We should accept that North Korea is a nuclear power, says Rutger Schuil in a debate with Henk Müller. [We should] try to negotiate like Nixon and Kissinger did with China. But would we be recognizing a horrible regime?
HM: We are constantly discussing the euro crisis and what Minister Dijsselbloem did or did not say, but you think the North Korean threat is much more dangerous.
RS: The economic crisis disrupts societies, but North Korea has the ability to launch the world into a nuclear Armageddon. If war should break out, according to our experts, the whole global economy will see devastating consequences, let alone the catastrophic loss of human lives.
HM: We have been saying that for a long time now.
RS: May I quote the director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies who said last week that North Korea will probably attack South Korea this year? South Korea must respond. What that will lead to, nobody knows, is what he literally said. And may I point out that the U.S. and South Korea made emergency plans last week and have conducted common military trainings in case North Korea actualizes its escalating threats. Yesterday, North Korea severed another hotline.
Furthermore, if you know that there are hundreds of North Korean missiles aimed at Seoul that can reach the capital in a minute, that the country almost definitely has nuclear weapons and that South Korea, if threatened, will attack pre-emptively, then you can say this is a horrible scenario, in relation to which the euro crisis is nothing.
Korea expert Daniel Pinkston of the authoritative think tank International Crisis Group said this week in Seoul that the escalation is accelerating. Nobody wants war, but if it breaks out, the number of victims will be in the hundreds of thousands over just a few days and millions in weeks.
HM: You think the U.S. can avoid such a conflict. How?
RS: In 2004 and 2005, North Korea sought reconciliation. In September 2005, Pyongyang offered to stop nuclear activity and sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty if it could ensure immunity from nuclear attack. The U.S. did not engage. It wanted sanctions.
HM: But Washington would have to guarantee the regime that it would retain power. The leadership thinks that it needs nuclear weapons to stay in power. Survival is the only thing that counts. The U.S., the only superpower, should recognize that.
RS: President Obama, who received the Nobel Peace Prize, should learn from the approach of Henry Kissinger, secretary of state under President Nixon, who also received this prize. He built relationships with the adversary of the U.S. at the time: China, a country that conducted a nuclear experiment in 1964 and only collects more nuclear weapons, a country that has impermissibly violated human rights. All this did not stop the U.S. from forging relations; those relations are now in order.
Everyone can see what it has led to: strong economic growth, careful democratic reform and more respect for human rights. The current path of sanctions and more sanctions is going nowhere. [It only leads to] famine and more misery for the people.
You may think that this will eventually lead to a rebellion of the people, but I do not. In the 1990s, 3 million North Koreans died of famine out of a population of 22 million, and nothing changed.
HM: So the U.S. should recognize a horrible regime? Let North Korea’s ally, China, do something.
RS: I do not know if China is that concerned about North Korea’s nuclear weapons. They are not aimed at China. More important is the fact that North Korea perpetually asks for bilateral negotiations with the U.S. Eventually, Washington, not China, will have to guarantee that the regime can retain power, but the U.S. must first realize that sanctions can no longer stop the nuclear program.
HM: Apart from the fact that the ayatollahs will soon have a nuclear weapon, there are also a few bizarre types that we allow to have nuclear weapons?
RS: I am unsure if these leaders are as bizarre as you suggest. One million North Koreans have cell phones. The Internet is just catching on. In economic terms, the country shows similarities with China before it sought connections with the West.
HM: So we can gamble — either on a bunch of rulers who will not hesitate to use nuclear weapons to stay in power or on the types who are allowed to stay in power as long as they do not use their weapons. Good choices for us.
RS: The world will have to learn to live with that scenario. You never know what crazy things that country will do, but we do know that sanctions do not help and that China has chosen a path we never thought possible since the U.S. established relations in 1972. Personally, I think North Korea will be the new China. Obama should call Kissinger.