John Bolton, former US Ambassador to the United Nations, is known for blunt, straight talk. But people forget he’s also a career diplomat with an instinct for diplomatic solutions — even if he’s more practical and less deluded than the median for the breed. Bolton has written an interesting essay, arguing that the best outcome for almost all stakeholders in the Korean peninsula — the US, China, the Republic of Korea, and the Korean people themselves, north and south — would be a deal.

Bolton, almost uniquely among foreign service officers and think-tankers, recognizes the futility of the last 70 years of negotiations, and the futility of more of the same stupid thing. But he thinks something might work.

Do any diplomatic avenues remain open? Only one offers any possibility of a lasting solution, as opposed to resuming talks with North Korea in the diaphanous expectation that the 26th year of such negotiations will produce results not discovered in the first 25. That possibility — peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula — Washington has all but ignored these last decades, although the upside of potential success is enormous.

The case for Korean reunification is not an appeal to China to help America. It is an argument for China to look to its own national interest, and to act accordingly. Consider these postulates:

First, the Korean Peninsula will be reunified. Its division in 1945 was purely expedient, intended to be temporary, and just as unnatural as Germany’s contemporaneous partition. The only questions are when and how Korean reunification will occur: Will it be through war or the North’s catastrophic collapse, or will the United States, South Korea, China and others manage the South absorbing the North coherently?

Second, China may actually believe what it says in opposing a North Korean nuclear-weapons capability because it destabilizes East Asia and therefore harms China’s own economic development. For years, however, Beijing’s behavior has been schizophrenic, fostering, for example, the inevitably doomed Six-Party Talks, while disingenuously arguing that the real solution had to be found between Washington and Pyongyang.

In fact, China, through its massive economic power over North Korea, could itself quickly remove any Pyongyang regime. Communist ideology, embodied in the unappetizing metaphor that their respective Communist parties are as close as lips and teeth, has for years impeded Beijing’s leaders from contemplating Korean reunification. Today, however, younger Chinese leaders understand and talk openly about the ugly piece of baggage the North represents for China itself.

Skeptics believe China will reject reunification principally on two grounds. Beijing dreads with good reason that Pyongyang’s collapse could produce a refugee flood across the Yalu River into Manchuria, a humanitarian emergency taxing China’s resources and also risking political and economic destabilization. (Seoul fears a similar refugee tide into the Demilitarized Zone.) In response, Washington and our regional allies should pledge full cooperation with Beijing to avoid massive refugee flows from North Korea as its prison-camp structures dissolve.

via Reunifying Korea a possibility – Washington Times.

China’s bigger objection, Bolton explains, is strategic: they like the USA as a trading partner but they don’t like the idea of the US Army right across the Yalu. But that’s a concession that we, and the Republic of Korea, can give them.

Bolton is right to ignore the Nork government. Never legitimate, it’s an inbred, decaying monarchy in a world that left monarchies behind (or boiled them down into tourist attractions) a century or more ago. It only gets away with what it gets away with because it has a big brother that covers for its bullying. The trick, then, is to get China to cut Nork loose.

And here’s the trick within the trick: it must be done without China losing face, or creating a perception that China is an inconstant ally.

Finally, China is not a monolith. There are many shades of opinion in Chinese leadership, and that leadership includes people that truly believe in all the Communist nonsense. Bolton dismisses it, for the same reason that the stranger’s religion always looks to adherents of other faiths like a stupid superstition. Indeed, Communism is a stupid superstition, but there are important people in China for whom it is their religion; and others who, for reasons practical or convenient, go along with the idea it’s their religion. Reason has no access to the psychological sphere where religion and/or superstition live.

Still, while Bolton’s suggestion is not easy, and its results are not guaranteed, we know what the State Department career staff are going to suggest: cycles and cycles of negotiations about the terms of potential negotiations, always held on an expense account in someplace very pleasant to visit. The results of those sorts of negotiations are guaranteed, and Bolton, among others, predicted them prior to the last round of gossamer negotiations.

This entry was posted in Unconventional Warfare on by Hognose.

About Hognose

Former Special Forces 11B2S, later 18B, weapons man. (Also served in intelligence and operations jobs in SF).

