North Korea

David Warsh: Economics and presidential volatility in the North Korea crisis

It turns out that the North Korean missile confrontation is, in the first instance, an economic problem. China and the U.S. agree that Pyongyang’s nuclear-weapons program must be stopped.  Japan and South Korea concur.

The difficulty has to do with dismantling North Korea’s outsized nuclear industry without touching off an internal crisis.  Think back to the problems of German reunification – but much worse. That means lining up plenty of economic aid and international cooperation.

It also means  that everyone involved must accommodate themselves beforehand to a further degree of Chinese hegemony on the Korean peninsula.

That’s how I understood Henry Kissinger’s telegraphic essay in The Wall Street Journal on Aug. 12, “How to Resolve the North Korea Crisis” (subscription required).

Say what you will about the bitter views routinely espoused by the editorial writers there, the WSJ op-ed page is still the emergency bulletin board of choice for The American Establishment. (Remember the Nicholas Brady-Eugene Ludwig-Paul Volcker letter at the height of the Panic of 2008?)

Kissinger doesn’t say so, but the urgency of the current crisis derives, not from of any imminent military threat to the United States, but from the volatility of the American president. A former national security adviser and secretary of state under Presidents Nixon and Ford, Kissinger does hint at Donald Trump’s ineptitude as a negotiator.

“Heretofore the administration has urged China to press North Korea as a kind of sub-contractor to achieve American objectives.  The better – probably only feasible approach – is to merge the two efforts and develop a common position jointly pursued with the other countries involved.’’

China’s incentives in the matter are two-sided, according to Kissinger. It can’t abide nuclear proliferation in Asia.  If North Korean nukes were to become fully operational, South Korea, Japan and even Vietnam would have to develop weapons of their own, or risk nuclear blackmail. But neither does China dare risk chaos on its northeast border in the event of collapse nor permit the possibility of nuclear weapons in South Korea without forfeiting self-respect.   “China’s incentive to help implement denuclearization will be to impose comparable restraints on all of Korea,” Kissinger writes.

Moreover, since managing denuclearization requires sustained international aid and cooperation, the U.S. and Chinese must agree on the aftermath, too: “specifically about North Korea’s political evolution and deployment restraints on its territory.” Such an understanding “should not alter existing alliance relationships,” Kissinger writes, meaning the U.S. and South Korea.

South Korea and Japan must be involved in the process:  South Korea because it would be most directly affected by a diplomatic solution, Japan because it would suffer most from lack of one. It is one thing for the U.S. and others countries to promise they wouldn’t “take advantage” of denuclearization, meaning, presumably, buy up assets in the North, Kissinger says, delicately.  “Seoul is certain to insist on a more formal and embracing concept.”  

Though Kissinger doesn’t mention it, Russia, which shares an 11-mile border with North Korea, is also an interested party, if only for having voted earlier this month for a unanimous Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on Pyongyang. It is also reasonable to wonder who, if anyone, financed North Korea’s build-up of nuclear capability, with money, know-how and key materials? Pyongyang’s program grew much more rapidly than had been forecast; Iran’s efforts seem to have proceeded much more slowly. China is an unlikely suspect. What about Putin and Russia? What is given can also be taken away – it would seem a small price to pay for a seat at the table.

So who should negotiate with whom?  About what? A joint statement by the U.S. and China would begin the process, bringing home to Pyongyang its isolation, he wrote. The rest could proceed swiftly.  Get the details done first, without involving North Korea, says Kissinger. “Pyongyang could best be represented at a culminating international conference.”

What with all the saber-rattling, this is Trump’s first real international crisis as president. The Robert Mueller investigation of his Russian dealings is still in an incipient stage.  Henry Kissinger speaks for a broad swathe of well-informed center-right and center-left opinion. Let’s see what happens next.

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For those interested in plans to develop charter cities, economist Paul Romer’s proposal before he became chief economist of the World Bank, The Economist, has an update on the on-again-off-again project in Honduras.

And for those simply interested in a good time, read Nic Fildes’s wonderful front-page story in the Financial Times about Mr. Oozy Cats, formerly of Boston, apparently.

