The End of Diplomatic Rope-A-Dope

by PETER HUESSY January 4, 2018

The founder of 38 North at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Joel Wit and Suzanne DiMaggio of the New America Foundation, spent two years secretly talking to North Koreans. In the tradition of the New York Times reporter Selig Harrison, they apparently found some moderates in North Korea with whom they could discuss the DPRKs nuclear weapons.

Surprisingly they assert, the leadership in North Korea was perfectly willing to sit down and negotiate with the incoming Trump administration-- despite no official or unofficial diplomatic note to that effect-until the administration's harsh rhetoric ended any possible diplomatic opening.  

They both say the North Koreans were not only alarmed by the rough rhetoric of the new administration but are now not inclined to negotiate with the U.S. for two additional reasons: they think Trump will not be President much longer and if the United States is going to reject the Iran nuclear deal, which the U.S. might, why should North Korea make such a similar deal itself?

The assertions of Suzanne DiMaggio of the New America and Joel Wit of 38North are quite puzzling, in that North Korea has said repeatedly they have no interest in negotiating over their nuclear weapons and did not do so for the eight years of the previous administration, to say nothing of the North's widespread cheating on the 1994 Agreed Framework and their violation of every other nuclear "agreement" or statement the North agreed to.

Could the North instead be trying for a discussion of America's "hostile policy" as part of a strategy to split the U.S. and ROK alliance?

Here much of the American-based analysis of North Korea issues has played right into the North Korean hands, inadvertently appearing to justify the arguments used by the DPRK to support its nuclear and missile programs, and establishing a highly erroneous narrative that may bring about the very armed conflict that worries DiMaggio and Wit.

For example, when the administration says we should modernize our nuclear deterrent--make it more capable as in bombers able to penetrate enemy airspace, subs stealthier and ICBMs more accurate--some media and disarmament advocates were certain the administration was seeking to fight a nuclear war by expanding greatly the American number of nuclear weapons, including going to war against North Korea. The irony is that we do not have to add a single nuclear warhead to our current conventional or nuclear arsenal to destroy the military capability of the DPRK, so such an assertion is absurd.

When the administration said we should never let DPRK get the capability of striking the US homeland with a nuclear weapon on a missile, Wit and 38North were incredulous that the President would say something so "uninformed", implying didn't the administration know the DPRK already had such a missile capability?

This, too, was puzzling in that critics of the administration routinely ridiculed military warnings that the DPRK missile and nuclear threat were both serious. One New York Times' reporter downplayed North Korean capabilities because he believed "military guys always exaggerate the threat." And 38North as well has gone to great lengths to minimize the DPRK missile and nuclear capability.   

Particularly upsetting to Wit and DiMaggio was the comment of the President that a North Korean nuclear attack on the United States would be met with "fire and fury." Note the President is talking about retaliating after an attempted nuclear attack on the United States.

For arguments sake, if we successfully with our missile defenses intercepted such a North Korean missile, would not the American people still be furious? Or would they instead opt to get former IAEA Director-General Hans Blix to write an "angry" letter to the North Korean leader expressing "strong" opposition to such a "provocation?"

And to respond should we as former Senator Zell Miller once said use "slingshots" in response? Or would critics of the administration recommend as Secretary of State Kerry once said, a better alternative, "an unbelievably small pin-prick attack?" Would that make the administration's critics happy? Or would the "fire" of a few well-placed cruise missiles be more appropriate?

Wit and DiMaggio appear to parrot the frequent claims of 38North that the American hostile policy toward North Korea is why the DPRK has nuclear weapons. Almost every media analysis of North Korea's nuclear program echoes just such a claim, as if this North Korean accusation has merit.

But does the U.S. have a hostile policy toward the DPRK? Isn't it the other way around? Does not the DPRK routinely threaten to turn Seoul or New York into a "sea of fire"? Has not the DPRK been making such threats for decades even just recently threatening a pre-emptive nuclear attack on the United States?

Even more strange, DiMaggio and Wit warn the administration that a big "no, no" is to personally insult the North Korean "Dear Leader." Apparently, we are to ignore the DPRK kidnapping, torture and murder of American, ROK and Japanese citizens through terrorist means--most notably killing the wife of the President of ROK, illegally capturing the U.S.S. Pueblo in 1967, blowing up both an American and Japanese airliner, and murdering most of the ROK cabinet in a terror attack in Burma in 1985.

