Jon Huntsman wrote a magnificent Op-Ed for CNN today detailing the steps America should take in the aftermath of the death of Kim Jong-Il. As the United States Ambassador to China from 2009-2011 and former Ambassador to Singapore, Jon has an expertise in this area that few in politics today can match. So it is natural that CNN would turn to him for an outline of the necessary steps America must take at this important, if uncertain time.
Though North Korea is an extremely opaque country, we can have some confidence that a transition plan established over a year ago is now being implemented. Public pronouncements from Pyongyang indicate 29-year-old Kim Jong Un has assumed leadership, and preparations are under way for a public funeral for Kim Jong Il, with Kim Jong Un presiding. Even the launch of a short-range missile off North Korea’s east coast around the time of Kim’s death can be seen as “North Korean normalcy.”
Thus, this is not a time to hyperventilate; rather, we must take a deep breath and give sober-minded examination to the actions we can take to improve the situation on the Korean Peninsula and strengthen our own security. As a former ambassador in the region who worked on North Korea security issues, I am keenly aware that this delicate situation presents immediate risks but also long-term opportunities.
Far from the bravado and the bluster that characterizes most (if not all) of the other GOP candidates, Jon Huntsman’s measured approach is reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy approach to the former Soviet Union. He states that America must strengthen alliances with nations that share our own concerns about North Korean instability. And, perhaps most importantly, he stresses that we must not overreact to what are likely to be outward displays of strength from Pyongyang in the coming weeks and months.
As we look further ahead, we must note that April 2012 will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung (Kim Jong Il’s father). Our intelligence analysts were already predicting the occasion would likely mean a range of provocative actions from Pyongyang to mark the birth of their country’s father and to extract payoffs from the outside world.
Now we must add into the dangerous mix the probability that Kim Jong Un will encourage some activities to show his strength and demonstrate that he’s firmly in charge. The key going forward will be to help protect our allies and our interests but not to overact to the North Korean regime’s predictable pattern of behavior.
We should see Kim’s passing as the best opportunity in decades for the people of North Korea to move toward political reform.
Looking out over an even longer horizon, we should see Kim’s passing as the best opportunity in decades for the people of North Korea to move toward political reform. Whether by supporting Seoul’s North-South dialogue, working with Kim Jong Un if he shows any interest in opening-up (not much is known about him, but we do know he had some exposure to the West during his school years) or interacting directly with the people of North Korea, we should seize opportunities to encourage meaningful reform.
We should be reminded that after Mao Zedong’s death in China in 1976, it took only two years for Deng Xiaoping to launch China’s opening to the outside world in 1978.
Given the magnitude of these events, wise stewardship of our country and military is essential if we are to take advantage of this opportunity to help forge a more stable situation on the Korean Peninsula. The unpredictable events unfolding in North Korea and across the world should serve as a reminder that we need a president with hands-on foreign policy experience
This is exactly the kind of foreign policy that we need at this time. None of the other candidates offer even a hint of this kind of thoughtful, experienced approach towards foreign policy in such a complex, but still vitally important region. As we (rightly) focus on our own economy we must never forget that the world continues to flare up around us. North Korea has the potential of being either one of the greatest tragedies or the greatest redemption stories of all time. Can we take the risk of not having a person as experienced as Jon Huntsman take control of our foreign policy at this time in not only ours, but the world’s history?