David Warsh is proprietor of, where this piece first ran, and a veteran financial and political columnist and economic historian.

Prepare for tough and long containment of murderous N. Korean regime

Obedient North Korea kids perform. Failure to obey the regime can get you killed.

Obedient North Korea kids perform. Failure to obey the regime can get you killed.

Adapted from Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in

Ten years ago, it might have been possible to destroy their key missile and nuclear facilities in U.S. military “surgical strikes,’ as was very seriously considered by American officials. But current dictator KimJong-un and his brutal father before him so expanded and spread out the facilities housing their weapons of mass destruction (which include poison gas), that a direct preemptive attack on the regime would not prevent it from wreaking havoc on South Korea, Japanand, soon, America.

Seeking help from the anti-American Chinese and Russian dictatorships will probably be fruitless: They benefit from the U.S. being distracted by North Korean saber-rattling. China, especially, wants to distract the U.S. from trying to thwart Chinese attempts to essentially take over the entire South China Sea. And, as Anders Corr notes, China has helped to build the North Korean nuclear-weapons program, “from trucks to warheads.’’ See his essay here:

The only practical response to Kim’s latest nuclear-powered threats is a tough and very patient containment policy. This would include putting U.S. tacticalnuclear weapons back in South Korea, from which they were pulled in 1991 in a failed effort to persuade Pyongyang to permit long-terminternational inspection of its nuclear plants.  Such weaponry in the South would tend to make the North Koreans worry more deeply about attacking the South, be it with the North’s nukes and/or massive artillery attacks on Seoul, which is less than 40 miles from the border.


It bears noting that in the early ‘90s, North Korea and South Korea signed the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, whereby both sides promised that they would "not test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons." And the pact bound the two sides to forgo "nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities."  Another sick joke by the Kim Dynasty.


The agreement, which North Korea signed merely to buy time, also provided for a bilateral inspections regime, which soon fell apart because of North Korean noncooperation, despite the efforts of the U.S. and South Korea to bribe the Kim dynasty out of its barbarism with aid offers.


Meanwhile, we’d be very foolish to follow the advice of China and Russia and put a moratorium on large-scale U.S. and South Korean military exercises meant to display force and will. As with earlier displays of goodwill, this would be taken as a sign of weakness and further egg on the North Koreans.


We must also step up our cyberwar against Kim’s regime and seek as many ways as possible to financially hurt Kim, his family and his well-fed and luxury-loving retainers in a state whose regime has killed so many of its people, through direct mass murder and policies that have made inevitable occasional famine. This will require finding tougher and broader ways to penalize the many Chinese government officials, companies and private individuals who profit from doing business with Kim and his cronies.


Then we must wait out the regime as best we can, perhaps over many years. This recalls President Kennedy calling the Cold War a "long twilight struggle.''


Llewellyn King: Vietnam wants to be U.S conduit to North Korea



Can Vietnam talk some sense into North Korea, and in so doing make itself the go-to country in Asia for diplomatic fixes? There are those in Hanoi, and quite a few scattered across the foreign policy establishment, who think so.

Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang believes so, and would like to be the intermediary between the United States and North Korea.

Back-channel talks — if they can be called that — have begun. Influential American academics have met with leaders in Vietnam and President Quang has been involved. An idea, however inchoate, is in the air in Hanoi – and the government would very much like to see the concept grow.

For Hanoi, being useful to both Washington and Pyongyang, would help Vietnam gain international stature, as well as accelerate its importance in the region.

Globally, Asian scholars and diplomats are hoping to see strong initiatives, particularly from the United States, to affect the seeming intractability of a number of issues in Southeast Asia, which include North Korea’s adventurism and China’s continued expansion in the South China Sea. An additional irritant is China’s damming of the Mekong River, starving Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia of water.

No one involved believes that a communications channel will cause Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, to abandon his war games with rocket and missile tests. But they do believe that when and if there is a need to have some kind of opening to North Korea, and to speak to its obtuse leadership, Vietnam is uniquely well-placed facilitate a conversation.

