A rogue storm is increasingly gathering over the Korean Peninsula.
Sept. 3 witnessed North Korea’s sixth and largest nuclear test, sparking international outrage. In response, Washington officials presented a United Nations draft resolution last Friday, proposing a number of sanctions on North Korea, including an oil embargo, a freeze on Kim Jong-Un’s assets, a ban on its textile exports and an end of payments to its guest workers. All of which–with the exception of textile exports ban–China denounced. On Monday, the UN reached a unanimous decision passing these sanctions, minus the full oil embargo and sanctions on the North Korean dictator. In retaliation, the North launched one of its missiles over Japan and into the waters of the Pacific Ocean on Thursday.
It’s only going to be a matter of time before the United States and Western Powers will have to address this evil regime once and for all. The problem, however, is that the path of warfare is seemingly the only possible route. While perhaps hard to see, this is not necessarily the case.
Some issues and even crises can be resolved entirely on their own, the North Korean nuclear issue, however, simply isn’t one of them. The U.S. and other global leaders are facing a seriously challenging predicament: finding a way to eliminate all or most of Pyongyang’s missile systems and nuclear programs without risking escalation of an all-out war. No solutions or options appear viable, plus a loud-mouthed hothead in the Oval Office and a highly disturbed lunatic in North Korea are leading their respective countries, exacerbating this issue even further.
North Korea possesses a considerable threat to global security and U.S. leaders need to band together now more than ever to effectively remedy this problem and devise ways of possibly removing Kim Jong-Un from power. The U.S. has yet to use all of its tools necessary in effectively dealing with this regime. There is still time and hope for diplomatic peace; our current policymakers, congressional representatives and executive leader just needs to tread carefully in their approaches politically and militarily.
Without a doubt, the North Korean government presents a very serious threat to the entire world. Besides the fact that North Korea is continually expanding and advancing their nuclear arsenal and capabilities, all of the rhetoric surrounding North Korea and its dictator seems to attest this worldly danger. President Obama, for instance, reportedly told then President-elect Donald Trump that North Korea will present the most dangerous and difficult security challenge he will face.
What else is new? The North Korean state has been an unpredictable nuisance since the authorization of the Korean Armistice Agreement in 1957, putting a temporary ceasefire and transient end on the Korean War. Pakistan has developed its nuclear weaponry in recent years with little to no international reaction along with Israel and India. Some would argue, “why not the same with North Korea?” The answer has to do with their isolation: besides trading with a few select countries to maintain economic stability, such as China, Russia and India, North Korea simply has no interest in becoming a member of the worldwide and international community. Wanting nothing more than isolation as far from the realm of global partnership and consciousness as possible, isolationism heightens the already existing threat North Korea embodies.
Kim Jong-Un also has no qualms about consolidating power in any way, he’s been more than ready to eliminate high-ranking officials—including family members—expand his territory and eliminate any imagined threat to that power. The North Korean issue is something we can’t ignore nor be apathetic about as American citizens. Any individual who tests ICBMs while calling them “care packages” destined for “U.S. bastards” needs to be taken seriously and listened to carefully, regardless of whether or not they have the intent behind said threat. The fact that the state holds anywhere between 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners should also draw concern. North Korea demonstrates just how miserably the dignity of a human life is upheld within their borders. A regime so arbitrary, megalomaniacal and oppressive as North Korea cannot be considered acceptable or tolerated any longer. The situation is only getting worse.
North Korea’s latest test also signals their longing towards nuclear supremacy. On Sept. 3, the ground shook more than 3,000 miles away in western Kazakhstan; the tremors were even reportedly felt in China. Satellite images discovered rock slides near the test site. Recording these vibrations was AS059, a seismic activity station, part of a global network ran by a UN affiliated group, designed to detect underground and illicit nuclear explosions.
“This wasn’t the first time a North Korean bomb shook AS059,” NPR reported. “The station has detected each of the North’s six nuclear tests. But as the above chart shows, this test on September 3 was far more powerful than previous ones.”
The rumors surrounding North Korea devising a hydrogen bomb may, therefore, be accurate. Still, they lack the capabilities necessary of putting that bomb on an ICBM and launching across the ocean at the moment, but who knows when they will achieve this. They don’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
Out of all the courses of action the U.S. can pursue in dealing with this crisis, however, the worst one by far is a preemptive strike. This could potentially result in further escalation and ignite a vicious downhill spiral of carnage in the Korean peninsula, for which we will unquestionably be blamed.
