While temporarily buried under the Christmas cheer and holiday mood, Reuters recently published a story concerning the growing turmoil on the Korean peninsula. On top of threats to wage a “sacred war” against the South, Pyongyang hints at the possibility of a third nuclear test.
Indeed, the North’s first nuclear test was carried out under the ‘watchful eye’ of the Bush administration in 2006 while the second was carried out in May of last year. Hints for a third nuclear test follow flagrant acts of aggression including, but not limited to, the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel and the shelling of a contested territory, Yeonpyeong island. What foreign policy analysts must struggle with is the question; how did things become so unstable on the Korean peninsula? When observing a time line of events, the answer becomes simple, appeasement. North Korea initiates force against the South because it can.
Despite being branded as a member of the ‘Axis of Evil’, under the Bush administration, North Korea still managed to develop and conduct tests on their ballistic missile and nuclear programs respectively. In the waning days of the Bush presidency, the administration responded by lifting economic sanctions and removing them from the list of states that sponsor terrorism. It wasn’t long after Obama was sworn in that Pyongyang conducted more missile tests and furthered development of its nuclear program. Granted, Pyongyang did release two imprisoned American journalists sentenced to twelve years hard labor: Only, after former President Bill Clinton agreed to appear on regime controlled television networks with Kim Jong-il.
By acting more aggressively, by behaving more brazenly, North Korea is simply demonstrating the mockery of U.S. foreign policy. After all, they are no longer a member of the ‘Axis of Evil’ nor has the language against North Korea been followed equally by action. In fact, while South Korean forces conducted live-fire exercises, Bill Richardson convinced Pyongyang to sell 12,000 of their fuel rods that would conceivably be used for uranium enrichment. The North Koreans did not surrender their fuel rods, they did not relinquish them for fear of reprisal, they sold them. Is this the manner in which free, or quasi-free, countries, like the United States, should reciprocate with militaristic, rights violating regimes like North Korea? Certainly, one may argue that Kim Jong-il is simply paving the way for his son, Kim Jong-un, to assume power in the relatively near future.
This argument however, neglects an essential principle in understanding totalitarian regimes. Once their power has been established and solidified within their own borders, dictators have a tendency to calibrate their own power abroad, typically by acting aggressively. In a superb article written by Yaron Brook and Alex Epstein, they detail the chain of events that eventually lead to World War II in Europe. They characterize Adolf Hitler’s behavior as such:
Hitler, who had stated publicly his intentions for domination of Europe and the world, was an objective threat to his neighbors. He was a threat as soon as he came to power, and then increasingly so as he built up a military, explicitly rejecting existing treaties with England and France. Yet these nations took no military action against his regime. Then Germany annexed Austria, and was met with no military response. When Nazi troops occupied the Rhineland (a disputed area on the border with France), they were given a pass. When Hitler asked the European leaders to hand him the free state of Czechoslovakia, they did. It took the invasion of Poland to prompt the European nations to take military action against the Nazis. They practiced war as a “last resort”; and we know the result.
The question remains: Does this sound like anything the North Korean regime has done, particularly in the past several months? Pyongyang has steadily increased the aggression in their actions and they have done so largely because they feel they can get away with it. The lack of any significant repercussions is parallel in logic to giving cookies to a schoolboy for being an exceptional bully. Pyongyang senses weakness in the resolve of Western powers, like the United States, to defend its interests. It’s a wonder why South Korea never retaliated after the deliberate sinking of their own warship, much less the island that was shelled by the North’s artillery. It’s worth speculating whether the United States is keeping South Korea on a tight leash. Pyongyang’s actions are only a sample of what to expect when free countries elect impotent leaders, like Bush, but more so Obama.
President Obama was devastatingly silent when Iranian protesters were beaten and shot in the streets of Tehran following the controversial elections. He was more than delighted when Hugo Chavez, soon to be dictator, gave the President a copy of “Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent”, a virulently anti-American, anti-Capitalist novel. Nothing said it like the bow before the King of Saudi Arabia; the ruler of one of many oppressive regimes in the Middle East and quite generous financier of schools for Wahhabi thought.
All of this depicts a President who is either incredibly naive about foreign politics or given his collectivist, statist tendencies, simply has no qualms associating with other dictators. Simultaneously, he alienates other rights respecting people and governments but that’s nothing new for this President. His predecessor George W. Bush, while not so anti-American in sentiment, did commit some of the same moral crimes this President has. Bush did indeed beg the corrupt bureaucrats of the United Nations permission for America to defend herself, and he did a fine job squeezing American troops into two meat grinders. Quagmires on two fronts all in the name of ’stability’ or ’democracy’ but nothing to do with a civilized nation’s inherent right to self-defense. After all, it was Bush who cleansed North Korea of its membership in the “Axis of Evil”.
In the past several years, particularly following September 11th, the world has seen the world’s greatest superpower, and the last best hope on Earth, begin to deteriorate. When the United States must ask permission and apologize for defending itself, aggressive regimes, like North Korea act. Pyongyang saw an opening and, unsurprisingly, they exploited the opportunity found in America’s weakness. What keeps states like North Korea contained are countries and leaders who maintain the moral clarity of defending their citizens and their respective rights. When civilized nations adulterate that clarity, objective threats grow in power. If the United States ever hopes to bring real peace and stability, it must never apologize for defending itself in a principled manner. It must also allow states, like South Korea, to defend themselves and the rights of their citizens as well.
Cartoon by www.coxandforkum.com