Why North Korea and the United States are Near War
Why North Korea and the United States are Near War
September 5, 2017
- You might have heard that North Korea and the United States are not getting along. We mock their lack of electricity, they threaten to annihilate us with thermonuclear weapons, that sort of thing.
But why are we enemies?
I’ll sort it all out for you here.
Obviously the largest source of friction is that the United States and North Korea want very different things. And those different things are mutually exclusive. For example, we want to avoid nuclear war and they. . . okay, they also want to avoid nuclear war. But on most other issues, we want different things.
For example, North Korea doesn’t want the U.S. to invade their country. The United States, on the other hand, wants to invade North Korea about as much as we want rabid porcupines shoved up our asses. I guess you could say we’re on the same page on that too. But that’s only two points of agreement in this whole mess. You have to look at the big picture.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wants to establish himself as a credible nuclear power, partly for defense, and partly as a vehicle for national pride. So far, they have succeeded on the national pride part. The United States wishes they had not, but we agree it was an impressive achievement. So we’re on the same page about the national pride. They earned it.
Where we differ is that the United States and its ally, South Korea, would like to see a unified Korean peninsula someday, but we realize there is no-way-in-hell it can happen in our lifetimes. North Korea, on the other hand, wants to see a unified Korean peninsula someday, but they realize there is no-way-in-hell it can happen in their lifetimes. If you strip away the magical thinking and hard-wishing, we’re of the same opinion on unification: Nice, but not gonna happen while we’re alive.
Okay, okay, we’re mostly on the same page about all of the stuff I mentioned so far. But consider that North Korea would like to feed its people and grow its economy. The United States would like for them to do that too, so long as they leave us alone. Okay, I guess we’re on the same page there too.
The biggest problem the United States has with North Korea is that Kim Jong Un wants to avoid being killed or deposed and we don’t give a shit about him one way or another so long as he leaves us alone. So I guess we aren’t too far apart on that either, unless we want to be total dicks about it and kill him just for fun.
One of the biggest sticking points is that the United States has massive military assets in South Korea. North Korea doesn’t like that. Contrast that opinion to the normal citizen in the United States who doesn’t understand why-the-hell we have even one soldier in South Korea. What is the point of it? Are we preparing for the big push to conquer China? (Probably not.) Is South Korea unable to deter an attack from the North? (Not as long as they can afford American weapons systems, and the U.S. still has a navy.) So I guess Kim Jong Un and American voters are mostly on the same side about our presence in South Korea. We all understand that American military presence in South Korea once had a purpose, but not so much in 2017.
I confess to being under-informed about the situation with North Korea, but it seems to me that the issue boils down to magical thinking about future unification. North Korea wants to be on the winning side of any unification and so does South Korea. The problem is that no one knows how both sides could be the winners.
Except for me. This is right in my wheelhouse.
Let me reframe this for you. I won’t change any of the data, just the filter you apply to it.
The situation in North Korea involves a number of what I’d call “real” problems, such as the very real risk of nuclear war, and the very real artillery batteries in North Korea pointed at South Korea. When your security risks are the “real” kind, you hire an experienced military person to deal with it. General Mattis seems to have a good handle on the “real” risks.
Now let’s talk about the stuff that isn’t “real” in any physical sense. The first issue is North Korean national pride. I’m sure any negotiated settlement could keep that intact. For example, having direct talks with the United States would be a point of honor. And one can imagine a negotiated agreement that lets them keep nuclear power for energy while not building any ICBMs. Everyone’s pride stays intact.
But what about all the magical thinking about unification? That requires a magical-thinking solution. That’s where I come in. As a trained persuader, I have a suggested solution. I call it the hundred-year-plan for unification. Both sides would simply agree to work out the details over the next hundred years. The details might include loosening travel, establishing trade, eventual amnesty for leaders, that sort of thing. That way, both sides could claim victory. The victory would be in the imagination of both sides, not in the real world. But it still works, because a change in imagination is all you need to cure magical thinking. And unification in our lifetimes is, for all practical purposes, just magical thinking.
For more details on my 100-year-plan for Korean unification, see this blog post.
For my regular readers, recall that a year ago I was one of the few voices saying Kim Jong Un was rational while most pundits and “experts” were saying he was a total nut job. Today, most “experts” have evolved to my view that Kim Jong Un is a rational player.
Recall also that in 2015 I was one of the first public voices to proclaim candidate Trump was far more than the “clown” the public and pundits widely believed him to be. I mention both cases to bolster my credibility.
In summary, if you have “real” security problems, call General Mattis. But if your problems are in the realm of imagination and magical thinking, call a Master Persuader.
Better yet, elect him president.
You’re in better hands than you know.
That doesn’t mean everything will turn out well with North Korea, but it does mean you have the right team in place for the first time, capable of managing both the “real” and the imaginary dimensions. And in Kim Jong Un I suspect we have a negotiating partner who understands all dimensions.
We are closer to war with North Korea than at any time in recent memory. But we are also closer than we have ever been to a permanent solution. My optimism about North Korea is that for the first time in history we have players on the field who understand the nature of the problem as partly real and partly imaginary, and they have the tools to deal with all of it. I don’t think we’ve had the right people on the job until now.
Have you noticed that our Insulter-in-Chief has been going easy on Kim Jong Un in the verbal sparring? President Trump has been downright respectful.
It isn’t an accident.
My startup’s app, Approach by WhenHub, is helping hurricane Harvey families and emergency responders in the area locate each other. Our analytics show the app picking up popularity in the flood zone.