We seem to have developed a pattern in our international relations of shooting first and asking questions later. No doubt about it - vigorous action is a crowd-pleaser, but as we discover every day, not having a good plan for the moment of "now what?" is a real bummer.
So on North Korea, what could we expect to happen? This thoughtful essay points out the possibilities:
Fortunately, the demise of North Korea is more likely to be drawn out. Robert Collins, a retired Army master sergeant and now a civilian area expert for the American military in South Korea, outlined for me seven phases of collapse in the North:
North Koreans have been starving all my career, and yet endure. The probable collapse of the NK looney-tunes government will only add to their misery. Massive food aid will be needed for years, as well as rebuilding their agriculture.Phase One: resource depletion;
Phase Two: the failure to maintain infrastructure around the country because of resource depletion;
Phase Three: the rise of independent fiefs informally controlled by local party apparatchiks or warlords, along with widespread corruption to circumvent a failing central government;
Phase Four: the attempted suppression of these fiefs by the KFR once it feels that they have become powerful enough;
Phase Five: active resistance against the central government;
Phase Six: the fracture of the regime; and
Phase Seven: the formation of new national leadership.
North Korea probably reached Phase Four in the mid-1990s, but was saved by subsidies from China and South Korea, as well as by famine aid from the United States. It has now gone back to Phase Three.
We learned those lessons from the post-meltdown experiences in the former USSR. Satellite nations struggles to jump-start farms. Often the biggest issue is simply trying to determine ownership of the land.
North Korea will be a problem, I believe, that will have to be approached with more tools than simple regime change. One of these will necessarily be a commitment to "feed the sheep".