North Korea Negotiations Rest on Fraudulent Economic Principle

North Korea Negotiations Rest on Fraudulent Economic Principle
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As we await further developments on the negotiations with North Korea, some commentators question whether America can offer enough inducements to “close the deal.” But the premise underlying the negotiations—the premise that everyone comes out ahead if we offer the North Koreans something that they want while they give us the denuclearization that we want—goes unchallenged.

Yet that premise rests on a fraud.

The fraud consists of the attempt to conflate geopolitics with economics. It consists of the view that coercive machinations engaged in by a state are equivalent to voluntary trades engaged in by individuals.

The easiest way to see the nature of this fraud is to ask a simple question: Why are we not worried about the nuclear arsenals of, say, England or France, which are far greater than North Korea’s? Why are North Korea’s weapons such a danger to us?

It’s only because North Korea is an enemy of freedom, while those other countries are not. Whatever the inconsistencies—and they are many--in America’s political system, and in that of most of the West, individual liberty remains a moral value. The British and French have no desire to subjugate us—but North Korea does. It has announced its willingness to use its weapons against us. It is a brutal, totalitarian state in which no freedom is permitted. A government that murders and enslaves its own people would have no compunction about attacking us.

The danger is not that North Korea will defeat us, but simply that it will have the capacity to kill many Americans. Will it be deterred by our overwhelmingly superior firepower? Perhaps. But our safety can’t rest on the assumption that a nation with an irrational political system will make some rational calculation of its long-term interests. This is the threat we face—which our diplomats are trying to defuse through “bargaining.”

If a mugger confronts you and says, “Give me your money or I’ll break your arm,” you may have to comply with his demand but would you regard the arrangement as a “trade,” with both parties benefiting? If he takes only half your money, do you conclude that you’ve made a profitable transaction? Obviously not. The removal of a threat—a threat created by the person offering to remove it—is not a value. It is not part of any “trade.” You are gaining nothing you didn’t already have; you are only losing. Only the criminal comes out ahead.

Is a “deal” with the North Koreans any different?

They have initiated a threat against us. In reaction, we have been trying for 25 years to find a way of “trading” for the elimination of that threat. President Trump, for example, offered to halt war games—the training for repelling an invasion from the North--that we conduct with South Korea. Which means we are reducing our means of defending against aggression in exchange for North Korea’s promise to reduce its means of conducting aggression. Is that a “trade”?

There are two ways of responding to a threat of attack, whether from individuals or from nations. One is to use force. The other is to buy off the aggressor—i.e., to pay what is commonly called “protection money.” This latter has been America’s dominant strategy toward the North Koreans. We’ve tried to “bribe” them with all kinds of benefits, from oil to nuclear power plants, in exchange for their not threatening us. We’ve rewarded them, in other words, for letting us keep what we already possess: our freedom and our lives.

The difficulty with this approach is not simply that we can’t believe, or verify, the promises of a totalitarian dictator. The fundamental problem is that the payment of protection money is a very impractical way of ensuring our safety. It works neither against criminals nor against criminal-states. It only encourages our enemies by telling them, in effect, that they needn’t worry about a military response by us, because we’re always open to an amicable “deal.” This appeasing approach is the reason an impoverished, backward nation is now on the verge of being able to launch nuclear-armed ballistic missiles against us.

Many insist that military action on our part must be ruled out because of the devastation that North Korea’s weaponry could cause. But this argument represents a colossal evasion. After all, it is the arguers’ own philosophy—their refusal to use force back when we could have done so easily and effectively, as well as their pretense that whatever we give away to the North Koreans constitutes a “trade”— that has made possible the development of North Korea’s military capabilities. And where was their concern for the millions of people who may have to face the danger of a North Korean nuclear strike, but who could have been safeguarded had we preemptively eliminated the threat decades ago?

No matter how severe, or imminent, the danger from North Korea becomes, our “diplomatic traders” will insist that “bargaining” is always preferable to military action. There is no point at which they will not proclaim that some further concessions will buy us “peace in our time.”

As to exactly what can be done today, with minimal risk to Americans, that’s a question for military experts. But the one option that should not be entertained—the option that has spawned the danger we now confront—is to cling to the belief that paying aggressors not to attack us results in a mutually beneficial exchange.

Peter Schwartz, a Distinguished Fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute, is the author of IN DEFENSE OF SELFISHNESS: Why the Code of Self-Sacrifice Is Unjust and Destructive (Palgrave Macmillan) and THE FOREIGN POLICY OF SELF-INTEREST: A Moral Ideal for America (ARI Press).

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