The Daily Demarche
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Unilateral Magnanimity
Occasionally we receive e-mails that are too good to resist sharing, and we invite the author to do a guest piece, or re-publish something he or she has posted elsewhere. This is one of those e-mails that evolved into a guest piece. The text below is un-edited by The Daily Demarche. - Dr. D

[As promised the oil bit below has also been updated today]

“War is not an independent phenomenon, but the continuation of politics by different means. “ – Clausewitz

For the purposes of considering policy options regarding North Korea, it is the second half of Clausewitz’s quote, “… the continuation of politics by different means” that will be explored. With political options decidedly constrained, some think war with Kim Jong-Il's North Korea inevitable. Secretary Rice has taken to sternly warning the North Koreans as to the scope and depth of American military resources. Various political prods and threats have yielded bitter fruit. Continued belligerence on the part of the North Korean government, as well as the reshuffling of the geopolitical/economic deck in Asia makes for furrowed brows in an administration whose attention and resources are engaged elsewhere. Frankly, war with North Korea is a fool’s errand. It serves neither the interests of Asia or the United States. It may be time to inject this situation with a radical policy innovation. Let us begin by identifying the general objective; the destabilization, modification or the end of the rogue regime of Kim Jong-Il. Let us also acknowledge that his extant nuclear capabilities threaten North Korea’s Asian neighbors much more than they do the continental US. Nonetheless, war in Asia would dampen the enthusiasm of Asian nations for financing the debt of a profligate America. The ensuing refugee/humanitarian crisis would compound the economic fallout. It’s a grim scenario all the way around. The North Koreans know it and exploit it. It makes little sense to play into their only strength. The one thing this failed and paranoid dictatorship can do is buy/build weapons and raise armies. The one thing they cannot do is feed their people or provide them with the material wherewithal for an adequate living standard. In contrast, the United States can do both. In fact, it’s being reported that its military budget will soon equal the rest of the world’s expenditures combined. The US can also buy or manufacture more of everything than just about anybody else. The latter suggests a potential tactic that is aggressive, non-lethal and is indeed the continuation of policy by different means.

“To win a hundred victories in a hundred battles is not the highest excellence; the highest excellence is to subdue the enemy’s army without fighting at all.” - SUN-TZU

The strategy of Kim Jong-Il is simple; stay in power. Sun-Tzu said that when planning the attack “the best military policy is to attack strategies.” He also said, “the worst is to assault walled cities.” Attacking North Korea is the walled city option. Assaulting the Kim’s strategy is worth some consideration. As it clearly could not prevail in an outright military confrontation with the US, the cornerstone of the North Korean policy is the deterrent effect afforded it by the global recognition that war in Asia is not desirable. Furthermore, it can claim, with some justification that the only way it could protect itself from the US was to acquire nuclear weapons.

As mentioned, this it not to threaten the US but to unsettle its Asian neighbors enough to counsel constraint to the US. The North Korean Communists have had a half a century to instill a high level of paranoia in the populace regarding the US. In attacking them we will legitimize the government and probably unleash North Korean nationalism. As hard as it is for us to imagine North Koreans being nationalistic about such a failed and miserable state, it is not a justification to discount the possibility. If, under these conditions, attacking North Korea is the walled city option, what then would be the preferred policy? Attack the strategy of North Korea. If adopted, this tactic requires not only assaulting Kim Jong-Il with something he is not prepared to confront, it also requires changing the calculus employed by nations and transnational organizations in “managing” the “crisis” in which his strategy rests, in other words, the diplomatic status-quo. An argument could be made that cold war political calculations and the accompanying diplomatic machinations have become so predictable and transparent that everybody and his brother can game the system. NGO’s recognize this and are attempting to exploit this diplomatic exhaustion in service to the imagined post-sovereign utopia. If the status-quo is exhausted, what then would be the policy initiative that would circumvent or perturb the existing geopolitical dynamic? It is the aggressive use of magnanimity.

