There isn’t an easy answer. Diplomacy has reached a dead end. The North Korean regime has proven that it treats this as a sucker’s game: milking bribes for agreements that it then flouts. After decades of this, North Korea still continues its nuclear weaponry development. And with North Korea heavily armed and possessing nuclear weapons, there really isn’t a military option, the risks and costs would be too forbidding. Meantime, within the country, a humanitarian nightmare continues.
Actually, what the chief nations concerned want most is to preserve the status quo: including keeping North Korea’s regime in power. Why? Because if the regime implodes, there would be a huge mess to clean up, including a flood of starving refugees. South Korea in particular fears the cost of having to take over an impoverished, devastated north.
But this is one of those situations that will have to get worse before it gets better.
I believe the only path to an ultimately acceptable outcome is to bite the bullet of allowing the North Korean regime to fail. That is, stop negotiating, stop bribing, stop effectively propping up the regime, and quarantining the country with sanctions. And, yes, stop food aid. That sounds cruelly inhumane. Our aid is the only thing that keeps many northerners alive. But even with that aid, this is still a land of endemic malnutrition and starvation, not to mention all the other hideous human rights evils. Our food aid enables the regime to cope, prolonging the agony. Withdrawing that aid would mean great suffering for today’s North Koreans, but if we continue it, that would mean great suffering for generation after generation of North Koreans.
The regime will bluster about “acts of war” and shriek threats. Let them shriek. It’s obvious the only thing they care about is maintaining power. A military adventure would have huge potential for upsetting that apple cart. I don’t think they’re suicidal. And, if we do cut off aid, they’ll have their hands full just trying to somehow survive, even without an added military complication.
In a previous entry, I wrote that the only thing that matters, cosmically, is the suffering or joy of sentient beings. My notion for North Korea would entail great suffering, but I see it as offering the only prospect of minimizing suffering in the long run. The vile North Korean regime cannot endure forever; all the horrors we fear will have to be faced sooner or later. Better that it be sooner, so we can get on with the job of making that corner of the world livable for human beings. History teaches that squeamishness about biting bullets like this only makes the mess, when it finally comes, worse.