We have a “better idea” for Korea. Superficially our suggestion may appear extreme or fanciful. We say our idea, in contrast to other proposals now under discussion, is far less costly and less disruptive of the current world order, and more consistent with the national interest of all participating nations’, even including North Korea’s true interest.
The UN has announced new economic sanctions, aimed at limiting North Korea’s access to foreign trade.
North Korea’s most recent tested missile flew high enough, and stayed aloft long enough, for some experts to conclude another like it could reach the North American land mass while carrying an atomic weapon.
President Trump responded with veiled menace when he said the United States can “handle” North Korea. American military pundits are using the “War” word.
Undoing the cordial spirit of his face-to-face meeting with President Xi, Trump resumed the unhealthy trade-war talk of the campaign as pay-back for Xi’s perceived failure to suppress the bellicose acts of Kim. China undertakes a War Games exercise wherein the Game’s targets are American.
Military war, Economic war, abandoned and forgotten optimistic personal diplomacy: how can any strategy involving such consequences be called “realistic” in contrast to a plan that preserves most of the current “facts on the ground” in the Korean Peninsula. Our plan removes the single factor – a small number of individual troublesome persons – in the same manner a hospital team might take out a small tumor. Our plan makes it possible for the “patient” to expect a healthy – even potentially robust – recovery with few “side effects”.
If you are reading this one, you probably also read our last Asia Times essay, where we laid out (but did not use this acronym) operation Ksnatch (Kim secretly nabbed all thermos collected hermetic). China, with secret help and connivance from the USA, takes possession of Kim, retires him and his closest pals to a neutral Asian retirement/exile encampment (or exits them entirely from this earth if they won’t go peacefully) where he and his scattered entourage are under closely monitored, kept under lock and key (a joint, secret effort with the US). All nuclear assets now in North Korea, including science personnel, are physically moved to China for safekeeping by a responsible power; a dutiful vassal, chosen and responsible to China is installed as the leader of a North Korea that is closely connected to China by trade, money and military command; the 38th parallel is agreed by all to be a permanent border (no talk of a unified Korea – not unified under China, not unified by the South/US; and the US is not pressured to “get out of Asia”. That means American military exercises with the South go on as before, and Chinese fighter planes don’t buzz American military assets. The US gets clear guarantees that there will be no war nor any need to openly bring their heavy military assets into play on the peninsula.
Our plan preserves all major current facts on the ground: Korea is divided, China remains the paramount power in the North, the US (and Japan) are the military and economic players in the South, trans-Pacific positive trade talks resume, and (since the real co-operative nature of Ksnatch is secret) cynical finger-wagging Machiavellian diplo-talk allows for adequate venting of “violation of sovereignty” UN language.
On the positive side, China gets a grand boost to its technical and productivity endowment, America remains a potent military presence, Japan is spared the risk of being the “first to die”, the North Korean population no longer is saddled with the crushing cost of building a first-world technical military machine, South Korea is no longer threatened with sudden death and the world is spared what could evolve into an East-West Atomic war.
China’s potential technical gains are especially important. The proposed take-over by China of the entirely of North Korea’s nuclear and missile program, human and material, is a trivial addition to China’s own expertise. China’s immense technical gains will come from the long-run prospect of being the economic and political “mentor” of a Hong Kong-like booming North Korean economy, its brain/endowment assets at least equal to those that have made South Korea such a powerhouse.
China and the US have so far been unable to agree on a pacification plan for the Korean Peninsula despite that such an outcome serves both their national interests. A reason is neither player wishes the other to get the credit or to reap all the gains from such a mutually beneficial settlement. But for China, technical progress is King: for the US (and the West) a presence in Asia is essential. Our plan satisfies both needs, and thus should find support, albeit secret, from both parties.
We laid out the outline of our plan in a previous Asia Times essay. Why are we writing this second article? Several reasons. A good friend of ours, a person connected with one of the most significant and influential foreign policy think tanks in the West paid us the highest compliment when he told us that he had mooted a similar idea in respect of Syria (he suggested that Russia retire Assad, and set him up in the soft enveloping arms of Mother Russia. Putin would name and support a well-behaved Sunni puppet. Neat. Nicely cuts out the Persians.) We are not going into the merits of our friend’s proposal, except to say we were quite pleased that a player at his level is thinking along our lines.
And so, we are filling in details of our “Retire and replace” plan. Our proposal is not quite diplomacy, but it is far short of, and much cheaper in life and treasure than is War in crowded places. According to General Joe Dunford, Chairman, US Joint Chiefs of Staff, even though “North Korea is capable launching a missile attack”, a military “solution” to the Korean crisis would cause “a loss of life unlike we have experienced in our lifetimes.”
If serious people are looking at our idea, we thought it necessary to address some of the questions raised by other of our colleagues.
