THE TRUTH emerging from all this is one that was inevitable: the armistice on the Korean peninsula is not a basis for regional stability. It never has been. As long as U.S. power was overwhelming and largely unchallenged, our guarantees kept the armistice stable. But that period is at an end. The armistice is one of the fault lines that will crack and widen as our power recedes from the globe. That is happening today.
A status quo that won’t sustain itself becomes harder and harder to maintain. The only way to get ahead of this dynamic is to have our own vision for the future of the Koreas, and the region in general, and act to promote it. My personal vision would be of a reunified Korea, secure and independent, with a comparatively liberal, consensual government – in Seoul, for the time being – open and friendly to Japan, China, Russia, and the West, and not armed against China. Laboring to promote this outcome would be the same thing as laboring to promote the conditions that could make it possible.
Such an integrated policy set would not entail drive-by threats with mighty warships and dread F-22 stealth fighters, but rather would involve relentless diplomacy and a strengthening of the overall U.S. posture, both economic and military. The reason China isn’t telling Kim he’s a moron and he’d better sit down and shut up is that the American posture is inverted as regards these features. We’re making the drive-by threats, but our diplomacy in the region is inconsistent, perfunctory, and reactionary, and the decline in our resources for power is obvious to everyone.
Slinging force around, with press notices, is not what a strong president does. That’s why China is reading Obama differently from her read on earlier presidents. It’s time for us to read China correctly, and realize that her stake in the global status quo is not ideological or moral, like ours, but merely pragmatic and contingent. From her standpoint, she is watching Kim and Obama both act stupidly. She will get what profit she can from the situation, but she no longer assumes that the U.S. sets boundaries on what is possible for the rest of the world – not even for Kim Jong-Un. China is interested to let Kim probe the Obama posture, and see how far he can go.
Originally published at the Optimistic Conservative, under the title, “Wrong, hackneyed, overworked: Beyond the usual analysis of “China and North Korea.”
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