By exploding a super-grade thermonuclear bomb with the means to deliver it, destitute North Korea has forced the powerful United States to a historic nuclear decision.
U.S. United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley responded that North Korea was “begging for war” but she merely proposed sanctions, knowing even a successful U.S. strike would cost a million South Korean lives by conventional artillery alone on the very first day.
The hawks at The Wall Street Journal responded with “Options for Removing Kim Jong Un” urging more of the same: greater diplomatic, economic, and financial pressure on the North and ally China; more intelligence to enforce sanctions; South Korea and Japan given more missile offensive and defensive capacity; encouraging a coup; appealing to the International Criminal Court; and withholding food (which they admitted is normally unethical).
No less than Valdemar Putin responded with the awful truth. North Korea will “eat grass” before Kim gives up its nuclear weapons. Kim saw Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi and their families killed because they did not have nukes and he therefore considers nuclear weapons essential to his existence. Embargoes and pressure cannot work measured against survival.
In this context, the Journal and United Nations responses are simply silly.
A more serious evaluation can be found in its op-ed pages but is hidden by its misleading headline: “Does Trump Want a Nuclear Japan? It might please the America First crowd but retreat won’t bring peace.” Fortunately it was written by a serious commentator who actually presents the only two serious options — and he does not actually come down on either side.
The serious consideration is by Professor of Foreign Affairs at Bard College Walter Russell Mead, who sets the real options. “On the one hand, Washington can abandon seven decades of national strategy and risk growing instability in Asia; on the other, it can risk an ugly and dangerous war with a vicious and unprincipled opponent.”
The Journal and most of the American establishment want to maintain the status quo of U.S. world leadership, nuclear non-proliferation, and promoting its values, including supporting democracy, human rights, world trade, and international order even at substantial cost to the U.S. and multiple “small” wars such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
But popular support for these has waned as the candidacies of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump demonstrate. Still, Mead believes the cost of an American retreat from world supremacy “would more likely lead to arms races and military confrontation than to peaceful development.” China especially would continue and expand its threats to free trade in the crucial South China Sea.
Mead’s alternate by “others who may include President Trump” is to change historic U.S. non-proliferation policy and let regional allies develop their own nuclear counterweights, not only against the North but China. These others would consider “the nuclearization of East Asia not as a defeat but as a victory for U.S. foreign policy. China’s geopolitical ambitions would be contained by a nuclear Japan, South Korea, and maybe Taiwan. Washington could remove troops from Korea and cut the defense budget, while letting allies pay the costs of containing China.”
Nonproliferation has been a staple of U.S. policy since the beginning but once North Korea joined the U.S., Britain, France, Israel, Russia, China, India, and Pakistan Pandora’s Box has been opened for good. Japan could join the club in months and certainly would if North Korea keeps sending missiles over its homeland, as it becomes less confident in a U.S. response, and considers that both historic enemies China and Korea would otherwise hold all the high cards.
China does have an interest in keeping Japan from nuclearizing and thus to pressure North Korea but may not be able to convince Kim even if it wanted to. Russia has the opposite interest since nuclear Japan and China would then both seek its support against each other, with the U.S. checked by three or more new nuclear powers.
Mead concludes that “The Trump administration is trapped in a strategic dilemma with no easy escape. The allegedly crazy Kim regime has managed to put the U.S. in a tight corner. We must hope that Mr. Trump’s White House can succeed where so many of its predecessors have failed badly.”
But the professor’s dilemma answers itself.
In fact the president has one real solution. The U.S. will not nuke North Korea, will not starve 25 million of its people, or even use massive conventional weapons given the enormous death it would cause in South Korea, including to U.S. troops. Forget about a massive ground invasion.
Actually proliferation regionalizes conflict rather than promoting worldwide nuclear war.
What should President Trump do next? Correct the lie that the U.S. can defend itself against nukes and begin an emergency project to build a missile defense wall to protect his people.
Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, the author of "America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition and Constitution," and was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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