Friday, February 16, 2007

Again….a new deal on a dangerous thing

This is an old article. I wrote this a week after North Korea broke a commitment with the six-party talks in 2006. Some issues may be obsolete, but hopefully, the idea is still relevant. Another thing, this is my first time writing about international relation issues and regional security. What attracts me the most is the way of economic approach, particularly game theory, in deciphering our complicated world.

Recently, The Economist writes an issue about a new deal in the six-party talk. It seems to be skeptic that the deal will bring lasting stability in the region. Yet, that is really reasonable. Below is my article

Proliferation and Sanctions over North-Korea:
Economic approach on International Relations

The UN anonymously decided to take punitive actions over North-Korea. The UN realized that such universal pressures are needed to keep stability in the region. But the US went beyond. It considers that old-friends’ (China and Russia) pressure may much more powerful than what other countries in the region do. However question over China’s commitment remains.

Condolezza Rice’s visit into China recently seemed to send a signal that China’s roles after the test are far more important in the six-party talks rather than other countries involved. Yet, how far China really commits on the sanctions over North Korea is still vague. After the anonymous UN decision over North Korea, China called for selective sanctions and warned that harsh pressures may escalate tension.

China statements can easily be predicted. A mistake of old-good friend should be forgiven. Unfortunately China already sent a message to North-Korea’s leaders that sanctions may not toughly be imposed. That is why Kim Jong Il is likely to swaying with the wind by pledging for not testing nuclear weapons to China but at the same time celebrating the test success.

If so, can we expect that North-Korea will not repeat belligerent actions in the future? Moreover will sanctions over North-Korea be the most optimum way in creating lasting stability in the region?

International sanctions, particularly on economy, might be the first best option for a country defecting international stability. This option is likely desirable on the state level. Yet, international sanctions on undemocratic society leave a dilemmatic situation. International community should not put the sins of the country’s leaders on the people’s shoulder. We know that Kim Jong Il or other North-Korean leaders power are not based on North-Korean’s consent.

Moreover, The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) working on North-Korea food program reported that North-Koreans have long lived with miserable condition. More than a third of children under age six are underdeveloped. Situation has been worst even when its neighbors dispatched regularly basic need of North Korean (the Economist 21/11/06). Recent international sanction undoubtedly will dig hole for the North-Koreans.

We also know that Kim Jong Il is a thorn of stability in the region. His regime has made North Korea such that its actions represent Il’s perspective over the region. Hence predicting North Korea actions are always inline with finding what Il think of.

Tracing back North Korea’s aggressive action in the past, including the launch of Taepodong 2 missile last year and recent nuclear test confirms that Kim Jong Il tends to use conflict intentionally for bargain. By doing this, he realizes gains and strongly points out the benefit of creating conflict.

What Il has done is similar to a game of what economists and game theorists call “tit-for-tat-strategy”. Tit-for-tat strategy suggests that one may cooperate if his rival cooperate and defect if its opponents broke a commitment or did nothing in the last period. Here, game theory approach may contribute in explaining Il’s behavior

Regarding nuclear issue and game-theoretic approach, Kenneth N Waltz’s ideas on nuclear weapons perfectly exhibit game theory approach. He suggests that more nations with nuclear power may make international system better in stabilizing system and reducing the probability of outbreak war among nations. He also argues that nuclear weapons dissuade countries for going to war more surely than conventional weapons and nuclear power has reversed the fate of strong and weak states (Kenneth Waltz, Nuclear Myths and Political Realities, 1990). Hence, Waltz assumes that one country’s best strategy would depend on the other countries’ best strategy. Nuclear weapons may promote stability and ‘Nash-equilibrium condition’.

Looking back at the issue, we may find that long history and ideology already made permanent instability in the East Asian countries. With or without North-Korea weapon issues, instability in terms of political or military tension in the region may still exist. However, the imbalance of weapon level held by the countries involved encourages the Kim Jong Il’s willingness to trade outbreak war risk for domestic gains.

Therefore the second best option is to change the way of bargaining with North Korea including deterrence action of other countries, particularly South Korea and Japan. Deterrence action over North-Korea may be effective by reducing its tendency of aggressive action and increasing the probability of retaliation. South Korea and Japan which are considered standing on the US side probably are better to rethink their deterrence policies particularly regarding arm races and nuclear proliferation policies.

Deterrence action, in the end, is concerned with influencing the choices that one country will make by influencing its expectation of how other countries will behave. Here the deterrence actions of Japan and South Korea should be intended to change Il’s mind concerning the distribution of power in the region.

However this way is unlikely to be popular option in international diplomacy. First, outcomes of this policy are uncertain and policy-makers in the region are risk-averse. This is completely different from Kim Jong Il style as a blatant risk-taker and the first mover. Kim Jong Il recognizes the advantage of being first mover.

Second, international community still puts great hope on the six-party talks and seeks for peaceful diplomacy. However, the launch of Taepodong 2 missile last year and recent nuclear test showed clearly that the talk may not be as effective as we think in creating stability. It happened as the countries in the six-party talks have their own agendas which are very often counterproductive over the issues.

Undoubtedly, one should highlight that the second best option should be taken deliberately. However, international community should seek for effective action beyond international sanctions and not punch the wrong heads.