- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2009



Reconciling with the Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea is a worthwhile activity if it truly desires to become a respected member of the international community as a non-nuclear weapons state.

Despite its rhetoric, Pyongyang is not committed to this goal. On Jan. 20, newly inaugurated President Barack Obama offered America’s open hand of friendship to foreign governments if they “are willing to unclench [their] fist.” North Korea has spurned this offer. On Jan. 29, North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea reportedly announced it was “scrapping all political and military agreements” with South Korea, including a nonaggression pact.

Pyongyang’s threat could be a blessing in disguise, as it reveals important truth. If Pyongyang won’t live in peace with Seoul, it won’t with Washington either. Thus, we should finally acknowledge that North Korea presents enduring challenges to U.S. national interests that require a more comprehensive strategy. Pyongyang also presents enduring challenges to the national interests of two U.S. allies: South Korea and Japan.

Moreover, Pyongyang’s system of governance perpetuates other sources of tension, including economic failure and a steady assault on its people’s unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. North Koreans live in constant fear of betrayal and punishment. This is true even of oppressors who may do so to avoid persecution. Suffering North Korean people resemble the proverbial canary in the mine. The North Korean system is the poison. A government that brutalizes its citizens will do the same to its neighbors, including two U.S. treaty allies.

Enough is enough with North Korea.

We Americans and other civilized people should no longer ignore North Korea’s challenges. The time has come for a patient, nonviolent strategy to facilitate the peaceful unification of Korea with a government that truly respects the dignity of its citizens and is committed to living in peace with its neighbors. Ideally, a unified Korean government will comprise South and North Koreans with such goals.

The United States and South Korea should adjust their alliance not only to achieve mutual interests around the world, but also to achieve the peaceful unification of Korea. Having agreed on this strategic imperative, Washington and Seoul should craft a strategy to achieve it peacefully and patiently over time. War is not an option, although the allies will defend themselves against armed aggression. Features of the new alliance strategy should include:

- Mutual allied commitments to the defense of South Korea and the United States as vital national interests.

- Mutual allied commitments to conduct transparent, verifiable and mutually beneficial transactions with North Korea on trade, economic assistance, humanitarian aid and other activities to facilitate the peaceful evolution of the North Korean system, inter-Korea reconciliation, and peaceful unification of Korea on terms agreeable to Koreans.

- Increased efforts to educate and inform North Koreans about their plight compared to other countries.

- Increased humanitarian measures to assist North Korean refugees in China and elsewhere.

- Amnesty and re-education for North Koreans who have helped perpetuate a cruel system of governance and the suffering of the North Korean people. Amnesty is essential to encourage North Koreans in positions of authority to work toward the envisioned end state.

Current North Korean government authorities will certainly regard such a new allied strategy as a threat to their dysfunctional system, and they will certainly fear the personal consequences. One of our challenges will be to ameliorate such concerns by insisting on amnesty and relating respectfully, if not kindly, to individual North Koreans despite our personal views of their system. In Christian terms, we should hate the sin but love the sinner.

Some Americans and South Koreans may worry about the consequences of such an allied strategy to achieve the decent end state of the Korean Peninsula. They may worry that a refocused alliance will be unable to achieve such relatively near term goals as persuading North Korea to become a verifiable non-nuclear weapons state.

That may be true, but don’t we know how to relate to nuclear weapons states? Others might say Korean unification ought to be a Korean problem. That might be true if Pyongyang did not challenge U.S. national interests.

Others might say the timing is poor, given our economic problems. Frankly, the timing is never right with North Koreans, which is why they have survived.

Enough is enough with North Korea. The time has come to help implement a new allied strategy with South Korea to move patiently towards the peaceful unification of Korea.

Paul Chamberlin is an adjunct fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a business consultant and former U.S. Army Foreign Area (political-military) officer specializing on Northeast Asia and U.S. relationships with both Koreas. He is the author of “Korea 2010: The Challenges of the New Millennium” and many other publications on both Koreas and the U.S. relationship with each.

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