My Jan. 9 article addressed the anti-human inanity a preventive (aka preemptive) strike on northern nuclear facilities would represent. Synopsis: the scheme should be deemed a nonstarter as intelligence on the North’s weapons isn’t authoritative, qualifying nuclear retaliation via unexposed arsenals as a credible outcome. Such a move may breach international law, and wouldn’t be considered valid by China -- thus setting the stage for another war.
Former US Secretary of Defense William Perry warned against the preemptive strike idea in a Jan. 6 op-ed, writing “Today a war would be no less than catastrophic, possibly destroying the societies of both Koreas.” He stressed Kim doesn’t possess the “objective of achieving martyrdom” and is “not suicidal,” reminding he’d never “launch an unprovoked attack on the United States.”
Perry declined undertaking a preemptive strike as defense secretary, and realized quickly that “Such a strike could still destroy the facilities at Yongbyon but probably would not destroy their nuclear weapons, likely not located there.”
Ominously, he put forth that “a second Korean War, far more devastating than the first” could be on the horizon unless North Korea’s “quest for a nuclear ICBM” is halted. However, I would caution against the use of aforesaid rhetoric; Korea’s small population lost some 5 million — primarily noncombatants — in the 1950-53 war, to allow for them to sacrifice a greater number of their people under any circumstances or by any stretch of the imagination is unacceptable.
Moreover, there’s a potentiality the “preemptive” attack would fortify Kim Jong-un’s grip on power rather than undermine him. After millions died, Kim could easily exploit the bloodbath to fuel inflammatory propaganda, as “proof” of an external threat against “the survival of the North Korean people.” Conforming to this scenario, he’d muster domestic support on such scale impossible before the strike — ensuring regime durability for generations.
All the more, PRC authorities would adopt a renewed policy undergirding Kim’s rule in the wake of such attack, thereafter guarding the regime’s continuity for their national security interests at all costs -- vastly more unequivocally than previously.
Hence, the “preemptive strike” can bestow upon Kim a degree of “legitimacy” heretofore inaccessible, while undoing hard-won gains in the protracted struggle to uncloak -- within the perception of the people -- an altogether illegitimate, criminal and genocidal despotism.
A far more rational method -- indeed, Kim Jong-un’s worst nightmare scenario -- would be a vigorously-implemented policy of conditional South Korean amnesty toward senior North Korean officials and the northern military.
As reported by the Chosun Ilbo on Dec. 20 respecting the post-defection remarks of Thae Yong-ho:
“... The absence of a second-in-command in the North opens up the chance of reunification ‘if something happens to’ leader Kim Jong-un. ... What scares the regime most is that the elite could defect en masse ... Seoul should ... find ways of reassuring them that they can come to South Korea.”
Since escaping, Thae has admonished repeatedly that “Kim Jong-un will never give up nuclear weapons” under any terms, as have many others. Yet he also has said that internal dissatisfaction with Kim Jong-un is sweeping and, consequently, his dominance has reached its limit.
On a South Korean program on Jan. 3, Thae proclaimed, “We should collapse the Kim Jong-un regime by causing an internal revolt. ... I am 100 percent sure we can do it. ... The South Korean government and people should enlighten North Korean citizens to make them stand against Kim Jong-un’s reign of terror.”
Nevertheless, if South Korea does not take heed of the situation, continues in limbo and renders itself powerless to respond, we could end up with a “bloodbath,” perennial division and the consolidation of Kim’s totalitarianism for his entire lifespan; with those who remain living in the long shadow of war -- in which a people can never truly be free.
Twenty-five million leaflets extending provisory amnesty disseminated throughout the north forthwith could spell the end of Kim’s oppression. It would be imperative for the operation to be backed up by significant covert humanitarian gestures -- such as aiding defections and assisting persons and communities in obtaining subsistence through non-official avenues -- and corresponding surreptitious consultations to form alliances with as many officials in and from the north as achievable. Likewise, all modes of communication into the north such as clandestine radio broadcasts should be strategically employed.
Only recently, Thae was held to be among Kim’s staunchest adherents, so trusted he was a personal escort for Kim Jong-chul -- Jong-un’s brother -- to a London concert. Nearly overnight, he metamorphosed into one of the most vocal and uncompromising opponents of Kim’s tyranny -- and parallel sheer reversals are wholly conceivable for other North Korean elites including those who, just as the late Jang Song-thaek did, surround Kim today.
South Korean amnesty should be contingent upon two factors: 1) The cessation of all human rights violations -- most explicitly those in the prison camps -- as a core, overarching objective and 2) opposing the person of Kim Jong-un.
Several amnesty recipients might have committed -- upon the Kim dynasty’s decrees -- the most heinous atrocities; howbeit there are numerous cases where former camp guards and North Korean military elites who participated in aforementioned crimes have been comprehensively reformed and integrated into South Korean society, even befriending one-time captives and speaking alongside them at international human rights conferences. Dismantling the genocidal system necessitates this -- amnesty is unmistakably integral to disarming Kim Jong-un, freeing the North’s brutally mistreated people and reunifying the Korean Peninsula.
In view of geopolitical actualities, unification by virtue of this framework must take place solely between Koreans themselves. After Kim’s capture, it is critical that those who staged the deed have a direct channel of communication to South Korean authorities -- as allies. Akin to the global intelligence vacuum which prevailed in the immediate aftermath of Kim Jong-il’s death, outside countries and media shouldn’t be informed of the shift until officially proclaimed -- this time, of course, by South Korea as a unified, single and advisably independent country.
A universally acknowledged principle among North Koreans is that money reliably “answers everything.” With a relatively marginal amount of cash (or cigarettes and other commonplace items) a tremendous deal can be achieved -- including the release of prisoners. No one is beyond bribes -- counting those who operate prison camps or oversee nuclear development. At this juncture, virtually all want out and none feel unthreatened. A chance at life, mended families, freedom and long-term basic security is what the populace yearns for, much more than any fleeting hand-out -- provisory amnesty would assuage fears of retribution and thereupon inspire mass cooperation with South Korea all through the north, stopping Kim’s killing spree and nuclear blackmail determinately.
By Robert Park
Robert Park is a founding member of the nonpartisan Worldwide Coalition to Stop Genocide in North Korea, minister, musician and former prisoner of conscience. — Ed.