Sometime next month President Trump will sit down with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for a summit on NK’s nuclear weapons program. There have been numerous op-eds decrying that any such meetings are a “dangerous gamble and a bad idea” and “will all end in diplomatic disaster“. Negotiations, no matter how slim the chance of meaningful success may be, are always preferable to antagonism and aggression, especially when nuclear weapons are involved. Frenzied warnings of another Neville Chamberlain and the Munich Agreement moment are tired clichés: North Korea is not Nazi Germany and treating it as such is a dangerous game to play.
The warhawks in the White House (looking at you John Bolton) are intent on starting a conflict that will see the deaths of potentially hundreds of thousands of civilians and economic damages in the hundreds of billions of dollars. The counter-argument has been made by numerous pundits and politicians but the best is that of Victor Cha, a Georgetown professor and former Director for Asian Affairs for National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration.
Cha’s insistence that a bloody nose strike on North Korea would be disastrous cost him the position of Ambassador to South Korea.
[T]here is a point at which hope must give in to logic. If we believe that Kim is undeterrable without such a strike, how can we also believe that a strike will deter him from responding in kind? And if Kim is unpredictable, impulsive and bordering on irrational, how can we control the escalation ladder, which is premised on an adversary’s rational understanding of signals and deterrence?
Professor Cha knows far more about North Korea than anyone in the White House, or anywhere else for that matter. His 2012 book The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future is the best single volume on the North Korean regime, not just its structure but also more crucially the mindset of the Kim family dynasty.
The book lays out a picture of the regime by exploring several topics all rooted in how North Koreans view their own history. Topics include:
- The “good old days” before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
- The Kim family history and the dynamics of their inter-familial relationships.
- Relations with neighbors, particularly China.
- “The Logic of Deterrence”.
If you want to understand North Korea in a context other than Team America: World Police, pick up a copy of The Impossible State.