Time for leverage not diplomacy

By Arthur I. Cyr, special to The China Post

The sudden death of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Il adds even more uncertainty to the tense and unpredictable surviving totalitarian state. His designated successor, youthful third son Kim Jong Un, has literally no experience at managing or leading anything. Dangers include seizure of power by North Korean army hard-liners, or possibly the total collapse of the economically precarious state. The danger of recommencing the bloody Korean War of 1950-53, never formally concluded by treaty, may now be even greater. Just over a year ago, North Korean artillery bombarded Yeonpyeong Island, controlled by South Korea.

The island lies just south of the maritime boundary dividing the two states, not far from the scenes of the sinking of a South Korean naval corvette in March 2010 and an earlier skirmish between naval gunboats. A special international panel concluded that the corvette was sunk by a North Korean vessel. Pyongyang has denied the charge. Meanwhile, the surviving communist regime in Pyongyang continues to ratchet up the nuclear stakes. U.S. scientist Siegfried Hecker, former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, last year visited North Korea and returned with a disturbing report that new nuclear facilities are being constructed. The Cold War began in Berlin, as disagreements grew between the Soviets and Western allies occupying defeated Germany, but became global with the outbreak of the very costly Korean War. The Truman administration quite properly defended South Korea when North Korea invaded, working through the United Nations. The U.S. Navy redeployed to protect Taiwan from Communist China, and anti-communist alarm became greatly heightened in American and European politics. U.S. President Barack Obama’s instinct is to negotiate, often a welcome change from Bush bluster, but not in this case. Years of diplomatic flexibility toward Pyongyang have yielded nearly nothing beyond limited delay in nuclear development. Instead, Washington should emphasize economic leverage, which is considerable. Beneath military bravado, North Korea experiences ongoing economic crisis. Two years ago, Pyongyang suddenly seized the population’s money, including savings, as part of issuing a new currency. The move was aimed at throttling the steadily expanding unofficial economy, but the result was widespread public protests.