New York Times writers Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt said that American officials “do not have high confidence that the military could find and destroy North Korea’s entire arsenal of long range missiles and nuclear warheads.”
Even the most precise attack would be unable to eradicate all of North Korea’s arsenal of missiles. Any remaining weapons could easily and immediately be used for retaliation.
Certainly, the risks a preemptive strike would carry far outweigh the rewards, and will cause more problems than solve. It’ll be hard imagining Kim Jong-Un just standing idly by. Even if he lacks sophisticated nuclear technology, he can still attack using conventional tactics and cross through South Korea’s through demilitarized zone and perform an invasive maneuver; or just simply at any given moment launch his nuclear weapons directly on Seoul. A preemptive attack directed towards Pyongyang, therefore, presents two major problems for the U.S.: one, it could easily fail. Two, North Korea can and most likely will retaliate. The image of the U.S. would forever be tarnished for creating a war in the Korean peninsula. If war is somehow inevitable, let the blame at least fall on North Korea.
There are much more reasonable approaches militarily. Rather than launching a preemptive strike or engaging in a direct offensive, the U.S. could build up the Korean Peninsula’s missile defense systems and give aid to places such as Japan, South Korea, and Guam. This would make nuclear blackmail will be less appealing for the North, and it will allow for more freedom, autonomy and security against potential security threats. A good defense will be the best offense in this regard.
At the same time, while developing the Korean Peninsula’s missile defense systems, the U.S. and its allies can take advantage of defectors in the North. The CIA could, for example, help stage a military coup of some sort through these turncoat elites of the North Korean government. Our intelligence community can also be enlarged to monitor the situation more closely in North Korea. Programs—such as the Proliferation Security Initiative, begun under the George W. Bush Administration, which tracked and intercepted the North’s weapons exports—could be expanded. Cyber and electronic warfare may also prove effective.
Sanctions, diplomacy and especially taunts have been ineffective in convincing North Korea’s dictator to halt or relinquish his country’s nuclear developments. Although China did sign the coal imports ban from North Korea last month, cutting off their most important export product, its efforts have failed deterring North Korea from stopping the advancement of its nuclear program and performing missile tests. Putting it bluntly, it’s not the policy but the enforcement of policy that’s the main issue. China and Russia are both reluctant to intervene, continuing to support Kim’s regime through thick and thin.
Al-Jazeera’s Richard Javad Heydarian reported: “meanwhile, North Korea’s traditional allies, Russia and China, are proving increasingly impatient and unreliable. Both powers have signed up to intrusive sanctions against Pyongyang, though strict implementation seems sorely lacking.”
There are, fortunately, some approaches the U.S. can implement. First, Donald Trump needs to quit playing Kim’s game. The taunts coming from our commander-in-chief frankly aren’t helping the situation. It’s completely pointless in trying to argue with a madman on Trump’s part, let alone threaten him—what good does he think can come out of doing this? President Trump is simply wasting time with verbal threats and rants on his Twitter page. Not only are they ineffective, Donald Trump may be adding more fuel to the fire.
“We are playing right into Kim Jong-Un’s hands,” says U.S. General James Thurman, “that is what he wants. He wants to be on the world scene.” Donald Trump, in other words, should listen to the advice of his generals and not give the North Korean dictator more power than what he already has. Don’t give him the one thing he wants, craves, and feeds off: attention. Coolness, patience and rational calculation are going to help the U.S. and its allies achieve peace in the end.
Another wise decision is not alienating allies, especially in times in crises. Unfortunately, our President is doing the very opposite regarding South Korea. He’s also engaged in fierce verbal battles with China, pointing to their lack of leadership in enforcing imposed sanctions on North Korea. Although he’s not wrong, our current presidential leader needs to watch his mouth; the world of politics is a world in which words matter. The more he continues bashing China, the more they may be unwilling to cooperate and work with the West. Like North Korea, verbal bouts with China are meaningless. In this case, actions will speak louder than words.
There is one thing Trump has gotten right regarding North Korea, and that’s opening up opportunities for diplomacy. “The Trump administration’s first recourse has been diplomacy,” writes Gordon and Schmidtt, “Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson sought to heed off North Korea’s missile program this week [of Aug. 10] by suggesting that the United States could open talks with Pyongyang.” Currently, this is the best course of action Trump’s administration needs to continue following.
