North Korea, Now or Never?

I’ve been, mostly quietly, alarmed by the escalating situation with North Korea for some time now, and this morning I’m reading more news about signs of yet another missile launch from the North. It is probably not purely coincidental that this crisis coincides with a severe deficit in American leadership, and what amounts to an American political crisis (these two crises are not new to the current administration and date back many years now).

The way I see it, the reason for America, or anyone, to use military force to liberate North Korea is because of the ongoing and overwhelming suffering of the North Korean people. The North Koreans live under a brutally oppressive regime, and there is no right for sovereign nations to oppress their people in such a way. American political leadership probably has a different argument for the need to contain or remove their openly hostile North Korean adversary, and if North Korea was an oil producing nation their nation would probably have been “liberated” long ago.

The reason this problem persists is because of the lack of incentive (i.e., oil, or other treasures), and the abundance of disincentives. Even without nuclear bombs, South Korea and the majority of its population is so close to the North Korean border that it has long served as a human shield for the North Korean regime. Nuclear weapons, and the means to deliver them, for any nation, simply expand the umbrella of human shields. If, or when, North Korea has ICBMs with a nuclear warhead, it means that the residents of continental America become part of that human shield.

There are signs that South Korea has already determined that it will never support a first-strike military solution against North Korea, and there are other signs that the American military agrees with that determination. If that is true, we should let South Korea know that we are withdrawing our military from the peninsula. There’s no reason to place American troops, which we would have already determined will not fight until attacked, behind North Korea’s human shield. Should a future conflict emerge due to a first-strike by North Korea, South Korea is likely very capable of responding and repelling such an attach, and America is adept at projecting power from a distance, and closing that distance if necessary. The presence of American troops throughout the world is presented as a stabilizing force, but it is, perhaps more often than not, a destabilizing force as well.

If, on the other hand, for altruistic (okay, not likely), or other reasons, America and its allies finally decide that they can no longer tolerate being held hostage to North Korea’s conventional and nuclear human shield, then it would seem to me that there would be some very real ways to signal that (without endless rounds of increasingly senseless sanctions).

  • America should work with the UN and its allies to announce a large fund to rebuild North Korea and provide for its people following the downfall of the Jong-un regime.
  • Likewise, through the UN, or more unilaterally, the US should impose a blockade — not just sanctions — on North Korea, including the importing of crude oil from China, which comes via a pipeline (even if that means sabotaging the pipeline).
  • America and South Korea should direct their anti-North Korean propaganda apparatus at preparing the North Korean people and military for the advent of war — they surely employ such radio broadcasts, and can also simply use loudspeakers and paper fliers for the border region. North Korean soldiers should know that it is in their best interest that they should not fire artillery or other weapons on South Korean, or other, civilians. And North Korean civilians and military personnel should know that there will be widespread relief for the country after their oppressive regime is gone, along with a widespread general amnesty.
  • If America and South Korea have unconventional means, such as cyber methods or human assets, they should employ them in ways they have not before, so that the regime has every reason to be convinced that they are at the precipice of a war that they cannot win. Such means, or through the use of special forces, should be a means of stopping the crude oil pipeline that keeps the North’s regime afloat.
  • In a final grace, perhaps the West would assure China, Russia, and the world, that it supports a non-aligned government in a new North Korea, free of foreign militaries, and domestic weapons of mass destruction, that should be non-threatening to both Russia, China, and the West.

If America and its allies could reach a determination, one way or the other, on this serious matter, they could make a sensible strategy for dealing with it. And if America’s determination is that the current situation with North Korea can no longer be allowed to fester so dangerously, showing real plans for a future peace could be as important as demonstrating real signs of imminent war. In either case, perhaps such efforts would turn into the last real chance for the current North Korean regime to change towards a less confrontational course.

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