Monday, May 15, 2017

The DPRK Problem: What is it? How to solve it?

Due to the fact that technology advances in a closed system just as entropy increases, we are confronted with the problem that the DPRK will soon be able to launch nuclear SLBMs/ICBMs capable of destroying cities on the US mainland. This is a problem since MAD does not work with an asymmetric partner such as North Korea. One must have something significant to lose and the player must be restricted to rational outcomes for MAD to be possible as a deterrent. Although Kim himself is rational, his regime is not. What does Kim care if North Korea is reduced to ashes as long as his ego is satisfied? Thus, there is effectively no control mechanism to fall back on once the DPRK achieves this milestone.

The DPRK is not unique in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Nearly every totalitarian state with either a sufficient technological base or cash flow has attempted to acquire nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them widely: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Nazi Germany, Cuba as a proxy of the Soviet Union, Mao's China, Stalin's Russia, etc. The attainment of nuclear weapons is the magical brass ring that totalitarian states are drawn to by their very nature. It is the logical culmination of the unbridled pursuit of power and control. And then war. Inevitably the pursuit of power is turned outwards once internal domination is complete.

Fortunately, these states are generally slow to develop the advanced technology that enables the nuclear and missile programs since the centralization of control makes for bad economics. Also the lack of freedom inhibits technological risk-taking.  But over time, if left to their own devices, the technology will develop. So any long-term solution to the DPRK nuclear problem cannot be achieved without the destruction of the DPRK totalitarian state apparatus.

As a matter of necessity, the DPRK must be catastrophically destabilized. This can be achieved by assassination, war, or sanctions that would make the "Arduous March" look like a three year feast. In other words, sanctions by themselves are a delaying effort that will not work. That leaves assassination or war. Of these two, assassination of the dictator is by far the most humane and reasonable action. The regime is held together by a cult of personality based in Confucian traditions, not so much the failed ideology of socialism. Even North Koreans are aware that their economic conditions are not nearly as good as that of the South. Assassination is not only preferable, it is necessary.

But don't expect that killing Kim Jong-un will achieve the best outcome by itself. Political influence applied towards the devolution of the totalitarian state is still necessary. The heir apparent to the hereditary regime might be instrumental towards this aim, but cold hard deterrence and subversion of the state itself is required to avoid a general war. In the event of the demise of the dictator, there should be a widespread belief that avoidance of war is in the best interest of the people.

Ideally, the assassination would appear natural and without the fingerprints of any particular actor. Fortunately, these totalitarian regimes often point directly to what they fear the most. Kim fears "nano poisonous" delayed-action agents.

Indeed he should. It is the rational thing to fear.