the stick and the carrot and north korea

The Stick and the Carrot, and North Korea

October 14th, 2008 By: Michael van der Galien
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Of course North Korea’s regime remains to be one of the most horrific one the face of the planet. There can be no debate about that. But what Slate’s Anne Applebaum doesn’t seem to get is that the North complied with the U.S. and UN in 2005, but was not rewarded in any signficant way for its ‘good behavior’ for three years. As a result, the North did what any evil regime would do in such a situation: reopen its nuclear facilities.

Although it’s horrible what the communists of North Korea do to their fellow countrymen, the reality of the matter is that the primary concern of the West is its own security, and the balance of power and stability of the region. It’s horrible that North Korea has concentration camps, but the reality of the situation is that there isn’t much we do about that without destabilizing the entire country and, thus, the region as a whole. As such, trying to force the North to destroy its concentration camps immediately isn’t doable.

This means that we have to do what is in our own direct interest. This is not convincing North Korea to close its concentration camps but to close its nuclear facilities and to destroy them. This is what the West’s goal should be right now; once that’s over and done with, we can talk about concentration camps and the North’s attempt to starve its own people to death (starving citizens don’t have the energy to revolt).

Having determined the closure of such facilities to be our primary goal, we have to come up with a way to do so. The hard approach has been tried. It worked, but the stick only works when you also promise a carrot. So we promised the North a carrot; if you close down your nuclear facilities, you’ll be taken off the terrorism blacklist. They closed it down and what did we do?


North Korea then reopened its nuclear facilities, in a move that made perfect sense to itself and to virtually every outside with some knowledge about the country and region. The stick had been tried, the carrot shown, but not given. Since people aren’t horses, you actually have to give them a piece of the carrot when they do something good as a reward, and then promise more when they do something else you want them to do.

In this case that means that you give them a piece of the carrot (take them off the terrorism blacklist), make sure the nuclear facilities remain closed and then continue to talk about destroying said facilities. Once that’s done you focus on other issues such as concentration camps.

That’s the only logical approach to the North Korean problem. Applebaum may not like it, but ‘wrong’ and ‘right’ don’t have a lot to do with the policy towards this renegade country. Security, however, does.

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