Pros and Cons of the Cha and Kang Perspectives Essay

Pages: 6 (2001 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 2  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Military

¶ … Cha and Kang

The Pros and Cons of the Cha and Kang Positions

North Korea's leaders have demonstrated puzzling, erratic, and irrational political and military behavior in the eyes of U.S./South Korean political scientists and policy makers. For this reason, a debate over the wisdom of approaching policy toward the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) is relevant. Both Victor Cha and David Kang repudiate an extreme policy such as intimidation, coercion, or pure isolation with respect to DPRK. Both feel that this would only heighten the North's motivation to explode or lash out. Some form of engagement is their chosen suggestion for controlling diplomatic policy, though they differ in how this engagement should look. We can see both advantages and disadvantages to their views. Both are plausible approaches toward a rational solution of the dilemma that neither deny risks nor promote easy policies.

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Cha believes that conditional engagement is the best strategy for holding down the DPRK's incentive for hostility. He rapidly dismisses full-blown containment-plus-isolation or coercion tactics. Recognizing that Pyongyang's tactics have changed for the better (motivated by getting outside economic aid), he is skeptical that any lasting change in intention has occurred (Cha, 2003, pp. 14, emphasis added). This distinction between tactics and motivation is at the center of the dilemma. It is naive to think, he believes, that the DPRK has adopted a fundamental change in the direction of reform (p. 15). The display of "tactical warming" is only a deceptive indication that no real movement toward real change has been made (p. 15). Without such desire to change and integrate into the community of nations, North Korea remains a legitimate threat.

Essay on Pros and Cons of the Cha and Kang Perspectives Assignment

The heart of his argument is that "engagement is a form of preventive defense" (p. 16). It is a supplement to "containment" (military deterrence), which has without question worked to prevent another invasion but has not worked to eliminate other conflicts. Diplomatic engagement allows the U.S./South Korea to defuse dangerous conditions where North Korea could elevate its level of violence and hostility. In making this argument, he dismisses any rationale that engagement is necessary to create predictability, to correct misunderstanding, or to prevent collapse of the DPRK. Cha thinks that North Korea is predictable, not misunderstood, and not on the brink of collapse. Further, Cha knows that the military capability of North Korea has been depleted and the threat of full-scale war is minimal due to the imbalance of forces. However, he insists the DPRK is a viable threat for smaller incidents of preemptive and disruptive violence. Even in a weakened state, it can still strike out, essentially preventing peace and stability in the region through small-scale aggression. The core of his argument is that "North Korea could perceive some use of limited force as a rational and optimal choice even where there is little or no hope of victory" (p. 19). This is an effective way of saying that a weaker power still has recourse to hostility (i.e., remains a threat) in situations where it perceives itself as bound to lose.

This argument is effective because of the framework he uses. He shows how the conditions that exist in North Korea are such that the status quo has become unbearable. The country is isolated, it has lost hope in closing the economic gap with South Korea, it faces the humiliating prospect of relying on its rival for basic survival (food and energy), and it is an illiberal non-democratic regime (pp. 22-23). When the status quo becomes unbearable, the DPRK may be compelled to act aggressively even in situations where it will lose. Any action is preferable to no action under those conditions. In Cha's view, the regime is not likely to declare war, but it is likely out of desperation to use "deliberate, limited acts of violence to create small crises" out of whose tension it can negotiate an "outcome more to the North's advantage than the status quo" (p. 24). Many times he pejoratively calls this "coercive bargaining." The kind of engagement Cha proposes instead is one where the North Korean's have something to lose. They would be less likely to act out and the negotiations would be more effective.

Using the notion of "domain of losses," Cha states a strong case that North Korea is dangerous because it is fighting to keep what it still has, not primarily because it stands to gain something from aggression. In other words, the DPRK is motivated more from not losing and less from gaining. Cha's argument is strong in evidence that North Korea perceives itself as vulnerable and has framed its context in the domain of losses. He gives examples that its material well-being is suffering, that the rhetoric of reform has proliferated, and that popular sentiment is increasingly desperate. This creates a scenario where loss aversion may lead to protective and risky preemptive strikes against South Korea or the U.S.

While these are all good arguments, there are some shortcomings to Cha's view. It is possible that engagement strategies -- and Kang's view fall under the same criticism -- go too far in rewarding the dictatorship and allowing it to continue its destructive and immoral behavior. It is excessively appeasing. Because its focus is more on solving a security problem than dealing with moral rights issues, it may not go far enough in demanding a stop to human injustice and rights violations in Pyongyang. In other words, it doesn't go far enough in supporting sanctions and other coercive measures that might effect a change in the repressive regime. Further, there does not seem to be clear evidence that a "defensive engagement" policy has actually worked. On the contrary, it may enable the regime to continue its rogue ways because it is not forceful enough in mitigating preemptive attacks.

One might argue as well that Cha overlooks the possibility that North Korea's status quo is a defensive posture, a response of fear to a perceived threat to its nationhood. He doesn't pay enough attention to the role of the amassed U.S. forces that pose an acute security challenge to the nation. In other words, the North Korean reaction may be more the result of fear, and therefore more defensive, than he implies with his belief that it follows an offensive strategy driven by the incentive of loss aversion. As such, its weakness may decrease the threat it poses rather than increase it.

Further, he tends to overestimate the capability of North Korea with his refusal to acknowledge that in their weakness they are much less of a threat than may be perceived by some. He seems to overvalue the notion that weakness leads to belligerence. Nor does he discuss in detail (outside of citing cases) the question of nuclear arms to the extent it deserves, since his focus is mainly on conventional warfare. In doing so, he avoids a theoretical discussion of one of the most important topics. Moreover, he does not seem to accept that deterrence has worked sufficiently to bring relative stability and peace to the region.

Finally, it is possible that such an engagement policy does not fit the current thinking in Pyongyang. The status quo might be quite acceptable. There may be no worries about inequality or inferiority in comparison with the South, and the economic situation certainly has improved to the point where desperation may have lessened and pulled them back permanently from the domain of losses into the domain of gains. As such, any preemptive or defensive strategy against them would be invalid.

Kang's primary argument is that unambiguous military deterrence has worked to create stability and peace on the Korean peninsula. He disagrees with Cha on the significance of the many small instances of conflict. He calls them skirmishes and does not warrant them as important or threatening acts. Rather, he believes that since the end of the Cold War, the loss of allies to North Korea and the resulting shift in power to the U.S. has created a paranoid and defensive posture within the leadership in Pyongyang. For example, he believes with good reason that North Korea has increased security fears towards the U.S. that, until resolved, will prevent progress in nuclear weapons talks (Kang, 2003, p. 44). The weakness of North Korea, Kang argues, makes it implausible to suggest that it would instigate a war. (He gives convincing evidence of just how depleted the military of North Korea is.) Only a nation with strong capabilities would, barring insane leadership, dare be aggressive against a weaker nation. He writes, "Thus a potential aggressor will not initiate a conflict if it cannot win" (p. 47). This reverses Cha's claim about the motivating factors in which a weaker country could be liable to act preemptively out of the domain of losses. Kang's point is that North Korea knows they would be overwhelmed in any direct military confrontation with the U.S. Thus, they are defensive.

Increasing weakness augments North Korea's fears. Kang writes, "Deterrence… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Pros and Cons of the Cha and Kang Perspectives.  (2010, March 3).  Retrieved December 4, 2020, from

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"Pros and Cons of the Cha and Kang Perspectives."  March 3, 2010.  Accessed December 4, 2020.