Personally, I strongly believe in diplomacy as the best, and perhaps only way to resolve the North Korean as well as many other problems. But for that to work, we really need to start thinking realistically about the offers that we present to the other side. Basically, the only offer that has been made to the North Koreans has been a huge aid deal, including food and energy assistance, provided in exchange for them to give up their nuclear enrichment facilities. Like that, for 20+ years, the only debate in the US concerns how we can get them to disarm and through that period the North Koreans have merely scoffed at every one of our attempts to get them to do so.
The suggested answers to this conundrum vary between saying that we need to encourage, bribe, threaten, smooth-talk or harass them into doing as we say. Recently, it has even been proposed to just push to persuade the Chinese to persuade them. All proposed answers are equally ridiculous except the last one, which is even more hysterical, and which shows the growing despair and resignation in the US think-tanks.
There is no reason to believe that anyone could be successful in persuading the North Koreans with the current strategy. That is true for China just as much as it is for the US. In a way, the attempts so far resemble a fly crashing into a window again and again. Attempting to fly towards the clear sky, it will not realize that there is a wall of translucent glass blocking its way; furthermore that it is also going to be there the next time it tries. If one thinks about it clearly, there are two major reasons why the current strategy, which the Six Party Talks have been just a continuation of, have failed. A; we are forgetting who we are talking to, and B; we are forgetting what we are trying to get them to do.
– A: We tend to reason since the famine of the 1990s that North Korea would jump at the offer of food. But this would be unreasonable even if the majority of North Koreans weren’t prepared to go through suffering for the sake of the country. However, we are not sitting across the table from a representative cross-section of North Korean society. The people we are negotiating with are not farmers or construction workers. We are sitting across from the people who rule the country, and just to pronounce the obvious – they are not starving. It is absurd to expect them to come waving a white flag just because their enemies are saying they are willing to feed them.
– B: To the people we are negotiating with it makes absolutely no political sense to even consider any offers that have been made to them so far. Does anybody realize what it is exactly that we are asking them to do? If North Korea disarms and gives in to demands, it has absolutely no way left to legitimize itself. Economically it is many decades behind South Korea, and soft power alone is never enough to make a regime survive. What we are really asking then, is for a group of people who enjoy enormous power and privilege to give up all that they have and all that they have built since 1948.
To put it simply; what we are offering is too little, and what we are demanding is too much. That is the reason why they wouldn’t flinch even if we offered them a pink elephant with Kim Jong-Il’s glasses on.