Wednesday, May 26, 2010

More stick, less carrot (Or, Kushibo speaks out on The Sunshine Policy)

Back in April 2009, before the Chonan sinking and before the Great Currency Obliteration of 2009, Joshua Stanton of One Free Korea responded to a query of mine on his website FAQ, about his prescriptions for ending the brutality in North Korea, with a question of his own:
Let’s make this a two-way street: on what basis do you believe that unforced “engagement,” aid, and concessions can alter the behavior or character of North Korea? What do you propose? What history suggests that it might work?
The short answer, of course, is that that's I've never believed in "Sunshine Policy" quite like that. But it did force me to write down my own views on the subject, including the need for "stick" to go along with the "carrot." Below is a slightly edited copy of my response, including links to posts I had not yet written:

I honestly don’t know. Frankly, if everybody could believe in what you’re saying and get on board with it (everybody to include Russia and China, and the UN), then I really do think that could work.

To me what to do about North Korea is an extremely perplexing issue, and I see hypocrisy and indifference on all sides — not just in each country involved, but among the various political blocs in each country. Democrats, for example, should be all over the human rights abuses, while Republicans should be taking advantage of the refugee resettlement laws that Bush-43 pushed, in order to precipitate an East German-style drain of people on the DPRK. But neither side really wants to touch this.

And in South Korea you have the left trying to engage North Korea ("carrot") without any sanctions ("stick"), even when there is no reciprocity or if the DPRK does something bad. In Japan you have a left that maybe thinks the DPRK isn’t really as bad as it’s being propagandized as being, and the right is using the DPRK as an excuse to frighten the public into allowing them to boost up their military. And of course, the far left in Korea (and maybe Japan?) includes a lot of individuals who are on the DPRK payroll or who have swallowed the Kool-Aid of those on the DPRK payroll.

I don’t think then-President Kim Daejung was wrong to engage the North. I think where it went awry is that President Roh gave up any pretense of using stick and Chung Dong-young and others became virtual mouthpieces for the North.

If there are to be things like Kŭmgangsan Resort and Kaesŏng Industrial Complex, you have to be prepared at a moment’s notice to pull the plug on them. Otherwise you’re held hostage to the North. I think such ventures do have their place, but they can’t allow the South’s policy to be held hostage.

So, yeah, I don’t know what the answer is. It’s easy for me to say, "Engage but be ready with that stick," but it’s an entirely different thing to apply it to the actual situation. The North doesn’t lend itself well to being rewarded for good and being punished for bad.

I do believe, though, that engagement is important for showing a human face of the enemy. No matter how much the North tries to demonize the South or the Americans, the food aid and now the daily presence of South Koreans in North Korea — even a hermetically sealed part — engagement erodes that demonization. It may seem laughable today, but prior to democratization in South Korea, kids in the ROK learned that the North Koreans had horns and would kill them just as soon as look at them. The North had learned as bad or worse, but that type of propaganda no longer is capable of packing the same punch. It’s a joke now, even in the North.

I don’t know if engagement will have a desired effect. I think it’s possible that if there were a sufficient shake-up in the ruling apparatus (e.g., the sudden death of the Dear Leader) that certain factions might now be more confident than before that they can work with the South and the US. And when/if the South ever does take administrative control over a collapsed North, the reduced level of demonization will make it easier.

I don’t know if there is a model where this has worked before, but Eastern Europeans were exposed to Western media and ended up wanting that, and the Russians were willing to give it up. Certainly there is much less media influence in North Korea than there was in Eastern Europe, but it may still be valid.

But the truth is, I don’t know. For me the model is kill with kindness, don’t be a doormat, and be ready to smack ‘em down if they get out of line. How’s that for a North Korean policy?

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