Among the cabinet members killed was Professor Hahm Pyong Choon, my professor when I attended Yonsei University in Seoul, an Ambassador from ROK to the United Nations and the United States, and my dear friend.

In short, while the DPRK has repeatedly attacked the United States and the ROK, "God Forbid" says Wit and DiMaggio, "Let's not get snippy with the dear leader!"

On the other hand, while the North's leadership has routinely blamed the United States for a "hostile policy," when has the United States-since the end of the Korean War-ever appropriately responded to the North's attacks with a punishing counter military strike?

Not once.

And has such a policy of restraint worked?

Some people think so.

For example, former Washington Post writer Walter Pincus in a recent Cyber Brief, says the 1967 capture and release of the American Navy vessel the USS Pueblo proves that diplomacy works with North Korea. But he forgot to tell his readers the North kidnapped our sailors, tortured them, and then at gunpoint forced them to sign false confessions. Then the sailors were released.

Obviously, diplomacy has not worked.

Now Wit and DiMaggio may be arguing we should let the past go and concentrate on solving the nuclear problem now.

But to get anywhere with diplomacy, it would appear the U.S. would have to end its supposed "hostile policy" toward North Korea. After all, Wit and DiMaggio argue, it is the United States that has put the kibosh on talks, not the North.

So, let us for argument sake ask what exactly is meant to change?

The DPRK defines the USA "hostile policy" as having three elements: (1) American troops defending the ROK and Guam, (2) exercising our military forces with South Korea, and (3) our protective nuclear umbrella over the ROK and Japan.

It is this hostile policy, says the DPRK, which explains why they, the DPRK, must have nuclear weapons.

As opposed, of course, to the more logical explanation, which is the North knows that American forces in the ROK prevent the North from using military force to reunify the Korean peninsula under DPRK control. That is why they want talks to focus on removing American forces from the South.

It is therefore logical to believe that any "talks" with the North, if not about denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, would really be an endless discussion of America's so-called hostile policy, which would quickly degenerate into demands by the North about the withdrawal of American forces from the ROK and Guam. Not far behind would be discussions over a subsequent withdrawal of our nuclear umbrella as well over our Japanese and ROK allies.

What Whit and DiMaggio appear to be missing is that such withdrawals are exactly North Korea and China's strategic objective, a plan to drive the United States out of the Pacific, a kind of revived Imperial Japanese Co-Prosperity Sphere Plan, 2nd Edition. All part of the 100-year hegemonic goal adopted by the Chinese some years ago as detailed in Michael Pillsbury's "The 100 Year Marathon" which would include a North Korean invasion of the ROK to reunify the peninsula under North Korean rule.

Now the Administration has said "talks" with the DPRK have not been productive in the past, and indeed such talks have not been productive. But while the administration has also said about such talks, "why not try again", they have been clear the terms of such a deal have to change.  

Wit himself appears to concur with such a change in objectives because he does describe previous administration policy as "a big mistake."

In my view, this is what upsets administration critics because changing the nature of any deal with the DPRK implies that previous frameworks sought by past administrations have been in error.

If the new administration is serious about changing the terms of any deal with North Korea, it will have to overcome the conventional wisdom that makes four false points.

First, as does 38North, Wit and DiMaggio warn the U.S. administration about the futility of ratcheting up the economic and military pressure on North Korea.

For example, they say sanctions won't work against the North, even quoting Russian President Putin saying the DPRK "will eat grass" first before they give up their nuclear weapons.  

Second, what about getting the Chinese to help? Wit and DiMaggio as well as 38North say the Chinese can't help because they have limited influence over the DPRK. (Does the U.S. have more?)

Thus, says 38North, we cannot blame the Chinese because while the Chinese really oppose the DPRK nuclear program, they simply cannot sufficiently influence North Korean regime policy.

What is strange is not that 38North holds these views, conventional as they are and widely held. What makes little sense is why, for example, Wit and DiMaggio along with 38North ignore the evidence from both former USAF Secretary Tom Reed's book, "The Nuclear Express" and from open Hill testimony that the Chinese funded and supported the DPRK nuclear and missile programs through a consortium of 15 Chinese banks.

To say nothing of the "Nuclear ‘R Us" Khan network in Pakistan that China facilitated that helped produce the DPRK nuclear program. And to say nothing of the parallel assistance from Russia to North Korea as well, about which Wit and DiMaggio are largely silent.

Third, well, if sanctions cannot work, what about using the threat of potential military power against the DPRK? Would not that bring the DRK to the table?

