Influential parts of America’s professional foreign policy commentating class are finally, and predictably, coming around to the idea that nothing can be done about North Korea’s nuclear weapons and long range missiles, and that the US needs to “get used to it.”
Retired US Navy Admiral James Stavridis, Dean at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, recently wrote there’s no other decent option to living with a nuclear-armed North Korea.
Sanctions haven’t worked. China won’t help. And war is too horrific to contemplate. Ergo, the only sound course of action is to allow Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang to arm himself and hope for the best.
Robert Gates, former CIA director and US Secretary of Defense reached a similar conclusion – offering North Korea a package of bribes and assurances (presumably different than ones that have already been offered and rejected) and letting bygone be bygones in exchange for only keeping 10-20 nuclear weapons on hand.
And William Perry, another former US Secretary of Defense has expressed willingness to accept a “frozen” NK nuclear arsenal – in hopes of someday talking them out of it.
The “live it with it” proponents describe a scenario of South Korea’s capital Seoul in flames and cite the sheer difficulty and human cost of war on the Korean peninsula, citing the Korean War as evidence of what war would be like.
They then declare there are no good options, and pronounce a nuclear armed North Korea to be unavoidable.
They are correct up to a point. War with North Korea will be nasty, unpredictable, and its effects not neatly confined to the peninsula. There aren’t any good options. There never are when dealing with brutal regimes that are allowed 25 years to build up their nuclear and missile capabilities with the support of a powerful neighbor (China) and an endlessly gullible United States. However, does that mean war isn’t a viable option?
One imagines similar arguments during the 1930’s. The 1914-18 Great War only 20 years earlier was indeed horrific. Thus, it was argued, anything was better than another war.
Giving Hitler what he wanted was better than what might happen if he was forcefully confronted. And anyway, he didn’t want so much and the allies were powerful enough to keep him in check. In fact it would be suicidal for him to attack anybody.
All impeccable logic, but the world soon ended up with a war even worse than the carnage seen in 1914-18.
Do nothing with North Korea – just live with it – and one day policy makers will be fretting about Los Angeles or Washington DC in flames, not Seoul.
Though it’s late in the day, there are still options for dealing with the Kim jong-un regime’s nuclear and missile program besides just getting used to it.
First, apply a financial and economic stranglehold that ends in the Kim regime’s fall if necessary. Real sanctions have never been tried, despite Admiral Stavridis’ assertion that they haven’t worked. Similarly, China has never been seriously pressed to rein in North Korea. Apply secondary sanctions, almost as hard as what’s applied to the Kim regime.
Then, go all in with a regional missile defense scheme that defends against North Korean missiles and Chinese missiles, too. And back this up with a willingness to fight despite the cost. This is indispensable. China and North Korea don’t believe America will fight.
But how to demonstrate this? No quid-pro-quo with China for its help with North Korea will be a good start.
And then go about applying the aforementioned sanctions and missile defenses, while getting plans and forces in order to do what’s necessary. President Trump said it right: “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.”
On that, consider the suffering of the North Korean people.
The US and the civilized world’s longstanding indifference to North Korean labor camps is on display with the talk of cutting a deal with Kim in Pyongyang. This is akin to negotiating with the Khmer Rouge and overlooking the killing fields equivalent in the gulags of North Korea.
Ultimately, it’s depressing that opportunities, including military ones, to resolve the North Korean problem at a much lower cost have been squandered over the last few decades.
But some things are worth fighting for – paying a high cost now to avoid a higher cost later. North Korea just might be one of them, though a US administration should finally try really squeezing North Korea and China first.
Grant Newsham is a senior research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies in Tokyo with over 20 years experience in Japan and Asia as a US Diplomat, business executive, and US Marine Officer.
Source: Asia Times