic to even entertain the notion that ROK can outnumber the PLA on readily available manpower and manpower force concentration.

      Also, what makes you think China will withdraw support from DPRK if US continues arms sales and legal obligation to protect Taiwan from China?

    4. 2) - Straw man? I never mentioned ballistic missiles. (Sure, they go faster, but cruise missiles can fly low enough to evade radar and dodge and do all manner of evasion.) Even if an interception system worked 100% of the time, can you imagine the panic that a missile launch directed into urban China would cause? In a country that suffers from halting gridlock every lunar new years? Which panicked when a power plant in a country over a thousand miles away melted through? Better to avoid this scenario completely (which China can do pretty easily through diplomacy).

      4) The number I'm seeing is 32 million surplus males in the under-20s range. But also an estimated 25 million males who are gay. As of today, at least in relative terms, that surplus doesn't look so large. (Well, 2x-3x - which is still worlds away from 22x.) But you're right - if China got involved in a long term conflict, it could raise much larger numbers to fill its ranks. It'd have to turn to conscription to do so, however, and even the US estimates that it'd take about a year and a half to two years for it to get a drafted conscript soldier-ready. This all takes time. Immediately post-collapse, the ROK has the capability to outnumber other armies.

      5) China can manage the arms sales and etc via steely diplomacy, and through continuing cultural and economic integration and soft power expansion get rid of it entirely. (Remember, the US doesn't oppose Chinese reunification - just reunification by military force.) A long term and low risk method exists. However, these options have been shown not to with with NK, and while Taiwan is unlikely to start a military conflict with China, NK has shown itself to be willing to make preemptive surprise attacks.

  19. I think Futurist's "Chinese Nationlist" viewpoints are a hollow smoke-screen sprayed out by the Chinese Communist Party. Does Chinese party leadership TRULY fear a "re-militarized" Japan? No. They fear what all totalitarian regimes fear--their own people. A free, democratic, multi-party re-unified Korea on their doorstep would create greater restiveness and agitation for political/social/economic reform on the Chinese socio-political structure, starting with the ethnic Korean Chinese living in China. Just as NK's regime needs permanent crisis status to survive, so does China's--although China must be infinitely more subtle because they like to make money, too, and can't stir up the shit too much. But Futurist inadvertantly revealed an awful truth---the 55-65 million "excess males" need to be placated somehow. And stiring up mouth-foaming nationalism is a tried-and-true formula. My final prediction: East Asian stability will be threatned more by China seeking to distract its populace with a nationalism-stoking military "adventure" than by North Korea. This holds especially true if there is a major economic downturn in China, which only seems to be a matter of time. [Futurist: please don't hack my computer.]

    1. I don't disagree for a second that excess surplus males tend to be mobilized against an alleged enemy abroad rather than foment internal disruptions and regime instability when unemployment rates increase due to slow economic growth, rising food prices, or gov't corruption, but please do not randomly accuse people as Communist Chinese "Hacker" because I am not a hacker.... No I will not hack you, since you at least attempt to have a serious intellectual discussion, I respect you, and will only probably hack idiots that spout anti-China theories without reason or logic behind it. At least you make a reasonable argument that I cannot disagree with.

  20. feld_dog - I agree with a lot of the challenges that you say China faces or will soon face (though we will have to agree to disagree on the exact number). However, I disagree that a reunified Korea would cause the sort of unrest that you claim. Mongolia is a multiparty democracy that shares a direct border with China, but this fact has not triggered any kind of change in China. There's no reason to think that a reunified Korea which was democratic and multiparty would do so either. In fact, you've given me an interesting idea.

    In the 19th century, during a brief era of peace in the region, parts of Guangdong, which was experiencing a major labour surplus at the time, would have males who sojourned to other countries, such as the US, in search of work to earn savings before going back to retire to China in riches (or at least a reasonable, well-off level of wealth). Obviously, not everyone made it, but this still provides an interesting solution - a post-reunification Korea would likely benefit from surplus labour from China during the rebuilding phase. In return, the wealth of South Korea and the value of as-yet unextracted natural resources in NK would provide very good options for compensation for these new sojourners. A Seoul-led reunified Korea may be able to provide options for helping China solve parts of its own crisis.

    A final note - I find it most interesting that some ideas and arguments being present here, claimed to benefit China or represent a China view, actually has implications for hurting Chinese interests while benefiting the existing NK regime. It's known that some NK cyberspecialists specialise in posting pro-NK comments on Chinese forums and social media (while posing as ordinary Chinese). Could some of these specialists be moving on to the English language sphere?

    1. But what about all the poor people from North Korea? Why would Korea hire Chinese labor when it could hire its own for cheaply?

      I don't think Xi would want the USFK on the Korean peninsula. They would need to leave when Korea unifies.

    2. For obvious reasons, reunification would go more smoothly if the majority of people in NK were employed (e.g. unemployment under 2%). In a Hong Kong style reunification, this would also be cheaper than hiring workers from China.