Well here Wit and DiMaggio straighten us out quickly, getting us what 38North describes as the "real facts" about North Korea. There are no military options for the ROK or the USA against the North or any element of the DPRK military force we are told, so military options are off the table for the United States. Threatened military force doesn't work either, because it just makes the North Korean regime tougher to deal with.  

To sum things up according to Wit and DiMaggio four things are true: (1) sanctions against North Korea won't work; (2) China has but limited "juice" with North Korea; (3) American military options against North Korea do not exist; and (4) the North Koreans are justified in their fear of a U.S. "hostile policy."

But this liberal left-wing conventional wisdom is largely false.

What if by making such arguments, we give North Korea a kind of "get out of jail free card," while also letting the Chinese and Russians off the hook as well?  

First, it signals the DPRK leadership that their military forces are in and will remain in a sanctuary free from attack of any kind. On the other hand, we have warned that should the USA attack North Korea, then of course the DPRK does have credible military options--such as thousands of artillery tubes letting lose on Seoul and turning the ROK capitol into, yes, a "sea of fire."

Second, if the Chinese sanctions don't work there is no reason to fear the United States might in fact put in force sanctions worthy of the name and get serious about taking down the DPRK nuclear forces.

Third, it foolishly convinces us that the Chinese are really on the side of the angels, opposing as they (supposedly) do the North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Fourth, it writes the North's talking points for them, endlessly repeating the charge that it is the United States "hostile policy", rather than North Korean hostile designs on the ROK, that fuels the North Korean nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

Fifth, this plays into the hands of the North Korean regime in other ways as well. A parallel narrative is that we attacked Libya and Iraq only because they gave up their nuclear programs. Therefore, this logic supposes that if the North gives up its nuclear weapons, the United States will subsequently attack the DPRK as well.

Because this argument is repeated ad nauseum by leftist American policy makers and American media sources, the North Koreans feel no compulsion to give up their nuclear weapons, nor their hollow arguments for keeping them. With supporters like Wit and DiMaggio, why should they?  

To be historically accurate, however, neither Iraq nor Libya had nuclear weapons. They had nascent nuclear programs and in the case of Iraq in 1991, were within months of having a nuclear weapon.

In 2003, we liberated Iraq believing it did have an active biological-chemical WMD capability. Both the UN and the US Congress through 23 UNSC resolutions and US legislation, affirmed that Iraq should be forced to abide by international rules and if Iraq did not, the use of military force was fully justified because they apparently had WMD programs, not because they had given them up.

Similarly, Gadhafi surrendered his nuclear technology after the Iraqi military was defeated and after he saw Saddam Hussein being hauled out of his "Spider Hole". Gadhafi saw having nuclear weapons [in the hands of a rogue and reckless regime] not as a guarantee against attack but a likely guarantee that he would be attacked, precisely the opposite formulation of Wit and DiMaggio. 

Given that an endless round of diplomatic "rope-a-dope" has not eliminated the DPRK nuclear program to date, what evidence do we have that more of the same will have a different result?

Dr. Kissinger said in 1979 that "diplomacy without the threat of force" is without effect and prayer. So where is the military leverage for the United States to secure an end to nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula?

38North and their media allies, in their eagerness to criticize the administration, says the United States has none. The narrative they have adopted will, perhaps not by design, but nevertheless take China off the hook, largely blame the nuclear crisis on the United States, and through the backdoor, justify the North Korean nuclear program as based on America's hostile policy and bad rhetoric.

If this kind of analysis dominates U.S. policy toward North Korea, the result will be predictable. The DPRK will build more missiles and more nuclear weapons, and build an even stronger umbrella under which it commits more mayhem and aggression, including helping its partners in Iran, Russia and China do the same.

Our UN Ambassador has correctly weighed in with the reasonable position that if we are going to talk with North Korea, the discussion must be about the elimination of the North's nuclear weapons and about what real moves the North makes in that direction now, not at some indeterminate time in the future.

Diplomatic rope-a-dope may make the diplomacy-only people in Washington happy, but in Pyongyang it only leads to more bombs-nuclear ones.   

Peter R. Huessy is Director for Strategic Deterrent Studies at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies as well as President of Geostrategic Analysis, a defense consulting firm he founded in 1981. He is also a guest lecturer on nuclear deterrent policy at the U.S. Naval Academy and formerly Senior Fellow in National Security at the American Foreign Policy Council and JINSA.

 


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