When it comes to human rights abuses and totalitarianistic excess in the modern world, there is perhaps no bigger example than North Korea. Last year sadly marked the 70th anniversary of the continuing rule by the Workers’ Party, which is headed currently by President Kim Jong-un. Initially backed by the Soviet Union and China against the ambitions of the West during the Cold War, the nation has continued to survive down through the decades thanks to continued boastfulness and showmanship in getting the international community to support the populace that the government continues to subjugate to starvation and cruelty. Despite policies of engagement and negotiation, the closed society that the Jong police state continues to propagate shows no signs of acquiescing to international demands (The UN continues to submit resolutions calling out abuses…as if that has ever worked well [Iran anyone?]). Even with nonproliferation obligations and other international diktats, North Korea now is capable of nuclear weapon technology. All together, taking on the North Korean government has been an abject failure, which really raises questions of whether anything can be done to curtail the regime in any meaningful way.
Obviously, the status-quo of containment/engagement/appeasement/negotiation hasn’t worked. Therefore, there is no better time than to try something differently. Firstly, it is about time the United States stops any public policy involving foreign aid to the nation. Some might feel that such a change is heartless given the famines and hardships that North Koreans have suffered over the years as a result of the regime, but such an opinion is severely curtailed by the fact that the regime has made no qualms about misusing funds and aid that have been given to it (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/08/AR2007060802793.html). Foreign aid has also shown to be hardly successful in providing change to struggling populaces under the corruption and abuse of wayward governments, more often than not propping up such regimes (http://www.spectator.co.uk/2014/01/why-aid-fails/). North Korea is just such an example. Of course private aid shouldn’t be curtailed if such endeavors want to get involved (which might be able to help the impoverished better in any case: http://fee.org/freeman/the-shortcomings-of-government-charity/; http://mises.org/sites/default/files/21_2_1.pdf), but there is no reason why taxpayer money should continue to be channeled in support of Jong-un and his regime.
At the same time, a big move needs to be made in getting China to reel in it’s wayward neighbor. Such a thing is possible given the fact that the nation is North Korea’s largest benefactor. However, China has continued to be dodgy about doing so, given that they fear chaos taking hold on the Korean peninsula should the regime collapse…which they feel might lead to a unified Korea under American influence. There is no guarantee that such an impression would be completely alleviated, but one big manner of cooling such fears would be to finally allow South Korea to defend itself without overarching American policy and presence. The nation might have needed such protection after the hardship brought on by the Korean War, but that is hardly the case anymore. South Korea has a well over 40 to 1 economic advantage to it’s northern counterpart, as well as a much larger population presence, significant technological lead, a dramatically larger industrial base, and more of an international presence as well (South Korea has arguably a better relationship with Russia and China then North Korea does). Taken together, there is no reason why the United States should be running the defense initiative of South Korea…it is quite capable of doing so itself.
Allowing South Korea and Japan to take more of a role in their defense, all the while removing our continued garrison in the region, has the potential to not just remove the continued fear of American hegemony in the region that China has, but also in turn give it more impetus to contain a wayward Jong-un lest South Korea and Japan have to take such action. Such policy could probably serve to finally make real reform possible on the peninsula for the first time in 70 years, which is long overdue. Even if such things don’t come to pass, there is no reason for the United States to continue to spew blood and treasure over a conflict that really doesn’t serve our interests like it did during the Cold War. Indeed we can still support our allies in the region, but in a different manner.
In the long run, such a change in policy might serve to lead to the reunification of a society that was ripped apart mainly for foreign ambitions. As a result, just as it was in Germany till reunification in 1990, many families and communities remain cut off and marginalized due to such policy. Such separation has only continued to be influenced by engagement. Time for that to change.