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No Military Solution to North Korea

The US must acknowledge that there is no military solution to the North Korean conflict and recognise that only "genuine diplomacy" will solve the conflict

September 26


London , United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland - 26 Sep 2017 - Ghassan Matar

A powerful military deterrent and a resolve to pursue effective diplomacy can prevent war on the Korean peninsula, preserve the lives of the millions living in Seoul (and probably tens of thousands of American service members), and secure American vital national interests in Asia, not to mention stop the embarrassing rhetoric of President Trump which is only eroding what’s left of American credibility. 

If you had a serious disagreement with someone, would you begin to resolve it by insulting that person and threatening to kill them? That is the approach President Donald Trump took in his debut appearance before the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. In his speech, Trump referred to the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man” and added that the U.S. was “ready, willing and able” to “totally destroy North Korea.” It would be hard to recall the last time an American president resorted to that kind of childish name-calling. The threat, however, is even more ridiculous. To say that it is hollow is an understatement.

Attempting a preventive military strike out of the misplaced belief that “the US has run out of road” will only result in the very fate the US is trying to avoid, a North Korean nuclear strike. Of course, the U.S. has the capacity to destroy North Korea. But it could not do so without provoking the destruction of South Korea and much of Japan. Kim may be a tyrant, but he is not a fool. He is not going to hand a justification for his own annihilation to Trump. While the military option is always available, it is also unthinkable. One thing such a threat will accomplish, however, is making an acceptable solution to this issue all the more difficult to find.

It is worth a trip down memory lane to the 50s to re-examine what has been labelled as “America’s Forgotton War”. 67 years ago, or precisely on the 25th of June 1950, North Korea invaded the South. Only two days later, President Truman ordered the United States’s air and sea forces to provide cover and support to the South. A few years later, US led bombing had completely destroyed North Korea’s 78 cities and killed a third of its population; between 8 to 9 million people, the highest rate of mortality suffered by any nation. It is also worth mentioning that the United States also used biological weapons against North Korea which was confirmed by the International Science Commission ISC) which was convened in 1952 with a mandate to collect and examine evidence of the use of biological weapons by the United States.

Although one can point the blame on North Korea for having invaded the south, it is vital to factor North Korea’s historical trauma and experience at the hands of the United States in the current conflict.

It should be clear by now to every member of the US government that diplomacy, or in this context genuine diplomacy is the only and most effective way for the US to pursue its interests globally. The deteriorating situation with North Korea is a pressing case in point.

If the US is genuinely interest in seeking a solution to the current crisis, there is one fact that must be soberly and humbly recognized: There is no preventive military solution to the North Korean nuclear program that would not impose unacceptable, catastrophic cost on the U.S. and its allies South Korea and Japan including the sinking of the entire world’s economy.

Yet a preventive military strike is precisely what America’s key foreign policy officials are threatening to unleash. Last Friday, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley presumptuously said that if “diplomacy” failed, “I have no problem kicking it to General Mattis because I think he has plenty of options.”  

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson added his voice to the push when he warned that if talks failed, our military option will be the only one left.

  What these officials mean by “diplomacy,” however, is effectively limited to two things.

First, ordering Pyongyang to get rid of the nuclear weapon’s program the Kim dictators have been working on for nearly 25 years while giving nothing in return. And second, trying to compel China to take actions to force the North to do the US bidding. 

There isn’t even the pretence of offering North Korea any guarantee of its security, nor of providing a win-win option for Chinese cooperation. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, however, is the most dismissive of diplomacy while claiming preventive war would be effective. 

The claim by many that Kim cannot be deterred by military means is not merely hollow, but also ignores the history of more than 60 years of Kim family rule.  Since the armistice ending the Korean war was signed in 1953, all three North Korean dictators––Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-Il, and Kim Jong-un––have had one overriding governing objective: regime survival.  

They will let their people starve to death if that’s what it takes to develop capabilities to deter an attack from the U.S. or its adjacent historical adversaries.

The U.S. should communicate that should North Korea use WMD against American personnel or allies––or if U.S. intelligence detects the imminent use of such weapons––we will launch an immediate and withering counterstrike, essentially evaporating the Kim regime. This would be a “pre-emptive” and totally justified strike, which is far different from the currently advocated option of a “preventive” strike.

Concurrently, American diplomats should be conducting aggressive and effective diplomacy throughout the region to pressure North Korea to eventually denuclearize the peninsula and eventually officially bring an end to the Korean war. That’s difficult, but not the impossible task some may believe.

China is almost as angered by the Kim regime as is the Trump Administration. But as much as China detests the Kim regime, they have other interests of their own, as President Trump referenced in his speech to the United Nations.

Beijing wants to avoid war on their border for many reasons, and have concluded––rightly or wrongly––that if they were to choke Pyongyang to death by cutting off all oil shipments, the regime could in desperation lash out and use WMD to start a war against the U.S., or the regime would collapse––leading to a unified Korea allied militarily with the U.S.

To avoid this outcome, China is willing to work with the U.S.. But to conduct effective diplomacy, we must demonstrate an ability that is sorely lacking in Washington: a willingness to consider the interests of our negotiating partner and attempt to shape their thinking so they align more closely with ours. That will not happen through coercion. 

Even if it took 10 or 15 years of relentless diplomatic pressure from the joint efforts of the U.S., China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan to convince Kim Jong-un to give up his weapons and doing so resulted in the eventual denuclearization of the peninsula––and successfully deterred war––it would be a major victory for U.S. foreign policy and secure our vital national interests.

Any attempt at preventive war will harm U.S. interests, making nuclear conflict profoundly more likely. It is imperative Washington moves to a posture that provides a firm commitment to militarily deterring North Korea while using all of our economic and diplomatic power to eventually reduce or remove the threat to U.S. interests.


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