Kim Jong-un is also proving his regime is unreformable.
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It is time for a change in policy. Washington should declare that the North is East Asia’s problem. The ROK can defend itself; American troops should come home. Deterring Pyongyang should become South Korea’s responsibility. The U.S. should focus on nonproliferation, warning of overwhelming retaliation should North Korea transfer critical materials or processes to terrorist groups.
Whoever wins the ROK’s presidential election on December 19, Seoul should confront the DPRK without illusion. The North Koreans may be separated brothers and sisters, but the North’s leadership is ruthless and brutal. The only policy that Pyongyang respects is toughness — a stronger military, better preparedness, and no subsidies. If South Koreans prefer to go soft, that is their choice, but they should accept the consequences. It makes no sense for America to defend the ROK as the South underwrites the Kim regime.
Japan should abandon the illusion that the present regime is ready to make an accounting for those kidnapped. Tokyo’s policy has been stuck on Pyongyang’s undeniably outrageous behavior decades ago. But the North’s nuclear and missile programs are far more important and pose a genuine security threat to Japan today. The latter, which faces an election and likely power transition, must create a more robust military capable of defending against both the DPRK and China.
Russia should stop playing footsie with Pyongyang. Even Vladimir Putin appears to have no interest in restoring Cold War-style ties with the North. Moscow gains too much from its relationship with South Korea. However, Russia has been improving its links with the DPRK. It’s a losing game. The isolated, irresponsible Kim regime wants to use Moscow to create some balance with China, but has little to offer the Putin government.
Finally, the PRC should focus on its long-term interests: stability on its border, reduced threat of conflict in the Korean peninsula, end of nuclear proliferation that could spread to South Korea and Japan, fewer desperate refugees crossing the Yalu, increased trade with a wealthier united Korea, and improved claim to regional leadership. All of these would be advanced by transforming if not ending the Kim family criminal enterprise known as the North Korean government.
The DPRK’s latest military adventure should surprise no one. The time for illusion is over. Kim Jong-un is proving to be anything but a serious reformer.
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