Realism on North Korea

BERLIN – The world’s task in addressing North Korea’s saber rattling is made no easier by the fact that it confronts an impoverished and effectively defeated country. On the contrary, it is in such circumstances that calm foresight is most necessary.

The genius of the Habsburg Empire’s Prince Klemens von Metternich in framing a new international order after the Napoleonic Wars was that he did not push a defeated France into a corner. Although Metternich sought to deter any possible French resurgence, he restored France’s prewar frontiers.

By contrast, as Henry Kissinger has argued, the victors in World War I could neither deter a defeated Germany nor provide it with incentives to accept the Versailles Treaty. Instead, they imposed harsh terms, hoping to weaken Germany permanently. We know how that plan ended.

John F. Kennedy was in the Metternich mold. During the Cuban missile crisis, he did not try to humiliate or win a total victory over the Soviet Union. Rather, he put himself in Nikita Khrushchev’s shoes and agreed to dismantle, secretly, American missiles in Turkey and Italy in exchange for withdrawal of Soviet missiles from Cuba. Kennedy’s pragmatism prevented World War III.