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The North Korean Crisis: A Humanitarian Perspective

North Korean Nuclear Reactor Construction Site (Podknox/Flickr)

North Korean Nuclear Reactor Construction Site (Podknox/Flickr)

So that's an important lesson, in my view, for development strategy. You know, what has KEDO really done in nine years? It's spent a billion dollars, dug a whole in the ground, delivered some liquid coal which is almost useless to North Korea - so useless that a lot of it has been stored in holes in the ground and they don't know what to do with it because they have no way of actually using it - and it's got every North Korean virtually up in arms against the international community for not delivering on its commitments. It cost us a billion dollars to make every North Korean really angry at the United States and its partners. And NGO's (non-governmental organizations ) working with tiny amounts of money - in the case of our project it was about a quarter of a million dollars to date - within six months we delivered power that had that village lit and every person in [Anchang County?] knew that the Americans were in town and had come back. And then we came back again and will be coming back again. And in my view, it's this kind of slow, tedious, incremental, but in reality very fast, small-scale, cheap, tangible delivery of welfare that will actually turn things around, not the mega projects of governments, although it's inevitable that some of those will occur.

Now I'd like to conclude with a couple of remarks about the current situation. The fact is that North Korea, as a political culture, was forged in a volcanic eruption which was the Korean War. And the obsidian face of North Korea's Party totalitarian system, the pyramid of power, was created in that experience, when they were literally bombed underground. In the five decades of cold war that obsidian face was transformed into a kind of white-hot adamantine death star that sits on top of a coal, granite subterranean society. And to pile on the hyperbole, if we put more compression, more pressure, on this very dangerous place, it might collapse into a real black hole. And the consequences of North Korea actually coming apart at the seams - not all at once, but at the edges and in the rural areas and in the provincial towns where people literally have nowhere to go. You know, the workers in those provincial factories, they don't have land plots, they don't have stored grain in their roofs, and they're at the end of a distribution system that has collapsed and they're not near a border that they can cross. They have nowhere to go. That's where things start to come apart, not in Pyongyang. So it won't happen overnight, but if you push hard enough you will get a black hole in North Korea and the whole world will pay the price - not just the United States and Korea, but the whole world. This is a singularity, if you like. This is a tear in the fabric of the force field of international affairs that if you push too hard could really have a disastrous consequence.

The fear of war in North Korea, where I began, where Lee ended and I began, is very profound. I want to remind you that not only are they facing twenty thousand nuclear weapons in the American arsenal, and they might have enough material for two nuclear devices that aren't deliverable, but fifty thousand Koreans died at Hiroshima, and twenty-three thousand of them went back to North and South Korea where many of them still live and are around, and you can talk them and they will tell you that the United States should have dropped more nuclear weapons on Japan, not less. The lesson of nuclear war and the power of nuclear coercive diplomacy is something that the North Koreans had seared and imprinted on their brain like no other population on the planet. And they have then studied the United States assiduously - the master of nuclear coercive diplomacy for five decades. And they are now turning the lever back on the United States.

To me, this is not surprising. What is surprising, actually, is that they have been so measured and so prudent and so risk-averse in their attempt to use this leverage, even as they charge across the red line as we speak. And I think the irony here is that the United States apparently, as Lee was saying, prefers "no" to answer, rather than "yes" to having a security relationship. And, I think, the United States could make them an offer they could not refuse. The United States could make an offer to trade in their nuclear weapons in return for an economy, and charge the price of access to their rolodex of terrorist connections around the world and enlist then in what must be - on a day when the alert is at maximum about terrorist attacks - must be the first priority for the United States, not this side show in Iraq, not North Korea, but the risk of attack on the United States and its allies and friends all around the planet. We need the North Koreans in the war on terrorism, and in my view, they would join us if we actually just admitted that they are not a set of criminal donkeys - the crime and punishment and the carrot and stick paradigm in Washington - that they are a sovereign state that has their fallback options, their relationship with China. They aren't going anywhere fast and we have to deal with them. So I'll stop there. Thank you.