      That said, there are a number of reasons why Chinese labour may be desired in NK. It may be cheaper to import certain kinds of specialist expertise from China (and which doesn't exist in NK) rather than trying to bring it in locally from SK. If German style reunification is attempted, then the minimum wage in NK would be set to the SK level (currently 4860 KRW or about 4.5 USD). This would actually make Chinese labour cheaper.

      Another thing to keep in mind is that NK has in the last few decades been through a number of famines. This chronic malnutrition must take its toll. Chinese sojourners are likely to be healthier and better able to tolerate backbreaking heavy labour for longer periods of time. (The same is true of SK workers, but those would cost more.) It's true that the North Korean people have been able to perform heavy labour under a period of "hundred day campaigns" - but just because it can be done doesn't mean it's a good idea.

      Doing things like upgrading NK's infrastructure would require both highly specialist expertise and lots of heavy labour.

      Finally - this is a bit of a stretch, but - it's estimated that 500,000 troops would be needed to stabilise NK even in a best case scenario. The number of humanitarian aid workers needed would probably be much higher. Contributing manpower for humanitarian aid is not the same thing as offering foreign labour, but if China was willing, I can't see any objection to having a few hundred thousand more, or even a million more, aid workers in the northern part of the Korean peninsular.

      While I agree with getting the US military completely and totally out of Korea once the NK threat is resolved, it might be interesting to look at it from another angle. South Korea is likely to use most, if not all, of its military manpower in the North once the process of reunification has begun. If US troops will not move north to accompany them, it may make sense for them to assist in the manpower issue by taking over more defensive duties in the south (to protect it against remnants of the old KJE regime that might try to move south and launch suicide attacks in a desperate attempt to reverse or block reunification). At least temporarily.

      South Korea does benefit from the efforts of the US Navy to protect commercial shipping lanes, it is only fair to ask them to return the favor by continuing to host bases (even post-reunification).

      The US might see its military presence as a necessity to prevent a reunified Korea and a right-wing Japan from ratcheting tensions between each other over their various historical disputes.

      One idea that occurred to me is that USFK might pull out of Korea in stages. In the beginning, USFK might stay where they are but not advance north. Later, once the nukes and other WMD was secured, they might pull out some of their bases (and the personnel in those bases). As reunification made further progress and stabilised, USFK could gradually pull out completely (or leave only a minimal presence on the peninsular).

    3. Alternatively, China will either use the Korean conflict and/or Taiwan issue to reaffirm her historical status as the preeminent military power in East Asia. If indeed China is able to demonstrate the inefficacy of 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, then a vote of no confidence is in order for the US-ROK MDT of 1953, because China will not achieve the glory of national unification with Taiwan while simulatenously denying the same right to her Korean brother. Hence, post-unified Korea can only achieve harmony and stability if it fully evicts US troops from her territory, thereby aligning with China's preeminent strategic security interest.

    4. If this were to happen right now, I'd say that the Diaoyu islands would be the most likely issue to pursue. It's lower risk (no need to risk any civilians) and a victory would be a defeat to combined US-Japanese military forces. (Of course, China could always perform peaceful activities, like working with the US to patrol the global shipping lanes, to demonstrate its growing military prowlness as well.)

      You don't make explicit your scenario here on how China will "grant" the "right" of national unification to Korea. It's obvious that China can't militarily take Taiwan while also taking on South Korea (or possibly both NK and SK, considering the state of affairs atm) - if China could have, then this would have happened during the Korean War. This rules out a post-unified Korea under Pyongyang or a Beijing installed regime.

      This also shows that a blow to the TLA wouldn't be a blow to the MDT. In fact, if China's military was committed in Taiwan, then a surge to take NK at the same time would be perfect timing for SK - since only China has an MDT with NK and China won't have the troops to protect it. (Though I think this is unlikely - SK does not want to take on the risk of a pre-emptive military strike under any circumstances.)

      Demonstrating that the TLA is in a state of "inefficiacy" will not be easy - Taiwan could probably hold out for a few weeks, which would be enough time to draw the US in. And of course there's all that stuff about loss of soft power, goodwill, etc etc.

      Considering that one of the goals of the current ROC president is reunification within decades, this seems like an unwise idea - gradual reunification can already be pursued without needing to use military force at all.

      As for alignment - look at NK. It played the Sino-Soviet split for decades, getting support (and thus stability) from both while not aligning with either. Currently, SK appears to be trying to play the role of a middle power - balancing the great powers around it and trying to align their common interests together to achieve peace. Complete alignment to China is not required for stability. It never was, for either NK or SK.
      (If NK was really aligned with China's security interests today, then it wouldn't be trying so hard to draw the attention of the US to a territory that shares a border with China. Especially not with nukes.)

      I'm personally in favor of having US troops leave sometime post-reunification (realistically, some support may be needed to handle WMD, etc for a short time afterwards). Japan and Guam are enough, imvh and unexpert opinion. However, I see increasing evidence that China is ok with such troops and bases as long as they stay south of the parallel. (The parallel isn't going to move post-reunification after all, so those bases won't get any closer than they are now.)

