The Armchair Expert
As an Arts and IR student from Melbourne, my column offers a broad perspective on current International affairs. I’m in my first year, draw political cartoons and major in history. Living on campus and keen on politics, my column Armchair Expert hopes to keep you informed for when politics come up in conversation.
Now is the time to decrease aid and increase aggression against the regime.
The year is now 102… in North Korea. The DPRK’s calendar starts on the birthday of Kim-Il-Sung, the grandfather of Kim-Jong-Un and the father of North Korea. While Soviet Russia at least pretended to be democratic, elections in North Korea literally have one candidate. The North is a country that considers the Hollywood film ‘The Interview’ to be “an act of war” and reports that when Kim-Jong-Il was born on the top of a mountain, a double rainbow appeared, a new star was created, and the seasons changed from winter to spring.
However amusing this may be for us Westerners, the North Korean people aren’t laughing. Life for the 25 million people living under the regime is unacceptable by any standard. The country’s command and control economy is woefully inefficient, with all resources being allocated by the state, including incoming foreign aid. The result is a fat army and a skinny population. As much as 25% of the North’s GDP is spent on the military, and around 70% of the population, or 18 million people, are considered food insecure. On top of a suppressive domestic policy that includes zero political freedom and 7 years of compulsory military service, North Korea’s international saber-rattling is reason enough to spark an aggressive international response.
Put simply, the U.S. should reply to the blackmail of nuclear threats, and the starving of the North’s population, by toppling the regime.
The DPRK has recently embarked on a charm offensive in diplomacy. On January 10, Pyongyang offered to halt its nuclear testing if Washington cancelled its upcoming military drills with the South. Along with state visits to Moscow, and representation at the UN for the first time in 15 years, the DPRK is trying to start a new chapter.
These unprecedented moves are a sign of desperation, not strength. It is likely that the North has begun to realise that its military and political brinkmanship – attempting to intimidate the US with nuclear threats while alarming the South with missile launches – is counterproductive. This squeeze is amplified from the East by the neglect of North Korea’s only ally – China. Beijing no longer treats Pyongyang as a special ally, nor its communist equal. Chinese advances in trade and diplomacy years ago have left the North at the starting blocks, and at times, China has even denied shipments of fuel and food to the starving communist bunker. This recent abandonment has prompted the North’s attempt to diversifying its allies.
We ought to adopt a Reaganesque approach to dealing with this old communist enemy, and seize upon the fact that the North is clearly currently weak. Just as President Reagan replaced 40 years of ‘containment’ with a far more aggressive policy that undoubtedly accelerated the fall of the USSR, we too ought to combat the DPRK with similar objectives.
Today’s ‘Evil Empire’ is not Soviet Russia but North Korea.
During the 1980s, Reagan imposed harsh trade embargoes and economic aggression on the East, such as using Saudi Arabia (upon which Russia relied heavily for hard currency) to force down oil prices. The same tactics would be much more effective in today’s war, where the North is more reliant on global aid and world labour markets than the USSR ever was.
It’s time to strong arm Pyongyang. Washington ought to increase pressure on Beijing and Moscow to sever ties with the North by convincing them that relations with America are far more valuable than relations with a dying despot. By removing the DPRK’s friendly neighbors with an ‘us or them’ threat, and increasing economic and military aggression, the foundations of North Korean society – the army and the party – will suffer financially and politically, leading to the painful, but necessary, collapse of the regime. Combined with harsh UN sanctions and a decrease in aid, the West can, and should, starve the North into submission.