First, how is China supposed to get Kim to a place where he can be grabbed? There exists more than one reasonable stratagem. Invite him to a friendly conference, perhaps in Beijing – an event at which a number of China’s client states are present. Kim would be asked to bring a good number of his key staff. On the morning after they arrive, they don’t come down to breakfast. (All of the other nations who are there watching as things unfold will fully understand the message: don’t destabilize China’s border). Another way to get Kim out of the way is to send a blanket message to his top generals: A billion dollars total reward money and placement in a secure “witness protection program” in the country of their choice in return for delivery to China of Kim’s person, alive or dead. A general offer could also be made to all “contractors” and other players who operate in the world of secret foreign affairs, in the manner of a “wanted poster” from the Wild West, whereon a billion-dollar prize is guaranteed, plus $20 million apiece for all persons involved in the capture, along with payment of all costs sustained by the mercenaries who succeed in bringing Kim to justice. But these “bring him in, dead or alive” possibilities don’t offer the precision in timing and control of the aftermath that does our plan. Below we fill in our details.
On the same morning that Kim disappears, a group of new leaders appears on a North Korea balcony to say that everything is secure, they are in control, and that all North Korean citizens are to receive a handsome bonus check, coupons that may be exchanged for Computers, family autos, housing allotments – you name it, all supplied by their good friends in the North. Trade and travel routes to South Korea are opened up and, just as happened at the fall of the Berlin Wall, there is feasting and celebrating as families are reunited. It is made clear that the nations, North and South Korea will remain quite separate, but relatively free movement of money, goods and people will be allowed. (The North can well afford to peacefully shrink its population, thereby reducing the cost of setting up, over the long run, a Hong Kong style increasingly prosperous Special Administrative Region or client state, closely allied to mainland China. Out-migration is not just allowed, but made easy, so mobile and vetted North Koreans are welcomed into South Korea, China, Japan and the US.
Second problem solved: This “Speech from the Balcony” announcement serves to defuse any “doomsday trip wire” system that Kim has (likely) put in place to bring the house down should his reign come to an end. Any such machine will have human components along its “fuse”: those folks are unlikely to prefer being buried in rubble over enjoying a life say, on a Texas ranch stocked with $20 million worth of retirement assets. If the first part of “operation Ksnatch” is undertaken with indomitable will and unwavering purpose, even North Korean generals who might have believed that Kim’s own will and daring was superior to that of his opponents will come out of the cold the instant they know Kim has finally fallen.
The Ksnatch plan must be conducted with the full force, commitment and unwavering dedication of the combined forces of China (openly) and the US (hidden). There can be NO weakness such as President Carter showed when he left three wrecked helicopters (out of a total “armada” of eight) in the Iranian desert. Ksnatch should be and be instantly seen to be, a multi-billion-dollar operation. Nothing less will suffice. The outcome must be certain and final. Why? Because Kim’s followers know he is not crazy. They know the “Royal Kim Family” and its entourage has remained in power since 1948. Today’s Kim is no nut: he, his Father and Grandfather have outfaced adversaries who, until now, have been pusillanimous in comparison to their daring. That Royal strength of purpose is why he will never surrender his power or his weapons. All must be taken by a power and will greater than the “King’s”. The take-down must be as sudden, merciless and final as the strike of a cobra. And the next step, re-establishment of order and establishment of prosperity and an SAR level of Chinese freedom must instantly follow.
That establishment is the Third problem: we suggest its solution. What is the future for Kim-less North? The place cannot fall apart. North Korea should remain sovereign, but clearly under Chinese trusteeship. The North’s legal status should be more disconnected from Mainland China’s government than now are China’s Special Administrative Regions, Hong Kong and Macau (SARs), but the economic SAR model could be followed. As long as trade, financial links, including SAR-like open back-and-forth investment channels are open to the West, prosperity will follow, and a return of the “Royal Kim Family” is prevented.
Just as the snatch and take-down is accomplished with a ferocious will and unwavering purpose, so must a New Order be created. Kim’s supporters, and even some ordinary North Koreans will have learned the lesson of the Arab Spring. They must be re-assured the elimination of Kim is followed by full-press support for stability of the Korean Peninsula. The world cannot afford to repeat the mistakes we committed, for example, in the Middle East. Mainly because of Obama’s weakness (or insincerity): the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya (42 years in power) and Mubarak (29 years in power) in Egypt, as well as the aborted in-the-streets counter revolution in Iran (June 23, 2009, the “Green Movement”) was not followed up by stabilizing intervention from the West. The result was vacuum, civil war and Russia’s disruptive return to the region.
Obama is not the first Western leader to fall short when constructive “nation building” is needed: remember the fall of Shah Pahlavi in Persia/Iran, whose dynasty ran from 1925 to 1979. (The Persian/Iranian Monarchy lasted 2,500 years.) The West’s failure in 1979 (compounded by the Arab Spring) condemned Iran to primitive theocracy, the Middle East to permanent religious war, while creating for the rest of the world a constant threat to energy prices and supply. The general population of North Korea, as well as the leadership China will install (with Western help and secret approval) must understand, with certainty, that they will have guaranteed legitimacy and well-defined albeit limited control of their own affairs.
