The View From Olympus: Korea and the Art of the Deal

As North Korea inches its way toward possessing an ICBM than can hit the United States with a nuclear warhead–both of dubious reliability–we can expect a Korean “crisis” to grow. In fact, there need be no crisis. A deal with North Korea is not difficult to envision, and America now hasĀ a president who is good at making deals.

The conventional wisdom presents North Korea as a rogue state ruled by a madman, Kim Jong Un. He, and it, are irrational, dangerous, and impossible to predict. Sanctions having failed, we must pile up more sanctions. There is no alternative to growing hostility between North Korea and the U.S., a course which is likely at some point to lead to war. In the meantime, we must keep thousands of U.S. troops in South Korea, a country far stronger than North Korea.

But there is another way to look at the situation, one that sees continuity rather than irrationality in North Korean policy. For centuries, Korea, then one country, was known as the “Hermit Kingdom”. Like Japan under the last Shogunate, Korea was closed to foreigners, trade, and all outside contact. Its government, a monarchy, was centralized, powerful, and all-controlling. An “ideology” of sorts, Confucianism, was the only tolerated way of thinking. The king was regarded as semi-divine.

From this perspective, today’s North Korea is merely an extension of historic Korea. The Kims are a new dynasty, behaving very much like the old dynasty. North Korea’s legitimacy is rooted in this continuity; it is South Korea, not North Korea, that is a historic anomaly.

North Korea’s stress on military power, including obtaining nuclear weapons and delivery systems, is defensive, not offensive, in motivation. If you want to wall yourself off from the rest of the world, you had better be strong militarily. Otherwise, you can expect a visit from Commodore Perry’s Black Ships.

If we can accept today’s North Korea as normal Korea, a deal ending the risk of another Korean war is not difficult to envision. South Korea is able to defend itself against conventional attack. The U.S. keeps South Korea under its nuclear umbrella but pulls out its ground and air forces. The U.S. and North Korea establish normal diplomatic relations. Negotiations begin to formally end the Korean War; at present, there is no peace treaty, just an armistice.

North Korea remains an unofficial nuclear power, like Israel. The North Korean government knows perfectly well that if they shot a nuclear missile at the United States, one that would probably blow up in flight or suffer a warhead failure, North Korea and the Kim dynasty would be obliterated. If they doubted that under President Obama, they will not doubt it under President Trump.

The U.S., South Korea, and the world would accept North Korea’s right to be the Hermit Kingdom. There would be no attempts to suck it into the Globalist Empire. Should it wish to join the alliance of all states against violent non-state entities, it would be welcome.

Should North Korea wish to go further in opening itself to the world, a serious effort at reunification of South and North Korea could be possible. Obviously, the South Koreans do not want to rejoin the Hermit Kingdom. A reunited Korea would be modeled, economically and politically, on South Korea.

But there could be one interesting twist: what if Korea reunified under a constitutional monarchy, with North Korea’s Kim dynasty on the throne? The king would not have much political power, but he would have all the honors due a head of state. Might the Kims like having all the fun without the work of ruling?

That might seem far-fetched. But in the art of the deal, no potential sweetener should go unexplored. Korea offers a situation where all parties need a deal. The U.S. now has a president who knows how to make deals. Can we imagine President Trump flying into Pyongyang to put an end to the North Korean threat? I can, and I suspect he can too.