18 thoughts on “Bolton: Korea Can Unify Peacefully. Here’s How

John Spears

Truer words regarding the Korean peninsula have never been spoken; reunification will occur. The question is will it be a result of a war with regime change in the North as the end-point, or with China’s cooperation as it is in their best interest. It is going to happen. I think unfortunately the most likely scenario is the North continues it’s pattern of escalating tensions for attention, which has been encouraged and repeatedly rewarded, until the South has to defend itself militarily.


If I were China and was playing the long game, I’d go for reunification, do nothing to threaten the reunited Korea, and wait. Sometime in the next 20 years a GI would commit a rape or kill someone driving drunk, or there would be a US budget squeeze, or both. The Koreans would be clamoring to get rid of us, and we’d be clamoring to leave.

In terms of a US vs China conflict, is Korea even useful? Would Korean bases be valuable enough to pay the cost of defending them against a Chinese land invasion? I’d think such a war would be largely an air and naval war, so the Chinese would have plenty of ground forces to spare.


Who needs a land invasion when you can level them with missiles? I doubt the PRC would be as inept at using their long range fires as Sadam was.

Any war in that region will be dominated, at least initally by stand off weapons. The PRC has spent a lot of money and time developing (or stealing) anti access weapons and tech to keep us at an arm’s reach for a reason. That is part of why the USAF is in such a bind should our two nations decide to dance.

You don’t need stealth to blow up goat fornicators in a nation that has not had a decent air defense capacity since at least 2003. China’s airspace, will be a lot more contested. You will have to fly from quite a ways away to even get to it when you factor in cruise missile attacks on any airfield or carrier they can reach. And you have to do it without them knocking down all your tankers (not hard since they have giant RCSs compared to everything but the BUFF and are not exactly spry).

That does even begin to take into account trying to pull off a logistical feat that would rival anything we did in the 40’s to get enough bullets and beans across the Pacific for an epically stupid land war in Asia. Only this time we would be doing it without the industrial base of the 1940 ‘s. And unlike last time China is not an island nation with limited natural resources but rather a global economic powerhouse.

In short, the Korean bases are hosed if that balloon goes up (they are destined for destruction if the Norks go full retard as well, but that is another doscission) . Fighting with China would suck and nobody should want to do it.


I don’t understand why the Chinese would be nervous about, what 2 brigades (if that?) if the US Army. Even if we put the whole active Army there, it’d still get swallowed up right quick. In fact, 2 brigades is pretty easy to hold the US hostage with if you wanted to.

Hognose Post author

In Soviet days there was a joke.

“Glorious Red Army invades China.

Day one, we go 100 miles, take 100,000 prisoners.

Day two, 200 miles, 500,000 prisoners.

Day three, 300 miles, 2,000,000 prisoners.

Day four, glorious Red Army surrenders.”

jim h

Korea will eventually be reunified, I agree. but how long can the Kim dynasty hang on without external support? we know the SKs can do ok if we backed off. even leaving the US Army out of it, or for that matter, that of China, how much longer could we reasonably expect the Norks to survive? im not talking stupid Nork stuff like saying you have 2,911 gold medals in the Olympics, saying you landed on the sun, anything like that. I mean, how long could the infrastructure, the government, the military, and what’s left of their economy self-sustain if economic ties to China are slowly rescinded? this is a country that cannot support itself under its own weight, and cannot feed itself.


Realistically, they should have collapsed 5-10 years ago even with Chinese aid. Yet they haven’t, so we’re left wondering how soon is now.

On the other hand, a lot of smart thinkers on the DPRK seem to think we’re actually in a pretty advanced stage of regime decay as we speak, so who knows?

Hognose Post author

There’s a lot of ruin in a dysfunctional monarchy, or republic for that matter.

LCPL Martinez USMC

I’ve always thought that if Bolton did lose that damn mustache , he’d be able to convince more folks at the State Dept.

He makes a good point , but I hope whatever concessions made to China , ie. Obama/Hillary’s sending of American fracking experts, to help China frack its own natural gas deposits (no doubt in Hillary & Obama’s minds to alleviate China’s oil shipments worries in the South China sea),

that we think holistically here, in terms of the whole region.

