Obama must throw North Korea a curve ball – a helping US hand
The US can exploit Pyongyang and Kim Jong-un's pride by shelving the nuclear issue for now, engaging in talks, and offering substantial aid and investments that boost North Korea's economy and helps its people 'help themselves.' This can break the cycle of threats and blackmail.
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There is no guarantee that this stepped-up engagement would succeed, and at this point it is impossible to know whether the young Kim would be amenable to such an approach. But it’s worth trying, as it would offer both a way out and an alternative that could provide the legitimacy that Kim needs to remain in power. The international community cannot afford military blackmail and the brandishing of weapons of mass destruction to remain the only instruments for Kim to use to stay in power.Skip to next paragraph
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The young Kim can be led in this new direction, toward his country’s past glory and away from doomsday weapons. One way to achieve this would be for President Obama to propose a summit, with no preconditions, which would include discussing the possibility of such assistance. For security reasons, such a meeting probably would have to be held in a third country – perhaps China.
Using such a summit as a starting point, Washington could also propose a grand bargain under which, as Pyongyang reduces its threat posture, the US would respond in kind by gradually removing its forces based in South Korea, or basing them in parts of Asia further away from the peninsula. There might be reversals along the way, but it would nevertheless create the self-reinforcing de-escalatory dynamics that are necessary to break the impasse and end the vicious circle.
The regime in Pyongyang needs to be weaned off its addiction to ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, and encouraged to try another form of nourishment. Incentives that promise to restore some of the North’s past glory and help reduce its external dependencies would be hard for Kim to ignore, and if successful, would help bolster the legitimacy of his rule with his people.
But Washington must make the first move in that direction, with South Korea, China, and Japan playing a supporting role. Pyongyang doesn’t want to feel boxed in, and the US won’t pull its troops until the North stops threatening the neighborhood. A new model is needed. Creating the proper incentives for Kim Jong-un, giving him an alternative for his legitimacy, is the only way out.
Unless he is a suicidal maniac, Kim will also want to leave a legacy, and he has two examples before him – his father’s complete failure, and the relative successes of his grandfather. Forcing him to choose which example he wants to follow is the way ahead.