In the last several months we have seen North Korea sink a South Korean naval vessel and shell the island of Yeonpyeong, killing several civilians. By all rights, such actions should be considered acts of war against the South, and by extension against the South’s allies. Yet the South and the United States have not yet retaliated, and recent joint American-South Korean “military exercises” notwithstanding, it is unlikely that any military action will be taken against the belligerent North.
What, then, is the alternative? A recent article in the Minnesota Daily claims that “diplomatic engagement of North Korea is unappealing but necessary to avoid cataclysmic military confrontations.” In this context, “diplomatic engagement” seems to mean anything that avoids war:
[W]ith North Korea it isn’t so much about achieving diplomatic gains but preventing a catastrophic military conflict that would thrust North Korea and China against South Korea and the U.S. This would be cataclysmic on a political and economic scale.
While the prospect of a massive military conflict with North Korea is horrid scenario, it is becoming increasingly clear that a policy of “diplomatic engagement” has proven to be an utter failure in neutralizing the threat of North Korea. For nearly as long as North Korea has existed, Western nations, led by America, have systematically allowed North Korea to become the threat it is today. Through its “diplomacy,” the West has armed, fed and most importantly sanctioned the brutality of the communist regime in Pyongyang. Elan Journo of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights analyzes what happened in more detail,
Some twenty years ago, North Korea’s nuclear ambitions became glaringly obvious. The West pretended that this hostile dictatorship would honor a treaty banning nuclear weapons. To get its signature took years of Western groveling and concessions. The North’s promises to halt its nuclear program were predictably hollow. By 1993, after preventing required inspections of its nuclear facilities, Pyongyang announced its intention to withdraw from the treaty. Our response? More “diplomacy”–in the form of the “Agreed Framework,” brokered in 1994.
For agreeing to freeze its nuclear program, North Korea was offered two light-water nuclear reactors (putatively for generating electricity) and, until the reactors were operational, 500,000 metric tons of oil annually (nearly half its annual needs). The United States, along with Japan and South Korea, paid for these lavish gifts. During these years of apparent tranquility, our handouts and assurances of security buoyed North Korea as it furtively completed two reactors capable of yielding weapons-grade fuel. By 2003–when the North actually did withdraw from the nuclear treaty–it was clear that Pyongyang had continued secretly to develop weapons-capable nuclear technology.
The pattern of America’s suicidal diplomacy is clear: the North threatens us, we respond with negotiations, gifts and concessions, and it emerges with even greater belligerence.
More recently, in 2006 and again in 2009, North Korea has repaid the favor of our nuclear aid by openly testing a nuclear device. Today we’re seeing the culmination of these disastrous policies: because of its nominal nuclear deterrent, the North now openly attacks the military vessels and territory of the South, brazenly flaunts uranium enrichment facilities that it promised not to build, and keeps its citizens from fleeing the hellhole the country has become. Meanwhile, the North continues arrogantly to demand Western aid to keep their country from collapsing.
It is true that war on the Korean peninsula is terrible to contemplate and that the world faces increasingly difficult choices in how to maintain peaceful security. But in the dilemma lies an important lesson: that we would not face this issue today if a policy of appeasement had not been undertaken for decades. As with any appeasement, the longer it goes on, the more difficult it is to end and the more dangerous the aggressor becomes. From the tributes paid to the Vikings to the concessions made to the Nazis, it is clear that appeasing aggressors has never been successful in securing lasting peace, and it is foolish to think that dealing with North Korea the same way will somehow make it less threatening.