North Korea’s recent launch of a missile it claims is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead — and its possible role in intercontinental cyberattacks — have upped the stakes in what is already arguably the most dangerous global crisis. Paradoxically, Pyongyang’s heightened provocations, combined with the limited arsenal of tenable responses by the international community, are pushing the relevant powers in conflict closer to talking than ever before.
Indeed, U.S. President Donald Trump has said he is willing to talk to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. South Korea’s newly elected president, Moon Jae-in, also said in his first days in office that he is open to visiting the North under the right circumstances. Yoon Young-Kwan, a former South Korean foreign minister, writes that Moon’s policy is akin to the “Ostpolitik” approach of former German Chancellor Willy Brandt, which prepared the way for German unification after the end of the Cold War.
Top Chinese diplomat Fu Ying spells out the urgent realism that is forcing a fresh approach that departs from the sanctions plus “strategic patience” thinking that has guided the policy of America and its allies in recent years. As I write in my piece summarizing our discussion, “Madame Fu’s fundamental point is that increased sanctions or threats of military action without talks is precisely what is driving North Korea to intensify its weapons program.” Trying to outsource the problem to China won’t work, in her view, because, as I relay, “China is not a party to the antagonism and hostility that has caused the security dilemma of North Korea. The country’s deep insecurity comes from its constant fear of the kind of regime change preceded by sanctions that the United States and its allies have executed elsewhere, including in Iraq.”
The best that can be achieved, Madame Fu argues, now appears to be a “Pareto-optimal” solution. Such a path, I write, recapping her words, “may not meet the optimal benefits every party seeks but would ensure the minimum interest of all parties with minimal cost. In other words, compromise all around.” To make that work, she explains in a Brookings Institution historical review, action aimed at reducing the present high level of tension must be both “synchronized and reciprocal.”
Former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry also soberly warns that military action is unrealistic. “If the U.S. conducted a preemptive military strike,” he writes, noting that he planned such an option back in 1994 before the North crossed the nuclear threshold, “it would trigger bloody reprisal attacks on Seoul, quite possibly leading to a second Korean war, this one entailing the use of nuclear weapons.” The only alternative now, he concurs with Fu Ying, is for the U.S. and China to adopt a common approach. “I believe that there is now an opportunity for creative diplomacy that has not previously existed. This opportunity has opened because China is now more deeply concerned than in the past about the damaging consequences of the North’s nuclear program. … The U.S. could seize this opportunity not by insisting that China should solve the problem, but by working together with China to solve it.”
Conflict scholar David Cortright agrees with Fu Ying that “the leaders of North Korea will not give up the bomb until they feel more secure.” To reach that end, he argues that, as with Iran, the U.S. should promise “to lift sanctions and renew trade in exchange for nuclear restrictions.”
Writing from Seoul, Seok-Hyun Hong, the publisher of one of South Korea’s largest newspapers who spoke with President Trump this week as President Moon’s envoy, says “time is running out for my country” and that “South Korea must prevent a war at any cost.” He then lays out a two-stage roadmap for Trump to draw back from the brink. In the first stage, North Korea would agree to stop development of nuclear arms and missiles at the current level. On that basis, a new dialogue or negotiations would start with Pyongyang in stage two. “Donald Trump,” he writes, “may be the U.S. president who can turn the tables in the region to transform troubles and threats into opportunity and bring us closer to resolving the North Korean issue. But this will only be possible if he stops to think and channel his aggression into a concrete plan such as the one I have suggested.”
The urgency of the North Korean crisis masks the historical significance of another longer-term development underway of worldwide significance ― China taking the lead as the champion of the next stage of globalization. In his speech at the recently concluded Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing, senior Chinese strategist Zheng Bijian notes that, according to International Monetary Fund projections, by 2018, the developing world could comprise 59 percent of the global economy, compared to the 41 percent of the advanced nations. “The global economy as a whole, driven by the developing world, will continue to gather new momentum for growth in the second, third and fourth decades of this century,” he asserts. “The more rapid growth in the developing economies will in turn stimulate renewed growth in the developed world by becoming an even larger market for its goods and services. The new phase of globalization will thus be a reverse from the past in which the developed world was the growth engine.” The whole idea of China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative for infrastructure investment, says Zheng, is to tie together maritime and inland trading routes, thus boosting the prospect of greater prosperity across Eurasia to Africa.
European participants at the forum, however, had their doubts. “The [European Union] has dealt a blow to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s bid to lead a global infrastructure revolution,” The Guardian reports this week, “after its members refused to endorse part of the multi-billion-dollar plan because it did not include commitments to social and environmental sustainability and transparency.”
In an interview, Singapore’s Kishore Mahbubani underscores the non-Western perspective on the fate of globalization expressed by Zheng. “Globalization has not failed,” he says. “All discussions on globalization are distorted because Western analysts focus on the roughly 15 percent of the world’s population who live in the West. They ignore the 85 percent who are the rest. The last 30 years of human history have been the best 30 years that the rest have enjoyed. Why? The answer is globalization.” The perception in the advanced economies that globalization has failed is due to a simple fact, according to Mahbubani: “Western elites who enjoyed the fruits of globalization did not share them with their Western masses.”
Other highlights in The WorldPost this week include:
- Somalia Is On The Brink of Famine, And Time is Running Out
- Xi Jinping Primes China To Be Leader Of The Free-Trade Pack
- Parag Khanna: Swiss Direct Democracy + Singapore’s Smart Rulers = Direct Technocracy
- What Iran’s Election Could Mean For The Nuclear Deal And U.S. Relations
- This Year’s U.S. Worldwide Threat Report Warns Of Cyberattacks, Nukes And Climate Change
For more on Somalia’s drought, check out our WorldPost video, adapted from this week’s op-ed, “Somalia Is On The Brink Of Famine, And Time Is Running Out,” below:
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