Vietnam, like North Korea, has fought the United States. It also knows what it is like to be dependent on China for its survival, as North Korea is and as North Vietnam was. It also knows what it is like when that kind of lifeline of dependence goes wrong. Vietnam fought a war with China in 1979, with intermittent clashes until 1990.

Hanoi’s hopes to become a bigger player in the Asia diplomatic firmament extend beyond helping the United States with Pyongyang. It would like to be a bigger player in general in Asian diplomacy and use its unique history with the United States and with China to make it a valuable go-between with other countries including Myanmar and even Iran.

“Vietnam feels it has come of age among nations and wants to play a role in offering its good offices to the United States and other world powers,” says a Vietnamese academic, who lives in the United States and is involved in these early diplomatic moves. He says Vietnam, after the fall of Saigon in 1973 and the abrogation of the peace treaty in 1975, and the United States have come a long way and enjoy very good relations. Polls show the United States is favorably regarded by 78 percent of the Vietnamese population of nearly 100 million. President Obama visited a thrilled Vietnam in May. Eight percent of the foreign students studying in the United States are from Vietnam.

But all is not completely rosy. The foreign policy establishment in Washington, as well as a plethora of civil rights groups, worries about human rights in Vietnam, its authoritarian ways and the treatment of dissidents.

Particularly vexing to those who would like to see Vietnam become a kind of Asian Switzerland, friendly to all and skilled at bringing disputatious parties together, is the treatment of journalists, bloggers and others who are imprisoned when they run afoul of the Vietnamese leadership’s sensitivities. Press freedom is high on the list of reforms the West in general would like to see if Vietnam is to realize the role which it seeks.

For its part, Vietnam would like to see the United States take a stronger stand against China’s virtual annexation of the South China Sea and to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Here, there are real fears that the hostile political climate in the United States will do damage to its relations with Southeast Asia at a critical time.

Still, Vietnam wants ever-closer relations the United States and a bigger diplomatic role in Asia. The feelers are out. 

Llewellyn King is a long-time publisher, editor and columnist and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. This column originated on Inside Sources.


Giving the dictatorships a pass

Why do people defending Edward Snowden and denouncing the National Security Agency seem to have nary a word about the cyber-attacks  and physical threats by the murderous North Korean regime meant to disrupt the showing of a  Sony movie about depraved dictator Kim Jong-un? And why do they say nothing about the cyber-attacks and Internet spying by the milder but  very corrupt and bigger dictatorships Russia and China?


Maybe it's because these hypocrites fear North Korea, China and Russia but don't fear a democratic and infinitely more humane nation like the United States. The double standard remains staggering.


-- Robert Whitcomb




A trio of dubious remarks in the news

  The day is young, but here are most idiotic remarks I was reminded of today on the radio:

American Kenneth Bae "thanking'' his North Korean captors for releasing him when in fact his arrest by the verminous Kim dynasty,  run by mass murderers, torturers and kleptocrats, was yet another outrage by a criminal government.


Apple CEO Tim Cook saying a couple of weeks back that he was "proud'' to be gay. What's there to be proud of anymore than you should be proud of having brown eyes?

Then there's President Obama's' stupid promise that the U.S. would not put in ground troops in Iraq again. For one thing, he has.  (They are officially ''advisers''.) For another, presidents must always make sure our enemies know that  we will act very firmly to protect our interests. And keep 'em guessing on how. Is Obama really as ingenuous as he sometimes seems?


And never, ever tell our enemies that we will do something to them if they do something bad and then don't do it. That's what happened when President Obama told Syria's murderous Assad regime not to  stop using chemical weapons. Obama drew a "red line'' on the issue. Assad then proceeded to murder over a thousand people with poison gas and we did nothing. Obama's credibility has never recovered, and his inaction encouraged other corrupt dictators, most n0tably Vladimir Putin, to do what they get a sort of sexual charge out of doing -- ever expanding their power.


Old Joe Kennedy had a good line: "Never tell anyone to go to hell unless you can send him there.''


-- Robert Whitcomb