Otto Warmbier Dies, What Happens Next?

Two days ago, I wrote about the tragic situation of Otto Warmbier and how it affected relations with North Korea. Mr. Warmbier had been imprisoned in North Korea for over a year due to him allegedly stealing a poster from his hotel. Today, Mr. Warmbier passed away, due to his injuries that he sustained while imprisoned.

His death makes an tense affair even worse. We don’t know how Mr. Warmbier received his injuries, but how could North Korea not have something to do with them? It seems to me as if the government of Kim Jong-un is taunting the United States, seeing how much provocation we will take before actually doing something. We need to respond rationally, as the current situation is untolerable.

In this excellent piece from Geopolitical Futures, George Friedman argues that North Korea and the U.S. are headed for a military conflict soon. As Friedman writes,

“the core issue remains North Korea’s ability to strike the United States, and one side must give in to avoid war. Either North Korea must abandon nuclear deterrence, or the United States must accept that the fate of U.S. cities rests with North Korea. In the end, the most important question facing both countries is not a diplomatic one but a military one: Which side can achieve its ends in a war?”

Furthermore, “North Korea has shaped its behavior in such a way that the country appears unpredictable….. Pyongyang’s negotiating stance has made it impossible for the U.S. to assume North Korea will act rationally.”

Either side will not surrender. As North Korea’s treatment of Mr. Warmbier, its nuclear program and its threats towards the United States and its allies suggest, it has no interest in abandoning nuclear deterrence. The combination of unpredictable behavior and nuclear weapons is intolerable. One nuclear attack is more than enough.

The U.S. will not continue to kowtow to a lesser power to avoid its cities from being attacked. As Charles Krauthammer wrote in January, we can no longer kick the can down the road. The current North Korean regime is nothing but problems for us. At some point, the negotiations will end and the will be conflict, unless China can somehow rectify the situation.

I strongly believe Mr. Warmbier’s death will push the situation closer to war. An American citizen died because of his treatment in North Korea, which is a slap in the face to the entire country. Yes, Mr. Warmbier did something stupid, but he did not deserve imprisonment or death.

Letting North Korea get off scot-free will only embolden them to pursue their current strategy. Hopefully, China will put enough pressure on North Korea or can help change the current regime before war breaks out.

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Originally published at on June 19, 2017.