Maybe start thinking in terms of ‘s line of thought (though also digitally, ie. the new US-SEA trunk line) :

“After World War I, the Versailles Treaty gave Japan a mandate over former German colonies in the western Pacific; specifically, the Mariana, Marshall, and Caroline Islands. If these islands were fortified, Japan could, in principle, deny the U.S. access to its interests in the western Pacific. Therefore, in 1921, Major Earl Hancock Ellis of the U.S. Marine Corps drafted “Plan 712, Advanced Base Operations in Micronesia,” a plan for war against Japan which updated War Plan Orange by incorporating modern military technology (submarines, aircraft, etc.) and which again included an island-hopping strategy. Shortly afterwards, a British-American reporter on naval affairs, Hector Charles Bywater, publicized the prospect of a Japanese-American war in his books Seapower in the Pacific (1923) and The Great Pacific War (1925), which detailed an island-hopping strategy. The books were read not only by Americans but by senior officers of the Japanese Imperial Navy, who used “island-hopping” in their successful southeast Asia offensives in 1941 and 1942.”

China’s actively constructing in Kota Kinabalu and now with the Philippines’ new President, the town of Davao in the south of Philippines, we know what China’s doing, let’s protect the Wallace Line, north Borneo is pretty much China’s at this point, but once Davao is theirs , we’ve then lost the Spice Islands leading to PNG and to northern Australia,

Hognose Post author

I have a book that hypes Bywater as prescient, but left me unconvinced. I have a 1939 or 40 book called The Ramparts We Watch, by a reserve officer who was a NY Times military correspondent, that pretty well laid out the Pacific problem. It was written, of course, before we backed Japan into a corner, and long before we knew about the ascendancy of the Southern Strategy in Japanese strategic circles.


I think it is actually a good idea and probably the best possible resolution for the average person in NK – regime change without a whole bunch of them being killed or starving to death.

It seems to me that we (really, the US government) should approach China about encouraging the Kim family to accept moving to China and in return they get substantial trading/ import rights from the reunified country and some limits on US forces – the previous commenter was right in that the US forces in SK are only a speedbump to the Chinese; don’t pull them out, but maybe set the old NK as mostly demilitarized, like Finland was during the Cold War, so they don’t have US forces on their border – SK forces are pretty good, and with backing from the US could patrol NK pretty well.


I’m still an optimist: I’m hoping they get nuked from the DMZ to the Yalu.

Say, how long was it before grass started to grow in Hiroshima after Lesson Number One…?

Bonifacio Echeverria

So the real problem now is that noooobody wants zillions of poor stinking Now-Free-Norkies begging for food on their subway stations, menacing the local culture with dilution and hoarding all the low-wage-low-cualification jobs in their country… Well, that one is an easy one, already answered, build a wall, godamit!

The current solution, keeping them in insane prision-camp style country, looks like the more economical, so it will last. Best Korea will last a thousand years.

Tom Stone

Man, Bolton is a spoilsport!

Get rid of those taxpayer paid vacations at five star hotels with hookers on call?


Running Man

The North is much worse than East Germany. South Korea is prosperous and growing. They saw the lost economic decade after German unification. As it is, having a threat has allowed and enabled them to build a first rate military aerospace industry. I doubt China wants to pay the bills to clean up the more than likely many superfund sites in the North where the CBRN weapons are/were made.

John M.

“Never legitimate, it’s an inbred, decaying monarchy in a world that left monarchies behind (or boiled them down into tourist attractions) a century or more ago.”

“Legitimacy” of governments is a silly argument. Kim rules North Korea: this is a fact and needs to be dealt with as such.

And the world did not leave monarchies behind. Monaco is ruled better than France, Liechtenstein is ruled better than Austria, Saudi is ruled better than Iraq, Oman is ruled better than Yemen, Brunei is ruled better than Malaysia and Morocco is ruled better than Algeria.

Why is it so difficult to see what is as plain as the noses on everyone’s face, that monarchies govern better than democracies?

And in addition to that, North Korea is NOT a monarchy. Despite the fever dreams of our Founding Fathers, no monarch has ever treated his people as poorly as the Kims have treated theirs.

And to the premise of Bolton’s article, that the two Koreas will reunite, I remain unconvinced. Canada and the US have coexisted for as long as the US has existed. And at this point, I suspect that Anglo Canada shares a lot more of a common culture with the US than North Korea shares with South Korea.

It’s doubtful that the existing state of affairs will continue in NK indefinitely, mostly because it appears to be very fragile, but lots of things could happen there that don’t involve the two countries reuniting.

-John M.

Haxo Angmark

Bolton notwithstanding, there will be war. Vietnam, but much quicker, and with nukes involved.


If Kim is a problem for us, we should kill him personally. North Korea is not worth a war to us.

If the Koreas want to unify, it’s their business. Let them work it out.