The Logic in North Korean ‘Madness’

North Korea’s nuclear deterrent is a logical – not crazy – reaction to U.S. “regime change” wars in Iraq and Libya, two countries attacked after they surrendered their WMD stockpiles, reports retired Col. Ann Wright.

By Ann Wright

Despite the rhetoric from the Trump administration about military confrontation with North Korea, the common theme of many U.S. experts on North Korea is that the U.S. presidential administration must conduct a dialogue with North Korea — and quickly. Military confrontation is not an option, according to the experts.

And most importantly, the new President of South Korea Moon Jae-in was elected in May 2017 on a pledge to engage in talks with North Korea and pursue diplomacy to finally officially end the Korean conflict. Nearly 80 percent of South Koreans support a resumption of long-suspended inter-Korean dialogue, according to a survey by a presidential advisory panel showed in late June.

On June 28, 2017, six former high-level experienced U.S. government officials from both Republican and Democratic administrations over the past 30 years sent a letter to President Trump stating that “Kim Jong Un is not irrational and highly values preserving his regime. … Talking is not a reward or a concession to Pyongyang and should not be construed as signaling acceptance of a nuclear-armed North Korea. It is a necessary step to establishing communication to avoid a nuclear catastrophe. The key danger today is not that North Korea would launch a surprise nuclear attack. Instead the primary danger is a miscalculation or mistake that could lead to war.”

The experts:

–William J. Perry, 19th U.S. Secretary of Defense under the Clinton administration,

–George P. Shultz, 60th Secretary of State under the Reagan administration and now Distinguished Fellow, Hoover institution, Stanford University,

–Former Gov. Bill Richardson, U.S. Secretary of Energy and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under the Clinton administration,

–Robert L. Gallucci, former negotiator in the Clinton administration and now with Georgetown University,

–Sigfrid S. Hecker, nuclear weapons expert and the last U.S. official to visit the North Korea nuclear facilities and now with the Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University,

— Retired U.S. Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Indiana, now President of the Lugar Center,

They wrote: “there are no good military options, and a North Korean response to a US attack would devastate South Korea and Japan. Tightening sanctions can be useful in increasing pressure on North Korea, but sanctions alone will not solve the problem. Pyongyang has shown that it can make progress on missile and nuclear technology despite its isolation. Without a diplomatic effort to stop its progress, there is little doubt that it will develop a long-range missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to the United States.”

The experts ended their letter to President Trump calling for quick action: “Today there is a window of opportunity to stop these programs, and it may be the last chance before North Korea acquires long-range capability. Time is not on our side. We urge you to put diplomacy at the top of the list of options on the table.”

Off Ramps to War

Two weeks earlier, on June 13, former Secretary of Defense William Perry and University of Chicago Korean War historian Bruce Cumings both strongly advocated for dialogue with North Korea at the Korean Peace Network’s conference “Off Ramps to War” at the Partnerships for International Strategies in Asia, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University in Washington, DC.

“North Korean leadership may be ruthless and reckless, but they are not crazy,” Perry said, adding, “Why do we have a double standard for North Korea? We accept Saudi Arabia as it is with its human rights violations, but we do not accept North Korea as it is – a nuclear power. Refusing to listen to the North Koreans about their goals and needs has meant that in the seventeen years since the last relevant dialogue, the North Koreans have developed and tested nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles.”

President George W. Bush’s naming North Korea as part of the “Axis of Evil” in January 2002 and the Obama administration’s “Strategic Patience” policy were not forms of diplomacy, but instead were “miserable policy failures,” according to Perry, who noted that the lack of a U.S. negotiating strategy has allowed North Korea to do what the U.S. and other major powers do not want it to do — test nuclear weapons and missiles.

Perry said that the North Korean government has three goals: staying in power; gaining international respect; and improving the economy. Perry emphasized that the North Korean government will sacrifice the last two goals — gaining international respect and improving the economy — to achieve the first goal of staying in power.

Because of the lack of listening to and acknowledging North Korean objectives on what its goals are — which include signing a peace treaty to take the place of the 50-plus-year armistice, signing a non-aggression pact, and reducing U.S.-South Korean military war games — Perry believes that the best outcome available to negotiators is to freeze the nuclear weapons and the ICBM programs, not their elimination.

Perry said he believes North Koreans would never use nuclear weapons as those weapons “are valuable only if they DON’T use them. They know the response from the U.S. would be devastating, should North Korea explode a nuclear weapon.”

Bruce Cumings, Korean War historian, author of The Korean War: A History and University of Chicago history professor, said at the symposium that the Clinton administration achieved very important goals with North Korea, including “North Korea freezing its plutonium production for eight years (1994–2002) and, in October 2000, indirectly working out a deal to buy all of North Korea’s medium and long-range missiles — and signing an agreement with North Korean General Jo Myong-rok in a meeting in the White House stating that neither country would bear ‘hostile intent’ toward the other.”

