Dear President Trump,
On the off-chance you might be a fan of The Korea Herald, I think it is important to go over a few things about North Korea. Some of the comments you made recently have left me scratching my head and very worried you might want to start a war. I think these worries are not just mine but shared by the residents of South Korea, all 51 million of them.
First, let’s get over this idea of nuclear disarmament. For the last decade, North Korea has spent about one-third of its entire national income every year on weapons development. That’s not one-third of its military budget, not one-third of its government budget, that’s a third of all the money they have. Let that sink in for a moment.
I don’t know if you are familiar with poker, Mr. President, but that’s what we call “all-in.” North Korea has effectively bet everything on weapons development, believing that better weapons will secure a better future.
If you were in their shoes, would you just give up the weapons you invested everything in? Probably not. These are the weapons you researched by bankrupting your country and putting your people through poverty and starvation. They are all you have left.
So what future does North Korea want with these weapons, you might ask.
Well, 2016 contained an important moment that told us a lot about Pyongyang’s intentions. Back then, there was this thing called the Kaesong industrial park, a complex of factories where North Korean laborers made products sold by South Korean companies. It was a very profitable venture for North Korea, something Seoul was using to make Pyongyang more economically dependent. In 2016, North Korea willingly let the complex be closed, cutting off a very significant source of income. This can only be interpreted as the North’s rejection of economic dependence, demonstrating Pyongyang’s intention to forge its own path.
Now let’s get over this ridiculous idea of a “surgical strike.”
This phrase somehow suggests you could order an attack on North Korea without fear of retaliation. That’s nonsense.
About 8,000 pieces of artillery and rocket launchers are aimed at Seoul. Any attack on North Korea would result in immediate retaliation with about 300,000 rounds of rockets and artillery raining down every hour on the second-largest city in the world. Casualties would not be in the hundreds or even the thousands. Think more about those two numbers multiplied together. Oh, and since you have implied Korean lives aren’t as important as American ones, let me remind you about the 60,000 or so Americans living in the Seoul area.
Finally, let’s appreciate some cultural differences. Saving face is very important for Asians. Especially when you are the leader of a clan or group like Kim Jong-un is, it is important that those who follow you believe you are capable of securing benefits and respect.
In many ways, this is what North Korea wants right now: respect.
Kim Jong-un has bet everything on weapons, promising his followers that things will be better if they can just finish developing nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Now that they have more or less accomplished both goals, Kim Jong-un’s followers are eagerly awaiting whatever fruits he has promised them. And in this expectation, Mr. President, lies your opportunity.
You have a simple choice, sir. On the one hand, you can save Kim Jong-un some face by making a small concession to recognize his success in weaponizing. This will open the door to an opportunity for dialogue, something China has repeatedly indicated support for.
On the other hand, you can completely forego such an overture, putting pressure on Kim Jong-un through the expectations of his followers by depriving him of the attention and respect his followers crave, much like President Obama did with his “strategic patience.”
These are your only two realistic options, Mr. President. Now please stop talking about war. It makes us nervous.By Justin Fendos
Justin Fendos is a professor at Dongseo University in South Korea and the associate director of the Tan School at Fudan University in Shanghai. -- Ed.