According to CNN, "North Korea has completed preparations for launching what it says is 'an experimental communications satellite,' ... Western nations fear that North Korea plans a ballistic missile test rather than a satellite launch." And today: "North Korea followed through Sunday on its publicly-stated intention to launch to [sic] a long-range rocket, defying a series of warnings from the international community and setting off a firestorm of criticism in the process." If a hostile, nuclear North Korea poses a major threat to the peace and security of its neighbors like South Korea, Japan, China, Russia, and the United States, then we can waste no time in the aggressive pursuit of normal and friendly relations between North Korea and the rest of the world. In order to accomplish this, we must address the root of North Korean hostility, which is its economic isolation.
The problem, as a marionette Kim Jong Il opined in Team America: World Police, by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, is that North Korea is "so ronery" (a satire of the stereotypical Asian pronunciation of English "L"s). While experts in Washington have suggested "everything from accepting North Korea as a nuclear state to bombing its facilities," the first suggestion doesn't address or solve the problem of North Korean hostility and the second is only a quick fix for that problem, not a lasting solution. Instead we should be scientific and ask what causes hostility between nations and what helps to prevent hostility. A significant pattern that we can see throughout history is that trade barriers raise the level of military aggression between nations while the free exchange of goods, services, ideas, and labor across borders lessens the likelihood of armed conflict.
The Free Trade Petition to the G20 Conference circulated by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation puts it well:
A great deal of rigorous empirical research supports the proposition that trade promotes peace.
Perhaps the most tragic example of what happens when that insight is ignored is World War II.
International trade collapsed by 70 percent between 1929 and 1932, in no small part because of America’s 1930 Smoot-Hawley tariff and the retaliatory tariffs of other nations. Economist Martin Wolf notes that “this collapse in trade was a huge spur to the search for autarky and Lebensraum, most of all for Germany and Japan.”
The most ghastly and deadly wars in human history soon followed.
By reducing war, trade saves lives.
Should it come as any surprise that one of the most economically isolated nations in the world is conducting missile tests that threaten its neighbors? A nation is far less likely to threaten a trading partner than a country whose peaceful existence it has no stake in. By opening up trade with North Korea, the United States and other nations will create lasting commercial ties that will not only be mutually economically beneficial, but which will also put an end to North Korea's economic "loneliness," giving its people and government a powerful incentive to maintain peaceful relations with the world. In order to accomplish this the Obama Administration should craft a diplomatic strategy that deliberately and shamelessly feeds Kim Jong Il's curiously voracious appetite for Western culture, with the promise of more to come through opened trade.
Some may object that trading with the people of North Korea somehow sanctions Kim Jong Il and props up his regime. The first claim is simply false, trading with the people of North Korea is not a moral sanction of North Korea's government, but an acknowledgement of the North Korean people's comparative advantage at producing certain goods and services, which will increase economic productivity and standards of living for them and for any nation's people who trade with them. Why wouldn't we trade with them? It would be irrational not to. And the claim that increased trade with North Korea props up Kim Jong Il's repressive regime is also patently false. Increasing trade with North Koreans, by definition, loosens Kim Jong Il's control of them and some of their economic activity. Infecting North Korea with the benefits and products of Western capitalism and culture doesn't support, but subverts Kim Jong Il.
If we want a working solution to North Korea's militant foreign policy we cannot continue to limit ourselves to military options only. If we continue to consider North Korea a military issue, we will be trapped in the alternative between armed conflict and appeasement, which are both imprudent and ignore the root of the problem. To create lasting peace with North Korea, open up trade as much as possible, as aggressively as possible. Offer Kim Jong Il all the cognac, movies, and celebrity autographs he could want if that's what it takes. Free trade is the answer.
At least it will get these people some iPods...
"No Motherland Without You"
A popular North Korean anthem to Kim Jong Il:
Spread the Word