North Korea is playing nice with South Korea lately as they coordinate joint participation in the Olympics. But don’t get too excited about that niceness because it is a wedge strategy to separate South Korea from the United States in our unified position against North Korean nukes. Still, talking feels like a positive step compared to the alternatives.
The big issue, as we all know, is that North Korea wants nuclear weapons and most of the rest of the world, especially the United States, is unwilling to live with that. Hence the economic sanctions.
So what would a solution to this stalemate look like?
For starters, you need a solution in which both sides seem to have won something. The alternative involves squeezing their economy until we choke it out, and that’s the current default path. The problem with that approach is that it risks pushing them to a war of desperation, and while we wait for that horror, millions of innocents will starve. The United States will come out on top eventually, but not at a cost we can be happy about. So allow me to suggest a winning option for all involved. I call it the Switzerland of the East plan.
Kim Jong Un went to school in Switzerland. He knows it as a country that gets just about everything right and does it without a traditional army. Is Switzerland safe from attack? Yup. Safer than just about any other country. Their famed neutrality is like a psychological army that costs nothing. No one has a reason to attack them, and everyone knows they won’t cause trouble.
Now, who would you rather be — a European country paying for a standing army, always worried about attack — or a country that is enjoying its neutrality while skiing and enjoying hot chocolate? I would argue that the Switzerland model is more stable and more respectable than any competing model, including the United States. And that gives North Korea a winning end state. They can, if they choose to pivot, become Switzerland of the East.
If North Korea traded away it’s offensive nuclear capabilities in return for a UN designation declaring them a neutral country, they could have the protection of China, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. Collectively, we would become North Korea’s free military while they prosper. Under this plan, the United States would draw down its military assets in South Korea as well.
On top of such a plan, I have previously suggested creating a 100-year roadmap for Korean unification. The reason for such a long time frame is that it takes pressure off of the living. The next generation would need to close the deal, and that gives lots of time for confidence steps along the way. The Olympic coordination is a confidence step. Increasing travel is another. Then trade, communications, etc. No need to rush.
The key to this plan is that it gives North Korea not just a winning path, but the most winning path any leader ever took. It would lead to a Nobel Peace Prize for sure, shared by other leaders, I assume. And it would give North Korea a BETTER outcome than the one they are currently aiming for. At the moment, their greatest realistic ambition is to survive. Becoming Switzerland of the East is better than that. Way better. So much better it can hardly be compared. One thing we know about Kim Jong Un is that he likes sports and he likes winning. If he pivoted to become Switzerland of the East, he’d win harder than any leader ever won anything.
And the rest of the world would win too.
North Korea would still need a functioning economy that didn’t depend on smuggling arms and other illegal stuff. But the world would gladly help them rebuild. I can see North Korea as a sort of Las Vegas model, where laws about personal behavior are lax and the money flows.
The United States and North Korea are engaging in a psychological war right now. And for the first time in history it is a fair fight. President Trump understands the mental game like no president before him. And Kim Jong Un appears to have a similar toolset. Never have we had such a perfect setup for peace. There is a win here for both leaders, and a win of historic proportions.
North Korea surely holds no hope of conquering South Korea or destroying the United States with fire and malice, despite their colorful rhetoric. Two years ago it was popular to believe Kim Jong Un was nuts. Now we see him as rational and clever. He’ll recognize a better deal when he sees it. And becoming Switzerland of the East could be the best deal any country ever had.
It’s time for some winning all around.