North Korean deterrence possible

Although, nowadays, Mitchell Reiss, President and CEO of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation focuses all his attention on furthering the mission of Colonial Williamsburg as a center for history and citizenship and on teaching America's founding democratic principles, he also follows with keen interest developments on the Korean Peninsula.

Especially in the wake of North Korea's latest test of an atomic weapon and of ballistic missile launches. After all, it was Reiss, who as executive director of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, an agency responsible for a $6 billion project that was set up to induce North Korea to adhere to its commitment to freeze its nuclear weapons program, negotiated for years with the leaders of the world most secretive and intransigent regime.

In a previous interview with the Gazette, Reiss said, "Contrary to most published reports, the North Koreans are not crazy or irrational. In fact, they are quite smart, diligent and resourceful. One of the complications of dealing with them is that they are relatively unsophisticated about the ways of the world – they literally don't get out much and can be stubborn. "

All this hasn't changed much since Reiss has negotiated with the regime of Kim Jong-il, the father of the current dictator, Kim Jong-un.

"North Korea's behavior is no different than before," Reiss said in a recent interview with the Gazette. "But the pace of their nuclear weapons and ballistic missile testing has accelerated in recent years, since the ascension of Kim Jong-un. They seem to be making a final sprint past the goal line to have a full-fledged nuclear deterrent."

I asked Reiss, considering his long experience in dealing with the North Koreans, whether he thinks their behavior is irrational, reckless or "crazy like a fox"?

"North Korea's behavior is rational for an isolated, illegitimate regime that constantly worries about its security. We may not like their choices, but they make sense to them," he said.

So, is there a way to halt the further development of nuclear weapons by North Korea?

"The best way to halt NK's continued development of nuclear weapons is to exert leverage the only place we have it: China," Reiss said. "China is responsible for an estimated 80% of NK's food and energy supplies. Were China to reduce or eliminate these supplies, it is doubtful that the NK regime could last very long. Of course, persuading China to adopt this policy has proven impossible to date."

Some national security experts advocate imposing a "hard-embargo" on North Korea, which would include measures such as blocking all shipping, total banking restrictions, and other steps. But Reiss, who served as Secretary of State Colin Powell's director of planning at the State Department, and was expected to "think out of the box," disagrees.

"A hard embargo would work in toppling the NK regime, but it is unlikely to be implemented by China and perhaps Russia as well. Blockading NK by sea alone does nothing to address the land routes into NK."

President Obama declared, the U. S. will never accept North Korea as a "nuclear state." But can we live with a nuclear-armed NK?

"The U.S. officially denied that India and Pakistan are nuclear-armed for many years and arguably is doing so today with respect to Israel," Reiss said. "Will a nuclear-armed NK complicate alliance relations with South Korea and Japan? Yes. Will it harm the Nonproliferation Treaty? Yes. Will it impact U. S. security? Yes. But if we were able to deter a Soviet Union armed with 30,000 nuclear weapons, we ought to be able to deter North Korea armed with a dozen."

Shatz, a Williamsburg resident, is the author of "Reports from a Distant Place," a compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon.com

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette