Thursday, September 21, 2017

North Korea

I've been thinking about North Korea.

Of course I've been thinking about it for weeks now, off and on, though some of that "thinking" has actually been simply living in denial and pretending the whole situation isn't happening.

That's pretty much been the world's approach to dealing with North Korea, hasn't it? Close it off, pretend it's not there. Dismiss it as a tiny, isolated rogue state run by an authoritarian desperado.

In my defense, the North Korea problem is so big, it's hard to see what I, as an individual, could do. Worrying about it all day doesn't serve much purpose.

But I'm beginning to think that the best way to approach North Korea, on an intergovernmental level, is to do exactly the opposite of what the United States and much of the Western world has been doing for decades now. And definitely the opposite of what Trump is doing. Threatening Kim Jong Un is only going to bring on more aggression -- and unfortunately Trump seems incapable of responding to aggression with anything but aggression of his own. They're like two seventh-grade boys in a playground dispute, lacking the maturity to put a stop to it before they come to blows.

I think the United States should open diplomatic relations with North Korea. Kim Jong Un is basically a child throwing a tantrum. He wants to be seen, to be recognized, to be respected. Hostility is the only vehicle he understands to attain that goal.

America's continuing efforts to isolate him, to pretend he's not there, to tighten the sanctions that make his people suffer, are counterproductive. That attitude just makes him angrier.

So I say, let's give in. Let's talk to the guy. At this point, what have we got to lose? Not talking to him seems to carry a much higher potential cost. The United States needs to better understand North Korea, and North Korea needs to understand Americans as well. (My thinking on this point was influenced by, among other things, this excellent recent article in The New Yorker, which highlights our decades-long lack of communication as central to our current problems.)

This is assuming North Korea would respond to a diplomatic overture from us. I think they would. I think it's exactly what they want.

Trump's threat to obliterate the nation is, to put it mildly, not helpful. America should open diplomatic dialogue ASAP and, over time, involve North Korea in international discussions aimed at peaceful coexistence. I'm not sure it's an entirely attainable goal -- Kim Jong Un wants to unify the Korean peninsula under his regime -- but it's better than the status quo.

I don't see how talking to them hurts the USA in any way, except that it could be said North Korea bullied us into it. And frankly, I don't care about that. We must admit that they are now a force to be reckoned with.

Is Kim Jong Un a tyrant? Has he abused the human rights of his own people? Yes, but America has diplomatic relations with plenty of other tyrants. That in itself is insufficient reason not to talk to North Korea.

Diplomacy is the only way to head off the lunacy and posturing that will only edge us closer to planetary annihilation. Unfortunately, Trump has shown little interest in diplomacy in general. So I'm not optimistic about where that leaves us.

(Photo: Shadows in our living room.)


  1. In thinking about North Korea a better historical perspective is needed. This should include consideration of the Korean War and its legacy - how this impacts upon the north. Another issue that concerns me is the absolute focus upon Kim Jong-un. The west have turned him into a crazed cartoon figure - a mad despot - and yet it is probably the case that he is just the tip of a political iceberg. Under the surface North Korea's military strategists are wielding most of the power - just as they did during the years when Kim Jong-il was nominally in charge of the republic. There is always a way to talk and in the end only talking will find a better way forward.

  2. Dare I say it? Give peace a chance.

  3. Trump is a bully, has always been a bully. I did hear an interview, or part of an interview since I only listen to NPR in the car, and the speaker said that despite Trump's rhetoric that there was communication going on behind the scenes. Now Trump wants a full blown military parade aka N. Korea and Russia on July 4th. He wanted it for his inauguration but got refused.

  4. One of your points as to how Kim would respond is crucial. He's more unpredictable than trump. I agree that threats do not do anything to solve the situation.

  5. I never thought I'd see a nuclear bomb in my lifetime until now. It almost seems inevitable to me. I wish it were not so. And yes, thoughtful engagement would be a good thing. But...I'm not sure there are enough rational smart adult players in the game to make it so.

  6. Wow, it's like you were reading my mind. I've thought for a very long time that Kim Jong Un and DJT are cut from the same cloth. I literally cringed when I heard Trump say what he did at the UN. In the mind of Kim, that was a sure signal that he should step up his testing and rhetoric. Only an idiot would think we could win a nuclear war. Unfortunately, I'm afraid Trump is that idiot and Kim might be one too.

  7. you are a grown up. unfortunately the diplomacy you wisely suggest is in the hands of two petulant schoolboy bullies jockeying for attention. my bombs are bigger than yours. I despair at a solution. I have spent a lot of time recently burying my head in the sand. like you, i felt unable to influence the situation, and so have tried not to dwell on it. but i wonder, can our collective thoughts in a certain direction move the universe. it's an idea i've been playing with, in the absence of any other meaningful way to act. thank you for this thoughtful post.

  8. Beautiful picture!

    When you consider that there are 25 million people living in North Korea most of whom - if we are to believe those who escaped and foreign visitors and diplomats - are suffering hardship in many ways and forms, my initial idea is "bomb them with butter". This is of course is not my idea (more here: but that regime is so entrenched, I don't think negotiations would reach beyond the wealthy and powerful elite.
    But a way to support and strengthen the people of NK, that would have my vote any day.

  9. As bad as Trump is, he is not the only one whose actions matter. There are many others who have been working behind the scenes. Take a look here if you're interested:

    (scroll past the ads in the middle to get the whole thing!)

  10. P. S. A peaceful picture . . . shadows and light, indeed :)

  11. Couldn't agree more.
    Where to I vote for this? I'll vote early and often!