“One change always leaves the way open for the establishment of others.” -Niccolo Machiavelli

The US can literally bury North Korea under an avalanche of manufactured goods and agricultural products. Does anyone doubt that the US could not fill a dozen super cargo ships with say a million or two each of blankets, eyeglasses, shoes, doses of aspirin, tooth paste and brushes, basic antibiotics, shirts, pants, jackets, hats, gloves, dresses, skirts sweaters, pens, pencils, paper, watches, books, pots, pans, bottled water and mountains of grain, etc.? Unleashing the productivity, ingenuity and wealth of a free people against the regime of Kim Jong-Il is a tactic he is ill-prepared to confront. Imagine President Bush, on behalf of the American people and in solidarity with the long suffering and actually starving people of North Korea, makes this mass of goods and foodstuffs a gift to ameliorate the deprivation of the North Korean populace and to give evidence of what is available outside of North Korea. There is precedent for such an initiative; the marshalling of resources and logistics by the US in response to the devastation of the recent Tsunami. Our relief efforts graphically projected American resources and might in the form of magnanimity. The impact of this act on the region instigated, in some cases, a certain reexamination of the region’s engagement with America which had previously been one of suspicion if not hostility. In some instances it has led to a higher level of communication and cooperation.

“You will not find it difficult to prove that battles, campaigns, and even wars have been won or lost primarily because of logistics.” - General Dwight D. Eisenhower

If aggressive magnanimity is employed, what are the logistical issues? In the case of war, it is both expensive, cumbersome and in the modern area is held subject to the cooperation of other nations. Not so with aggressive magnanimity. The preponderance of existing commercial logistical networks and infrastructures dwarfs anything the military could possibly replicate. The volume of goods and agricultural products that are shipped around the US on a daily basis makes the domestic logistical issue mute. Ocean transport may be somewhat more complicated but again, commercial shipping is an everyday event, massive military transport is not. Considering the staggering expenses of the Iraq war, the capital outlays for aggressive magnanimity are miniscule in comparison. Commercial enterprises are in the business of cheap. Not so weaponry. The manufacturers for all the goods previous mentioned could bid for the contract to fulfill the orders. As these goods are everyday commodities and the competition fierce, costs are contained. Since the government is already propping up the prices for agricultural products due to over capacity, theoretically a bargain could be struck to likewise deliver low cost. The political benefits of these federal outlays are that they support the common business environment. By nature, military expenditures are confined to a few highly specialized producers. The efficiencies of the market place make the acquisition/logistic phase manageable. But, what are the obstacles of implementation and the accompanying political tsunami?

"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." -Sir Winston Churchill

The geopolitical ramifications represent the area of greatest dynamism. This strategy, as one can imagine, upsets most of the apple carts. North Korea has two options, neither desirable. If the gesture is spurned, it allows the US question the legitimacy of a government that so spurns the interests of its own people and sets up the “we tried” argument if the military option is eventually exercised. If the gesture is accepted, the regime in addition to the distribution problems, must explain to a wondering populace where this material abundance came from. Questions among the populace and perhaps the military will undoubtedly arise even if whispered. Furthermore, the spectacle of the UN, EU and various NGO’s protestations and moral outrage over America’s “unilateral” magnanimity allows the US to say “we’re damned if we do and we’re damned if we don’t.” Actually, a fierce US demand that all these entities engage the North Koreans on this issue is a required component. The US should also demand that the UN manage the distribution process. The end result is the positioning these entities in circumstance that, in the past, they could pontificate about while avoiding action. It places their moral authority, effectiveness and competence on the line.

"There are but two powers in the world, the sword and the mind. In the long run the sword is always beaten by the mind." - Napoleon Bonaparte

What if the policy fails? Give the goods to the UN. Let them distribute it to whatever nation is in most need. What if North Korea accepts and then returns to intransigence? The heat is substantially turned up on North Korea’s Asian neighbors to act, leaving the US free to hold its own council for the time being. While to some, maybe most, this initiative is a fantastical flight of imagination and naiveté. Perhaps, but the one indisputable fact is that the geopolitical shake up continues unabated with ensuing confusion and crisis. There is an old saying; perhaps it was Confucius that said there is opportunity in crisis. In any case, this initiative requires no blood, little sweat and tears and modest expense in comparison the attack the walled city option. With apologies to Barry Goldwater, the aggressive use of magnanimity in the promotion of liberty is no vice.

Brad Lena is a freelance writer living in Asheville, North Carolina. He can be reached at

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dé·marche 1) A course of action; a maneuver. 2) A diplomatic representation or protest 3) A statement or protest addressed by citizens to public authorities.


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