North Korea raised the stakes in the effort to contain their nuclear weapons program by launching their first inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM). The inter-continental part of the name outlines the danger of their ability to send a nuclear weapon directly to the United States.
President Trump now brings a change to the decades of failed diplomacy that brought us to the current nightmare: the credible threat of violence that is necessary for diplomacy to work.
Appeasement coupled with diplomacy has done almost nothing to stop, or even slow, North Korea’s relentless march to becoming a danger to everyone around the world. Every time one of the succession of dictators named Kim has rattled a saber by launching a missile or testing a nuclear device, the world has responded by sending them money and food. Well as Kipling noted “…once you have paid him the Dane-geld you never get rid of the Dane.”
And now we face an emboldened and unhindered North Korea whose ability to threaten us has increased with every payment.
President Trump sent a tweet in April reminding the Chinese that relations with the US were dependent on their help with North Korea
That seems to have fallen by the wayside as his reaction to the latest provocation from Kim Jong Un yielded this from the president
Now the question is what comes next to stop the Hermit Kingdom from making good on its threats to “frequently send big and small ‘gift packages’ to the Yankees”.
The United States conducted a ballistic missile drill off the coast of the Korean peninsula in response to the ICBM launch and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. would never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea. But talk alone seems to have done little to stop them so it may be time to show them there is an iron fist in that velvet glove of diplomacy.
Taking any kind of military action is a grave risk, but the status quo has led us closer and closer to the brink already, so it must be contemplated. The lack of any real repercussions for North Korea has led to the present danger and absent a change they will be a full global nuclear power shortly.
President Trump launched a major strike against Syria after a chemical weapons attack and then the next time it seemed one was imminent, a simple threat was able to stop another.
The United States has many options for hitting North Korea that could serve as a reminder and deterrent - not a first blow in a war that no one should want. A strike on one of the launch facilities is a perfect example. It would be an obvious message but stop short of looking like an attempt to destroy all their military capabilities. It could be paired with a message to China and Russia of our intentions and a call for them to rein in any retaliation from Kim.
This would show that failure to negotiate a solution has consequences and things could get worse. Diplomacy then becomes a much more palatable alternative and we can enlist the help of the United Nations and other powers to offer the carrot of much needed humanitarian assistance. It would certainly be preferable if this was not necessary, but can anyone say why we should believe more of the same would yield a different outcome?
Jim Hanson is President of Security Studies Group and served in US Army Special Forces.