    5. The other aspect of this is, should the US swap support for Taiwan in exchange for getting North Korea?

      It's true that Taiwan is not really a security issue to anyone, but North Korea (with its nukes) is becoming a threat to the entire world. They have similar sized populations (23 vs 22 million IIRC). Letting China take over Taiwan by any means in return for allowing SK (with maybe some US help) absorb NK, removing the nuke and WMD threat, might be a plus for world security overall.

      This idea has come up before in the US - both Zbigniew Brzezinski and Dana Rohrabacher and broached this topic.
      Still, this idea is odious for many in the West. Taiwan has achieved a higher per-capita level of development than China, and is at the level of a developed, rather than developing, country. It has produced a vibrant culture concurrently with its multi-party democracy and many think that one depends on the other. (This is thus slightly different from Hong Kong, which was able to develop its advance level of development and culture independently from democracy.) So there is a fear that giving up Taiwan means a major loss of culture, and plunging a developed population back into a lower (developing country level) standard of living.

      There is some precedent here - Hong Kong was restored to China in a way that allowed it to preserve what it had accomplished. However, Hong Kong never had the same level of democracy as Taiwan does - and Taiwan (according to the current president) wants some assurance that it'll be able to keep its democracy as a precondition of reunification - so this is still an open question. HK is slated to achieve this in part by 2017 and completely in 2020, however, and if this happens, then the idea of reunification with Taiwan will go down a lot easier for everyone. There is a gradual plan in place, and I think it is working.

      The people of Taiwan are not likely to just capitulate once they hear that the US has completely withdrawn support anyways. The right assurances need to be given by China to the people of Taiwan first, or else many will flee the islands.

      In any case, none of this will be done in time to settle the NK issue.

  21. Cheers, Futurist.
    My apologies for the hacking joke.
    I, too, respect your thought-provoking posts.

  22. I travelled all over the DPRK over 3 weeks in 2011 and think a collapse of the DPRK would be complete disaster, for both North Koreans and South Koreans.

    There is no country on earth that has been cut off from the rest of the world for as long as the DPRK and adjusting to a post-Kim future will be hugely traumatic for the people who live there. These are people who start their indoctrination at a very young age and have very little to compare what they are told with. My impression was that it was like entering a huge religious cult and, if experience with cults in the west shows, most who leave them don't adjust to life outside the cult well.

    These are people with very limited skills. How are they going to make a living in a post-communist world? Agriculture and industry are all based on obsolete techniques and technology. They've had no exposure to modern, western notions of employment or business organization. They have no understanding of finance, banking or money. They have no understanding of the ownership of property. Few have touched a computer or surfed even the approved intranet, much less dealt with the World Wide Web fraught with its dangers (identity theft, Nigerian schemes, viruses, etc.)

    For all the unification talk and support for Korean brothers in the South, it's hard to believe there won't be a huge amount of resentment if 50 million South Koreans have to pay taxes to prop up 25 million impoverished, unemployable North Koreans. It also likely that in a unified Korea, North Koreans will be the targets of discrimination and possibly violence because they are so different, backward and perceived as such a burden. (That certainly happened in East Germany after 1989 and East Germany's population was 1/3 of the west and per capita wealth was 25% that of the West. North Korea population is 1/2 and per capita wealth is closer to 5% of the South. Also, East Germans had always been exposed to western culture through radio and television, which hasn't been true in the North.)

    The North Koreans are also people who are physically rail thin and, on average, receive less than 1100 calories a day, even when not in famine. If a unified Korea happens and travel barriers between the North and South are relaxed, there will be a huge mass migration of people in ROK cities looking for the basics to sustain life.

    From a humanitarian standpoint I just don't see trying to collapse the regime as a laudable goal. I think it will inflict even more suffering on people who have endured so much. It is one of history's greatest tragedies that these people ended up so cut off for so long, but I still think a Chinese-style evolution is what all powers should be encouraging.

    1. On the cult issue - but on the other hand, the world (and SK in particular) has already had experience dealing with this issue from dealing with settling NK refugees. Additionally, information is spreading in NK that things in China and SK are far better than the regime claims. Many are already critical of the regime behind closed doors. So, I feel very optimistic that isn't an insurmountable issue - NK is isolated, but much of the curtain fell over a decade ago.

      I disagree on the issues of finance/property - there's the underground market economy. Even people in NK who have never left it generally have experience with the market. This part at least won't be an abrupt transition at all. How will they make a living in a post-communist world? I don't know exactly how it will happen, but I imagine it'll look a lot like Deng Xiaoping's China. The market will find a way and the people will get by.

      You are right about the resentment issue in SK, if German-style reunification goes through. Fortunately, there are other options like Hong Kong-style reunification *the Goldman Sachs report that TK mentioned) which will largely avoid the burden issue.

      I'm not sure that you're completely right about the mass migration issue. A lot of people will want to sojourn to SK to make money back home, sure. But a lot of NK refugees in the South also want to go back North after the current regime ends. And of course, Hong Kong-style reunification can avoid this issue entirely.

      I agree with you - if it were possible, a Chinese-style evolution is best. However, you haven't addressed the main point - this is not possible because the regime wants only one thing - regime survival - and will pay any price to get it, while Chinese economic reform would topple the regime.


Comments are not available on posts older than 60 days.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...