Neocon Truculence

But the George W. Bush administration — led by Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Undersecretary of State John Bolton — “actively sought to torpedo the Agreed Framework” and succeeded in pushing aside the agreements negotiated by the Clinton administration thereby destroying the 1994 freeze and refusing to acknowledge the Clinton-Jo pledge of “no hostile intent,” particularly since the pledge was made by allowing a North Korean general inside the White House.

With President Bush’s January 2002 State of the Union speech, in which he linked North Korea to Iran and Iraq as an “axis of evil,” the Bush administration turned its back on North Korea, abrogating the “Agreed Framework” and halting shipments of American fuel-oil permanently. In response, the North Koreans withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and restarted their plutonium-producing reactor.

Historian Cumings wrote, “The simple fact is that Pyongyang would have no nuclear weapons if Clinton’s agreements had been sustained.”

Sheldon Richman, executive editor of The Libertarian Institute and the former senior editor at the Cato Institute, agreed with Perry that North Korean leader Kim Jung Un is not crazy. Richman wrote, “Let us dispense, once and for all, with the idea that Kim is a madman. Brutality is not madness, and a madman wouldn’t be expected to capitulate to economic pressure. He shows every sign of wanting his regime to endure, which means he would not want the US military or nuclear arsenal to pulverize it. Assuming rationality in this context asserts only that Kim’s means are reasonably related to his ends.”

Richman underscored the rationale for the North Korean government to develop nuclear weapons against the will of the U.S. “Kim shows every sign of having learned the lesson of recent US regime-change policies toward Iraq and Libya, neither of which were nuclear states. Same with Syria, whose regime has been targeted by the U.S. government. The lesson is: if you want to deter a U.S. attack, get yourself some nukes.”

Robert E. Kelly, Associate Professor of International Relations in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University, wrote, “This is not a suicidal, ideological, ISIS-like state bent on apocalyptic war but rather a post-ideological gangter-ish dictatorship looking to survive. The best way to guarantee the North’s survival is nuclear deterrence. … It is a rational decision, given Pyongyang’s goals to, 1) not change internally, and 2) not be attacked externally. This is not ideal of course. Best would be a de-nuclearized North Korea. But this is highly unlikely at this point.”

Backchannel Contacts

Track 2 Diplomacy with North Korea continues Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported recently that Robert Gallucci and Leon Sigal, director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council, held nuclear and missile discussions in October 2016 with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Han Song-ryol in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The North Korean envoy said North Korea had relayed its desire to negotiate directly with the U.S without involving China, to whom 90 percent of its exports go.

Another Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun wrote that North Korea originally demanded Washington send to North Korea a former U.S. President as a special envoy to resolve the case of Otto Warmbier, an American student who recently died after detention in North Korea.

According to the newspaper, Choe Son-hui, head of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s U.S. affairs bureau, notified the U.S. through its United Nations mission in May 2017. But North Korea released Warmbier in a coma after Trump refused to send a former President and sent Joseph Yun, State Department Special Representative for North Korea Policy to North Korea instead.

Another Track 2 group met with a North Korean delegation in early June 2017. Sue Mi Terry, a Korea expert who has worked at both the CIA and the National Security Council and now is with the Bower Group Asia spoke on June 28 to National Public Radio about meeting with North Korea officials to try to get nuclear talks back on track.

Terry said that to North Koreans, their nuclear arsenal “is a matter of survival. North Koreans have told us even in the recent meeting – and they’ve specifically brought up Libya – Gaddafi’s case in Libya and Iraq – and said this is – nuclear weapons is the only way for us to absolutely guarantee our survival, and this is why we’re not going to give it up. We’re so close to perfecting this nuclear arsenal. This is our final deterrent against the United States. Ultimately it’s about regime survival for them, and nuclear weapons guarantees it.”

Terry said the North Koreans demand that the United States accept them as a nuclear power and there is  “absolutely no flexibility or willingness to meet to talk about ending their nuclear program.” In contrast to other experts, Terry believes it is “unrealistic for us (the U.S.) to go from where we are to talk about peace treaty and discuss formally ending the Korean War.”

She believes the solution is “continuing with maximum pressure with sanctions and trying to get China to do more. And if China does not come through, then we’ll have to pursue secondary sanctions against Chinese banks and entities and see if that can get China to rein in North Korea a little bit more.”

Ann Wright served 29 years in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel.  She was a U.S. diplomat for 16 years and served in U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia.  She resigned from the U.S. government in March 2003 in opposition to Bush’s war on Iraq.  She is the co-author of Dissent: Voices of Conscience.




