Sunday, March 30, 2008

US and North Korea: The problem with hardliners

In an essay published in the Brookings website last month, Georgy Toloraya examines the shifting moods in the US and North Korea surrounding the nuclear crisis and how these shifts foster hardline policy prescriptions on both sides.

Toloraya first looks at the South Korea’s changing approach under the Lee Myung-bak Administration. He questions to what extent will Lee Myung-bak’s more aggressive policies towards the North lead to confrontation. As Toloraya asserts, the North Koreans interpret the “action for action” policy to not only apply to positive moves but for perceived hostile actions as well. In this view, if Washington takes a harder approach, North Korea will respond with a “super-hard” response in kind.

Toloraya also analyzes the reasons why the North refuses to acknowledge the existence of a uranium enrichment program, stating that Pyongyang is waiting for the US to pay the “right price” for this admittance. Tolaraya then examines the progress of economic reforms in the North and concludes that true reform will not occur until their security demands are met.

I admittedly used to be one of those North Korea hardliners.
But after studying this issue for a couple of years now, I am now more in favor of a more nuanced approach that calls for greater patience. However, I am still not above the application of a balanced and well-proportioned coercive diplomacy strategy (if that is what is required). But like Toloraya, I accept that the alternatives to “engagement and small-step tactics” don’t look too good.

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