That brings us to the final question: what is the guaranteed distribution of powers, interests, supporting promises and sovereign undertakings that will shape the future Korean Peninsula? What support and participation must be offered and available, open and secret, from the interested players? The main players are China, the US and Japan. Everything that needs to be done is better, easier or cheaper than what is now being done: all that is lacking is willpower and leadership.
For the US: doing nothing could end in what General Dunford called a “horrific” war. That is the cost side: enough said. On the benefits side: a divided but open-for-business Korean Peninsula offers profitable trade, investment, immigration and cultural opportunities. The current and expensive military presence could be rationally diminished, with no loss of face, since the threat level would be a fraction of what it now is. The proposed “grab Kim scheme”, partly secret, involves limited military partnership, along with “wink and nod” diplomacy conjoining China and America. Realpolitik in joint action will help overcome the unwise pride (I’m in control here, not that other guy!) the now makes both nations blind to the shared interests they should, were they wise enough, aggressively pursue. The savings to the US are the use of existing special forces, drones, satellites, sea and air assets employed in the Snatch and resettlement of Kim and his friends. You say these are costs? Not so. The US would employ these existing assets instead of spending yet uncommitted blood and treasure in a much more expensive hot war.
Technical progress is King, as we said above. China must take the place it richly deserves in the world ranking of powers. China has a 5,000-year-long history of excellence, refinement, progress, and innovation in all arts and science. Progress along that road was stalled by the bad timing and unfortunate location (from China’s point of view) of the Industrial Revolution. Our plan allows China (and it will be wise enough to take advantage of the opportunity) to use the former Hermit Kingdom as an engine of scientific and technical innovation. Moreover, China is an Internal Empire, unlike Western empires.
China, once its borders were determined long ago, put a wall around itself and defined the limits of itself. It defeats, replaces, pacifies, unifies and organizes within that fixed round-about. It demands peace along its borders, and usually requires the neighbors, who are vassals with limited sovereignty, to pay homage to the Emperor. (This permanent reality shows the folly of the idea that China is happy to have Russia so near. It explains why there are so many Chinese persons on the “Russian” side of that border. It explains why, whatever his public posture, Putin knows he is the junior in the Sino-Russian story.) The neighbor who waves his guns around and shoots, even just into the air, endangers the serenity of the Empire. A compliant vassal is much to be preferred.
Bringing order to the neighborhood makes it unlikely other neighbors will break the peace. Controlled prosperity on the part of neighbors can serve the Empire’s interests, just as in the case of Hong Kong and indeed in the case of the prosperous trading regions on the mainland. There are 18 SARs and near SARs in China’s orbit. One more, this one a special case with a bit more sovereignty than the others, will not unduly change the policy of the Empire. It is true that China would, in a more Sino-perfect world, prefer a smaller American presence in Asia. But in this case, American help will be, if not absolutely needed, a cheaper way to get the military assets useful in the snatch. Also, the US in Asia counters the presence of Russia in Asia, and Russia is less valuable as a trading, investing and innovation-supplying partner, at least for now.
Japan will help in any way it can to bring about the end of Kim. Japan knows it “will be the first to die” (as our highly-placed foreign policy friend put it) if war comes. Japan has had quite enough of war, thank you. A peaceful, although divided Korean Peninsula offers, as it has historically done, trading, investing and partnership pay-offs for Japan. China may resent any Japanese incursion into the “New Peninsula” but China already deals with the economic links connecting Japan with Hong Kong and Macau, as well as with the rest of Asia. If China and Japan are wise enough to recognize their common interests, they will understand that economic productivity, the “Aladdin’s Lamp” that has allowed each of them to bootstrap into wealth, power and stability, will be further advanced by this suggested solution for the Korean crisis.
Why put India into this story? Look at the map. Of the 16 nations that border China, the only more or less neutral venue for the housing of exiled Kim is India. There one can imagine that a three-party “guard-house” (not just running water and a leak-proof roof, but some creature comforts combined with serious security) operated by China, India and the US, could keep Kim and (not at the same place, of course) his remaining friends, out of the way. The US could pay the bills and provide all needed confinement security. India get paid and provides the real estate, China most of the manpower.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear how much better off the world could be if any of history’s trouble-makers, from Hitler to Stalin to any one of a long list of usurpers, dictators and madmen in power had been strangled in their cradles, or at least removed from this life as soon as their true nature was made known, but before they had an opportunity to murder, plunder and pillage. The world has such a chance now. General Dunford is not the only one to foresee that old-fashioned bomb-dropping war with Kim – a War he says he wants to fight – will be horrific. There remains an alternative to that horror. Conducted properly, it could be nearly bloodless, humane and certainly less costly than the alternative. Indecision in the face of the odds now on the board is not in anyone’s interest.