Commentary/Op-ed 1,050 words


I recently moved back to the US after teaching 8 years in South Korea. For readers who do not live in the US, you should be aware that sentiment is growing here for a preemptive strike on North Korea’s nuclear missile facilities. Despite a pundit-orchestrated chorus of reservations, new polls suggest increased fear and approval for US interdiction. New provocations seem to beg for preemptive US kinetic action as military personnel now populate the public airways. Our president warns of “fire and fury” and that we are “locked and loaded” as a major network anchor uses the phrase “incinerate North Korea” as an option.

This threatening verbiage will abate, but the can cannot be kicked down the road indefinitely. Growing tensions increase the chance of miscalculation. Eventually, there will be a tipping point and a final resolution, one way or another.

This is the 7th iteration of limited UN sanctions against North Korea; few expect this round will have any effect. Brinkmanship is reaching an endpoint, and the death-knell of shooting missiles from the sky and/or an oil embargo may soon be imposed, as diplomacy plays its last card before the peninsula is hurled into cataclysm.

Misapprehension already exists.

More than a year ago I had dinner in Seoul with two North Korea experts (Drs. Lankov and Im) and to their alarm—referring to the haunting public memory of 9/11—I predicted the US would be more inclined to conduct a limited surgical strike on North Korea nuclear missile facilities than to allow the Kim regime weapons of mass destruction that could reach the American homeland. They were skeptical, but they are not Americans and did not experience the horror of watching the two towers crumble to the earth on live television as we did.

Less than a year ago I asserted at a meeting in Seoul—chaired by former minister and Sunshine policy advocate Chung-in Moon—that I would not be surprised if Trump was elected president. Everyone in the room considered this unlikely. But here we are, with an unpredictable US commander-in-chief who by personality and disposition is probably far less concerned about the potential loss of life in Korea than about promoting his vision of America-First.

We need an alternative to war and yet the status quo view in Seoul and Washington is that there are no good options. However, as I have argued in two books, there is one plausible good option that has not yet been explored: BUY THEM OUT—A FRIENDLY CORPORATE BUYOUT.

Crazy? Impossible? Think again. The world currently has an abundance of capital and a poverty of profitable investment opportunities. North Korea is literally a gold mine with up to $10 trillion in mineral wealth that can be bought as if it were a penny stock.

Imagine you control a multi-billion dollar capital fund and North Korea is an underperforming corporation. You see it is undervalued and wish to take over, but it is controlled by a backward board of directors—the Kim family and a small number of ultra-elites—who will not negotiate a deal. In this regressive situation it is logical to offer shareholders—the larger number of political and military elites, government managers, and bureaucrats—a higher price for their shares to convince them to overrule their board of directors.

It is plausible this friendly corporate takeover can be accomplished for as little as $30 billion—an annual $4.2 billion investment over 7 years. To put this in perspective, Apple Computer has $250 billion in the bank, $4.2 billion equals about 2 days of US QE 2009-2014, and for a small consortium of tycoons this is pocket change.

My plan is to endow a fund and promise an appealing unification payout to North Korean elites in order to incentivize them to push for reunification. The top 1,000 North Korean families will be promised at least $5 million each (dispersed over 7 years), 11,000 upper elites—including all generals—would get over $1 million; 50,000 lower-level political elites and military officers are promised $100,000 to $500,000. In total, 110,000 elites will receive more than $50,000 each. This is an enormous amount of money—even for elites—and should create strong incentives for the new generation that has taken over since the succession of Kim Jong-un six years ago.

This generation of Pyongyang elites may be viewed less as perpetrators and more as innocent victim inheritors of an ignoble history. Most who will benefit are merely innocent inheritors of their fathers’ ill-begotten estate (position) and were not complicit in its original acquisition or in the malevolence that followed. (For another $15.4 billion—$2.2 billion per year for 7 years—unification money may be promised to 500,000 members of the Korean Workers Party and 300,000 impoverished families in Pyongyang to incentivize mass grass-roots activism)

Kim Jong-un will be offered personal and financial security. However, there may be insurrection if he does not acquiesce. With $20-30 million promised to each of the 210 most prominent families, they might take matters into their own hands. Or a coup d’état may be sponsored by well-compensated political or military elites. In either case—violent overthrow or peaceful acquiescence—the transfer of power to South Korea would disarm a growing nuclear threat and end more than 65 years of abject tyranny and human rights abuse.

Compelling evidence suggests relatively impoverished North Korean elites are ready for change. But they need attractive incentives and assurance their lives will improve after unification.

Considering the limited responses currently under consideration and the existential magnitude of this problem, shouldn’t we take a long look at this proposal—I spent 7 years drafting—before rushing into actions that may lead to dire consequences? Praised by numerous Korea experts, STOP NORTH KOREA! A RADICAL NEW APPROACH TO THE KOREAN STANDOFF offers a plausible non-kinetic solution that could denuclearize and unify Korea in a matter of months.

It is time the media pick up on this idea and help bring it to the consideration of policymakers.

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