Winston Churchill once called Russia “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” a description that today seems applicable to North Korea. We used to believe Churchill meant that there was no rhyme or reason to Russia’s actions, but two years ago Marty came across the full quote: “[Russia] is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.”
To solve the riddle of how to get North Korea to stop nuclear testing, we have to find a solution that takes their national interests into account. And we don’t have to look very hard since North Korea proposed just such a solution two years ago and again last week. Here’s the key part from last week’s offer:
North Korea’s ambassador to India says his country may halt its nuclear and missile tests “temporarily” if the U.S. and South Korea cease their joint military exercises near the Korean Peninsula.
This time North Korea included a halt on its missile testing as well. It’s true that they couched the offer more tentatively, but that’s not surprising given how quickly and resoundingly we rebuffed their last offer.
Many Americans don’t understand why North Korea fears these annual war games, but as we point out our recently completed book (click here to download a free PDF, and jump to page 200):
MARTY: Moving the troops and hardware needed for an invasion warns the intended victim, giving it time to prepare its defenses. Disguising preparations for an invasion as a war game helps cloak such maneuvers and maintain an element of surprise. North Korea must be aware that the Commander-in-Chief of the US Atlantic fleet suggested using that approach during the Cuban Missile Crisis when a war game was used to mask preparations for a possible invasion of Cuba. …
While we regard our military exercises with South Korea as defensive in nature, a holistic perspective would understand how, to North Korea, they appear aggressive and therefore offensive. A mirror image misperception occurred during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Khrushchev viewed his missiles on Cuba as defensive in nature, designed to deter a second American invasion after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. But we saw the Soviet missiles as offensive.
DOROTHIE: This international name calling, “You’re being offensive!” followed by, “No! You’re the one being offensive,” reminds me of our old fights in which one of us would accuse the other by saying, “You’re angry!” followed by the other angrily insisting, “No, I’m not. You are!” We were two angry people, each accusing the other of being angry.
I’m not saying that either of us back then was at all comparable to Kim Jong-un today. But it’s amazing how similar some of the disagreements can be.
MARTY: And just as we used to not really listen to one another during those old fights, our nation paid no attention when, in January 2015, North Korea offered to suspend nuclear testing in return for cancellation of the joint US-South Korean military exercises. Those war games started a month later, and North Korea conducted a nuclear test in January 2016. We don’t know if suspending our war games would have prevented that test. Only if we had taken North Korea up on its offer would we have useful information on whether or not the country’s leaders had been serious.
We now have a second chance to see if North Korea is serious. If we take them up on their offer and they break the agreement, we can always resume the war games. What do we have to lose?