A grand bar­gain with China would dam­age U.S. power

There are other, bet­ter ways to con­tain the North Korea threat.

Los Angeles Times - - OP-ED - By Michael Auslin Michael Auslin is a fel­low at Stan­ford Univer­sity’s Hoover Institution and the au­thor of “The End of the Asian Cen­tury.”

With North Korea’s lat­est test of an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile, one ap­par­ently ca­pa­ble of reach­ing Cal­i­for­nia, the Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy com­mu­nity is strug­gling to find a way — short of war — to end the threat from Py­ongyang. In the me­dia and be­hind closed doors, some are sug­gest­ing that the U.S. should ap­proach China for a grand bar­gain.

The idea is de­cep­tively sim­ple: China would in­ter­vene in North Korea, most likely by re­mov­ing Kim Jong Un from power and in­stalling a pup­pet in his place. In re­turn, the U.S. would with­draw or sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce our forces in South Korea and po­ten­tially forces far­ther afield in Asia.

This may sound like an ef­fec­tive, re­alpoli­tik means of break­ing a decades-long stale­mate. Af­ter all, Amer­i­can pres­i­dents have been say­ing for years that China is the key to solv­ing the North Korea puz­zle. Such a pact would force Bei­jing into tak­ing action rather than of­fer­ing plat­i­tudes. It would also end the cha­rade of Amer­i­can sanc­tions, which are reg­u­larly wa­tered down or un­der­cut by China and Rus­sia. Most of all, it would rid the world of Kim — a bru­tal, dan­ger­ous despot — and end his fam­ily’s ab­so­lute rule.

But in re­al­ity, a grand bar­gain with China is likely to de­stroy Amer­ica’s global in­flu­ence, mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble for Wash­ing­ton to main­tain sta­bil­ity in strate­gic ar­eas, par­tic­u­larly in Asia and Europe. In­deed, merely propos­ing an agree­ment of this sort would make the U.S. into a pa­per tiger and com­pro­mise Amer­i­can cred­i­bil­ity in Asia and around the world.

A grand bar­gain would ef­fec­tively trans­fer Amer­ica’s dom­i­nance to China. No mat­ter how the White House spun such a deal, world lead­ers would in­fer that the U.S. had gone hat in hand to China. Rec­og­niz­ing China as the true for­eign power on the penin­sula, South Korea and other Asian na­tions would tilt in­evitably to­ward Bei­jing. It’s also pos­si­ble that South Korea and Ja­pan, among other coun­tries, would de­cide that they had no choice but to de­velop nu­clear weapons for their own na­tional de­fense.

More­over, hav­ing seen the U.S. kow­tow, Bei­jing would likely take a more as­sertive posture in the South China Sea and push Wash­ing­ton fur­ther, de­mand­ing a more com­pre­hen­sive draw­down of Amer­i­can mil­i­tary forces from East Asia. Even if Wash­ing­ton re­fused to buckle, Sino-U.S. re­la­tions would en­ter a pe­riod of height­ened ten­sion and an­tag­o­nism, un­doubt­edly en­cour­ag­ing both Moscow and Tehran to dou­ble down on their desta­bi­liz­ing be­hav­ior.

In short, a bar­gain would spell se­rial diplo­matic fail­ure for the U.S. As frus­trat­ing as it may seem, our long-stand­ing strat­egy of con­tain­ment and de­ter­rence to­ward North Korea re­mains our best hope. This strat­egy will test our pa­tience, but there are a few poli­cies the White House can adopt to make its po­si­tion more cred­i­ble.

First, Wash­ing­ton ought to ac­knowl­edge openly that North Korea is a coun­try with weapons of mass de­struc­tion that can strike not just other Asian coun­tries, but also the con­ti­nen­tal United States. Wash­ing­ton also needs to end the fan­tasy of North Korean de­nu­cle­ariza­tion, which, short of all-out war, will never hap­pen. That will at least free up Amer­i­can diplo­mats from end­less, mean­ing­less ne­go­ti­a­tions. It is bet­ter to be feared by Py­ongyang than held in con­tempt for our will­ing­ness to be­lieve that it might one day give up its nu­clear pro­gram.

Sec­ond, the U.S. should an­nounce an as­sured de­struc­tion pol­icy in re­sponse to any use of nu­clear weapons by the North. If Py­ongyang has no in­ten­tion of us­ing its weapons, then we have lit­tle to worry about. But if Kim is tempted to do so, our threat may give him pause, or cre­ate rifts within the elite that could re­sult in Kim be­ing neutered. This move would also out­flank any at­tempts at nu­clear black­mail by Kim, since Wash­ing­ton would make clear that the use of nu­clear weapons would re­sult in the com­plete de­struc­tion of his regime.

Fi­nally, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion would be wise to com­mit to a com­pre­hen­sive mis­sile de­fense pro­gram in or­der to de­fend against North Korea’s rel­a­tively lim­ited, though lethal, ICBM ca­pa­bil­ity. The cost of ex­plor­ing all pos­si­ble means of mis­sile de­fense, in­clud­ing air-based and space­based di­rected-en­ergy weapons, is a small in­vest­ment next to the po­ten­tial of a cat­a­strophic war.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing our diplo­matic fail­ures and tak­ing th­ese steps would in­crease our chances of con­tain­ing North Korea. The al­ter­na­tive — a mis­guided and rushed grand bar­gain with China — would do lit­tle to end Py­ongyang’s threat, and al­most cer­tainly would spell the end of Amer­i­can global pri­macy, leav­ing the world a far more un­cer­tain and un­sta­ble place.

Donna Grethen Tribune

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