I’m just an amateur at this with no particular expertise in international relations, but it seems to me we’re going about this North Korea business all wrong.
What’s the situation? North Korea’s childlike aggression with its new toy of nuclear weapons is the problem, but the real question mark in the area is China. If it were just North Koreans we were dealing with, we could put them away quickly and not worry too much about it. Just bomb their nuclear facilities and let them go back to eating grass. But the problem is they have this powerful ally on their flank. We already went through this in 1950 when China was willing to intervene when our armies reached the Yalu River. It would probably take action on behalf of North Korea again.
China is a powerful nation getting stronger every day. It’s four times the size of the United States and just beginning to feel the measure its industrial strength. It’s already overtaken us in energy consumption and will probably pass us on GNP within the next 20 years. Of course that will mean the average Chinese still lives on only one-fourth the level of the average American, but they will be big enough to throw their weight around.
At the same time, the Chinese have never been a particularly belligerent nation and don’t seem bent on conquest. It’s not as if this is some Muslim nation, always battling its neighbors. The Chinese are a very smart people. They score at the very top on international IQ tests. They’ve always been content to live in their Middle Kingdom. Their most troublesome neighbor has been Mongolia but it’s always been the Mongols invading them instead of vice versa. That’s why they built The Great Wall.
If the Chinese have been aggressive in Asia, it’s been a commercial aggression, not military. The Overseas Chinese have migrated into every Southeast Asian country and in most cases have become a dominant commercial minority. Thomas Sowell uses this to illustrate the fallacy that commercial groups get rich by exploiting the rest of the population. He says that in every country the Overseas Chinese are resented and accused of becoming rich only by robbing the natives. But the richest Overseas Chinese were in Hong Kong, where the “native population” is the British, who formed only one percent of the community!
The important lesson, however, is that even though Overseas Chinese are a vulnerable minority and often subject to persecution and pogroms, Mainland China has almost never intervened militarily. This isn’t Hitler protecting Germans in the Sudetenland. China’s only exception was when it invaded North Vietnam in 1979 after the expulsion of the Boat People, a large number of whom were Overseas Chinese. In that case, it left after a year, announcing it had “taught Vietnam a lesson.” Militarily the Chinese still abide by the teachings of Sun Zu in The Art of War, who taught that the object of war is to achieve the interests of the states by feints and positioning, rather than outright slaughter of the enemy.
The old days when China and Russia were imbued with the gospel of Communism and world dominion are over. China is a growing commercial power that now embraces technology and runs businesses better than we do. We may one day regain our equilibrium and out-compete China on that score, but in the meantime there isn’t any reason why we can’t be friends. Commercial nations have every reason to get along with each other. Economics is not a zero-sum game. So what’s the problem?
Well, the problem is the historical accident of North Korea. This half-nation is a bastardized monstrosity created in the closing days of World War II. Legend has it that Korea was divided when Stalin’s armies were marching down the peninsula and we asked them to halt. Somebody asked where we should draw the line and a staff sergeant, looking at the map, suggested the 38th parallel. (Dean Rusk is supposed to have been involved.) The North became a Soviet protectorate and eventually morphed into what is perhaps the world’s first truly insane nation. No one really knows what goes through Kim Il Jong’s head or what keeps his people in submission, but it has advanced far beyond anything George Orwell ever imagined.
Is China happy with this? Probably not. But it puts up with it because — according to the newspapers, at least — it wants to “keep the American army off its borders.” The theory is that any collapse of the North Korean government would lead to reunification and since South Korea is a U.S. puppet, a unified Korea means American lands on China’s doorstep. It’s General Douglas MacArthur all over again.
Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. South Korea is not a U.S. puppet and we have no purpose in being there except to protect South Korea from being invaded by the North, as it was in 1949 and probably would be again if we left. We don’t have to have an army in South Korea any more than we have to have an army in Vietnam, Taiwan, or any other country on China’s border. China is not going to invade South Korea any more than it is going to invade Mongolia or Vietnam or Singapore. (I know somebody is going to bring up Tibet here and I have to admit that was a pure act of international aggression. However, it did occur at the height of China’s Communist religious fervor and the Chinese did have some vague historical claims there. With that one exception, the Chinese have not shown any tendency to invade their neighbors.)
So here’s what we do. Let’s strike a deal with China. We both invade North Korea. They come in from the north, we come in form the south. Or put together an international coalition the way George Bush did in Kuwait. We’ll meet in Pyongyang and knock the Jong dynasty off its pedestal. This will require a joint air operation to knock out North Korea’s nuclear bombs before they get a chance to use them. After that, however, the North Koreans probably won’t offer more than two weeks’ resistance.
At that point we settle down to the ten-year task of reuniting North and South Korea. Ironically, before World War II the North was the advanced industrialized sector while the South an agricultural backwater. Communism and capitalism reversed this. Certainly there will be painful cultural and economic adjustments and lots of foreign aid will be required, but the two Koreas speak the same language. They were once one country and can be again. It would be a job of about the same magnitude as reuniting East and West Germany — costly but worth the effort.
So why would the Chinese agree to this? The answer is simple. After the ten-year reunification is completed, we pull out. There isn’t any reason for us to maintain an army in Korea once the two halves are reunited. I realize this arrangement carries all the dangers and pitfalls of the original agreement between the Soviets and the U.S. to divide Germany and Berlin. It is a temporary situation that could easily become permanent. But we’ll just have to be honest and forthright about it. If we establish good relations with China on this task, there isn’t any reason we can’t cooperate on lots of other things as well. The Chinese are not our natural enemies. It’s time to put World War II to rest.
The alternative is to drift toward confrontation the way we are now. We put an aircraft carrier in the Yellow Sea as a “show of force.” The Chinese take offense and say it’s like them holding military maneuvers in the Gulf of Mexico — which in fact it is. So what happens if someone attacks the aircraft carrier? Isn’t North Korea crazy enough to do it? They do have an atomic bomb, remember. Suppose they sink the carrier? What do we do then? Isn’t this how the Vietnam War started, with a series of half measures that provoked half measures from the other side until it was too late to turn back?
So let’s sit down and take stock. China is not a belligerent country. There’s no reason we can’t be friends. It’s North Korea that’s crazy. Let’s team up and get rid of it. Then the Chinese can have their half of the Pacific and we have ours. They continue to buy our debt and we continue to buy their television sets. What’s wrong with that?
I’m preparing a petition to send to Peking and Washington. Anybody want to sign?