The Paradox of Tolerance/Intolerance

The issue of “tolerance” can be complicated, even paradoxical, such as extending tolerance to intolerance with the possibility that the intolerance will ultimately eliminate tolerance, explains Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

In case you haven’t noticed, the United States is a country deeply divided on a large number of basic issues: racial issues, gender issues, issues of sexual preference, the role of government in society, the role of religious views in shaping laws, and so on. Influential Institutions, such as media outlets, are being labeled as “left” or “right” depending on how they report or relate on these issues.

Battles now rage on these topics in the halls of Congress. Finally, the Supreme Court’s legal decisions on cases that reflect these questions have been trending toward the “conservative” end of the spectrum. All of this makes it quite difficult to have a meaningful discussion or debate about such issues in the public realm. Such attempts have often led to further divisiveness instead of reconciliation – reflecting what some might describe as an ongoing culture war.

The one place where thoughtful debates are usually encouraged is on the university and colleges campuses. This is particularly so in the “humanities” and “social sciences” classrooms, where you find courses in history, English, foreign languages, sociology, anthropology, political science and the like. Such areas of study draw on diverse source material and examples. And so, running against the popular grain, so to speak, divisive issues often become legitimate aspects of study.

This process of study and discussion concerning controversial topics has been going on at U.S. campuses at least since the end of World War II. By the 1970s clear preferences as to how these issues should be thought about appeared. And, they consistently agreed with a tolerant stand that maximized the virtues of equality and social justice. It should come as no surprise that faculty in these areas are usually left of center on the political spectrum.

Thus, the campus consensus is that while an individual can privately feel as he or she likes about topics such as homosexuality or racial integration, and can choose their social circle accordingly, it is wrong to publicly act in an overtly discriminatory way. Until recently the courts have agreed with this position, but now things appear to be changing.

Such a trend in the direction of public intolerance has begun to isolate the campus environment while at the same time denigrating the tolerant position as “political correctness” — as if being correct and thus legitimate, appropriate and proper was a failing.

A Republican Attack on the University

This process of isolating one of the staunchest bastions of active public tolerance has recently been highlighted by a new (July 2017) report of the Pew Research Center entitled Sharp Partisan Divisions In Views of National Institutions.

According to the report, there has been “a dramatic attitude shift on higher education among Republicans and people who lean Republican.” It would seem that “Republicans have soured on higher education, with more than half [a reported 58 percent of them] now saying that colleges have a negative impact on the United States.”

The more conservative the Republican respondent described him- or herself, the more likely they are to have a negative view of higher educational institutions. This compares with 72 percent of Democrats who saw the contribution of colleges on society as positive. Of course, Democrats now have problems getting elected.

There is a link between those who hold a negative view of institutions of higher learning and those who confine themselves to watching or listening to the country’s right-wing media.

As it turns out, “Virtually every day Fox News, Breitbart and other conservative outlets run critical articles about free speech disputes on college campuses, typically with coverage focused on the perceived liberal orthodoxy and political correctness in higher education.” Now consider that Fox News is the most popular news (or shall we say, alleged news) show on U.S. television.

The success of right-wing news and other media is a good example of viewers practicing, perhaps unconsciously, confirmation bias. The criterion for the information you seek out is not accuracy or truth, but rather its ability to confirm an outlook you already hold.

Of course, one does not have to be right-wing to play this particular game but, ultimately it makes a difference if you are among the intolerant. Intolerant worldviews are closed systems. Once you have committed to them you have put on blinkers and become one of the faithful — no more debates, no more discussions, no more broadmindedness, no more tolerance. People without your blinkers start to appear as dangerous, heretical, unpatriotic. You are now bound to a “group think” that is starkly undemocratic.

Poisonous Sour Grapes

As intolerance under the leadership of Republicans and neo-Republicans (Trump, Bannon, Tea Party types, etc.) becomes more widespread, those institutions that value tolerance come under pressure. This sometimes comes from right-wing media, sometimes from special interest donors and lobbyists, and sometimes, in the case of college and universities, from pockets of students (both right and left) who have decided that some outlooks are so unacceptable that they must be silenced. Whenever reasonable this last action should be avoided.

If you don’t like what campus speakers stand for or say, one’s default position should not be to shut them down, but rather to use their presence as a teaching moment: here is how not to build a healthy society. However, in the midst of a culture war, the tolerant may ultimately find themselves painted into a corner.

We can legitimately ask how far the Republican Right is willing to push their campaign of intolerance against tolerant college campuses. Having lost the open campus debates on an array of divisive issues, they now react with a poisonous version of sour grapes. They declare that “colleges have a negative impact on the United States.”

If they take this charge to Congress or to the courts, we may come to a point where tolerance of extreme intolerance is no longer reasonable. Given that level of threat we should all be aware of Karl Popper’s description of the paradox of tolerance: “unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”

This is the dilemma that is forced upon us when war — in this case a culture war — takes over the public mind. The space for tolerance shrinks and it is the barbarians among us who start to define the rules of social interaction.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism. He blogs at www.tothepointanalyses.com.