Diplomacy is absolutely fundamental in solving this global issue. Only a diplomatic solution, one in which all countries, not just the U.S., work collaboratively to remove this threat North Korea possesses on the world stage, while reducing the likelihood of war at the same time, will prevail. Opening up “direct talks” and negotiations can be one strategy. “Six party” or even “three party” talks have worked to some degree in the past. Former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry, to his surprise, for example, found the North Koreans interested in normalizing relations towards the end of Clinton’s presidency when Washington at the time began considering more diplomatic outlets.
Trump can be a unique executor in this idea of strategic diplomacy. If he is supposedly the “master of the deal,” as he proclaims, then this should come as a no-brainer to him: he should have the skills necessary to effectively negotiate with Kim’s regime. Since the North Koreans rely heavily on foreign aid to sustain themselves, the U.S. can place significant pressure on countries tied with North Korea to cut their support with the regime, while also placing sanctions on anyone else conducting business with them, greatly curtailing their trade.
When it comes to devising a solid, well-structured and straightforward policy concerning North Korea, one should take note of what Larry Diamond of The Atlantic refers to as the “four no’s”: no more bombs enlarging its current stockpile, no better bombs to advance its missile program, no missile testing to further enhance their range, and no missile exports. This is a policy Trump’s administration and world leaders could adopt in preventing North Korean nuclear expansion.
Indeed, these may seem at face value greatly challenging and difficult goals, but through careful diplomacy, the North Korean government can surely be brought down to its knees. Trump’s administration should try giving the North Korean government a deal they can’t refuse: forcing the dictator to either face devastating economic sanctions, potentially bringing his regime to its demise or compromise to genuinely forfeit his nuclear missile program. This can only be done, however, through international cooperation, firmness in resolve and ensuring countries—like China—will fulfill their end of the bargain in enforcing sanctions. Our goal should not be to eradicate North Korea, but instead to persuade Kim’s regime to toss their failed policies of militarism, aggression and isolation aside in favor of economic development, reforms and sustainability.
With this policy in mind, some final ways in which Kim Jong-Un can either be removed from power or be less of a menace globally and to the U.S. is by cutting North Korea’s government off from any access to financial intermediaries conducting business in U.S. dollars, while holding banks such as those in China—who facilitate trade with North Korea and help them bypass sanctions—more accountable. The UN and the international community could also hold the North Korean government more accountable for their human rights abuses through treaties and establishing international laws.
Since North Korea is in such poor economic condition at the moment, the U.S. has much leverage, which should be the goal of this diplomatic strategy: gaining as much leverage as possible. A severe drought, for example, from April to June of this year, reduced North Korea’s early grain harvest by 30% according to the Wall Street Journal. Considering the state imports over 500,000 tons of grain each year, if their main harvest becomes affected also, combined with the crippling sanctions, Kim’s regime will have no choice but to submit and give in. A quick and decisive end to this threat needs to happen fast and as soon as possible. The U.S is in a perfect position to do this at the moment but time is running short. Peace, through calculated and steadfast diplomacy, will achieve us victory over North Korea’s regime and avoid warfare’s path. Sanctions are the lesser of two evils and once North Korea decides at least to negotiate they can be lifted immediately.
Although North Korea may be a threat and a global menace, that doesn’t necessarily mean the West has to go to war with them. Peace is still an option within the realm of possibility. We just need to approach it the right way: the U.S. has not used all of its tools at its disposal in toppling this evil regime. There are numerous courses in which we can adopt and implement, besides war, to bring a peaceful conclusion to this North Korean crisis. Obviously, like with any deal, the U.S will have to give something in return to North Korea if negotiations do come on the table. Maybe just relinquishing partially of their nuclear and missile programs or one or the other is a possible tradeoff. The U.S has to realize, nevertheless, that compromise will have to play a role in these negotiations; we can’t get everything we want. Trying to eliminate all of their firepower and defensive capabilities is simply not a realistic or attainable goal: this hardline approach hasn’t worked in the past and it won’t now.
Time is spreading thin. We either need to find a way removing Kim from power (or at least reduce his threat) or strengthen the defensive capabilities of surrounding countries so any impending attack can be warded off; anything to keep people safe and away from harm against North Korea’s threat. Saving the lives of as many individuals as possible should be our top priority: that means bringing North Korea down to its knee as fast as politics permit. Irrational fear and unfettered rashness, however, will only serve to compromise this worthy pursuit of keeping outside civilians from harm’s way. The U.S, ultimately, has everything in its power to bring a peaceful end to this global crisis.