Doing a Reagan on North Korea
By Oh Young-jin
Have we waged the wrong war against North Korea?
Then, can our new President Park Geun-hye redirect our strategy and finish that feral beast once and for all?
These are complicated questions but the ghost of one “complicated simple” man may beg to answer from his grave: Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States who is credited with giving the Soviet Union a final push toward the brink of collapse during his 1981-1989 reign.
We have done virtually everything possible to deal with North Korea, which has brought itself closer to becoming a nuclear state with its recent third underground test.
For 10 years under Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, we employed the “sunshine policy” of engaging the North in the hope of leading it to an “in-stage,” assisted death. It didn’t.
President Lee Myung-bak has applied a rule of reciprocity in dealing with the North. But this has obviously not worked.
We may as well feel we have run out of options but Reagan would say otherwise.
His winning strategy was well captured by three landmark events.
On March 8, 1983, he first called the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” marking the start of the largest peacetime military buildup in U.S. history and prodding the archrival into a competition that it was bound to lose.
At that time, the Soviets were under a post-Brezhnev series of weak leaders such as Yuri Andropov, Konstantin Chernenko and Mikhail Gorbachev. The U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and gross national product (GNP) per capita was more than double that of the Soviets, although one may assume with a degree of certainty that the latter may have inflated their figures.
On March 23, Reagan announced his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), also called Star Wars, which was aimed at nullifying at once Moscow’s numerical superiority in the number of nuclear warheads.
This effort to free the U.S. from the old nuclear deterrent concept of MAD or mutually assured destruction failed in delivering what it promised but, ironically, did succeed on a bigger purpose by luring the Soviets into an arms race it couldn’t win.
Reagan completed his three-part act in 1987 when he declared during a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, “Tear down this wall.” It was Reagan’s advanced double eulogy for communism as the wall fell in 1989 and the USSR disintegrated in 1991.
So we still have a trump card to play against the North.
Let’s do a Reagan on it by playing along with the North in a game that it calls its own but statistics show it can never win. According to official data, our population is twice as large as that of the North; our GDP 40 times the North’s and GNP per capita close to 20 times larger.
Park has partially answered herself when she recently reminded the North that the Soviets, its former sponsor, collapsed not because it had no nuclear weapons.
All it needs may be a little push.