Free countries, when faced with the incapacitation or even death of a leader, do not fold like a house of cards. But news of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il’s apparent incapacitation from stroke is threatening to drive North Korean affairs into chaotic uncertainty.

US and Chinese officials are particularly nervous about the impact the destitute state’s imminent collapse would have on the nuclear situation. The article cites a US government official who, worrying about the “serious implications for international negotiation on the country’s nuclear disarmament,” notes that two recent decisions require approval from the potentially paralyzed despot, and so the diplomats are simply waiting on Kim’s return.

Nuclear armament has long been Kim’s trump card, the means by which he has extorted numerous concessions from the US in exchange for international “stability.” While the odds that this feeble, impoverished country could have ever mounted a serious attack against our allies in the region has always been slim, the US has consistently chosen not to risk such an improbability. Instead we have pursued a pragmatic approach: diplomacy, the foreign policy of appeasement.

However, the policy of appeasing North Korea failed to stop the one thing it was supposed to prevent: North Korea’s continued development of nuclear weapons. For most of his reign, Kim has been largely bluffing about his country’s capacity to attack its neighbors, but North Korea is now believed to have actually developed nuclear weapons.

Appeasement has also legitimized a ruthless dictator who continues to crush all dissent and keep his people chained in poverty. Thus in 2000, the world witnessed a historically obscene spectacle: the Secretary of State of the world’s freest country raising her glass to the dictator of the world’s most oppressive country.

That moment, the culmination of decades of diplomatic engagement with North Korea, is a large-scale example of what Ayn Rand identified as the sanction of the victim—“the willingness of the good to suffer at the hands of the evil.” When a leader of a free country sits down to dinner with a dictator, the former bestows moral credibility on the latter, serving only to embolden the perpetrator. Observe that the resulting promises by Kim Jong-Il to disband nuclear development quickly disappeared with North Korea’s detonation of a nuclear device in 2006.

The United States was founded on the principle that all men have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. North Korea represents the opposite principle-–that the individual has no rights and exists solely to serve whatever ends the state chooses for him. Given these differences, there can be no question that we have a moral right to defend ourselves from foreign aggressors like North Korea.

So why do we not defend ourselves? Because we doubt our moral superiority, we have allowed a petty dictator like Kim Jong-Il to set the terms of America’s security. In the end, the pragmatic and supposedly practical approach yielded a thoroughly impractical result: a nuclear-armed North Korea.

We should view Kim Jong-Il’s present incapacitation as a stroke of good luck, a chance to reevaluate our immoral and impractical appeasement of his totalitarian regime—and to strike a blow that would end his evil regime for good.

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