The Ru­bi­con has been crossed with North Korea

The Denver Post - - OPINION - By Charles Krauthammer E-mail Charles Krauthammer at let­ters@ charleskrautham­

Across 25 years and five ad­min­is­tra­tions, we have kicked the North Korean can down the road. We are now out of road.

On July 4, North Korea tested an in­tercon­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile ap­par­ently ca­pa­ble of hit­ting the United States. As yet, only Alaska. Soon, ev­ery Amer­i­can city.

More­over, Py­ongyang claims to have al­ready fit­ted minia­tur­ized nu­clear war­heads on in­ter­me­di­ate-range mis­siles. Soon, on ICBMs.

Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son’s ini­tial re­ac­tion to this game changer was not en­cour­ag­ing. “Global ac­tion is re­quired to stop a global threat,” he de­clared.

This, in diplo-speak, is a cry for (mul­ti­lat­eral) help. Alas, there will be none. Be­cause, while this is in­deed a global threat, there is no such thing as global in­ter­ests. There are in­di­vid­ual na­tional in­ter­ests and they di­verge. In this case, rad­i­cally.

Take Rus­sia and China. If there’s to be ex­ter­nal pres­sure on North Korea, it would come from them. Will it? On Tues­day, they is­sued a joint state­ment propos­ing a deal: North Korea freezes nu­clear and mis­sile test­ing in re­turn for Amer­ica aban­don­ing large-scale joint ex­er­cises with South Korea.

This is a to­tal non­starter. The ex­er­cises have been the back­bone of the U.S.-South Korea al­liance for half a cen­tury. Aban­don­ment would sig­nal the end of an en­dur­ing re­la­tion­ship that sta­bi­lizes the re­gion and guar­an­tees South Korean in­de­pen­dence. In ex­change for what?

A test­ing freeze? The of­fer doesn’t even pre­tend to dis­man­tle North Korea’s nu­clear pro­gram, which has to be our min­i­mal ob­jec­tive. More­over, we’ve ne­go­ti­ated mul­ti­ple freezes over the years with Py­ongyang. It has vi­o­lated ev­ery one.

The fact that Rus­sia and China would, amid a burn­ing cri­sis, pro­pose such a dead-on-ar­rival pro­posal demon­strates that their real in­ter­est is not de­nu­cle­ariza­tion. Their real in­ter­est is cut­ting Amer­ica down to size by break­ing our South Korean al­liance and weak­en­ing our in­flu­ence in the Pa­cific Rim.

These are go­ing to be our part­ners in solv­ing the cri­sis?

And yet, re­ly­ing on China’s good graces ap­peared to be Don­ald Trump’s first re­sort for solv­ing North Korea. Un­til he de­clared two weeks ago (by tweet, of course) that China had failed. “At least I know China tried!” he added.

They did? Trump him­self tweeted out on Wed­nes­day that Chi­nese trade with North Korea in­creased by al­most 40 per­cent in the first quar­ter, forc­ing him to ac­knowl­edge that the Chi­nese haven’t been help­ing.

In­deed not. The lat­est North Korean mis­sile is men­ac­ing not just be­cause of its 4,000-mile range, but be­cause it is road mo­bile. And the trans­porter comes from China.

In the cal­cu­lus of nu­clear deter­rence, mo­bil­ity guar­an­tees in­vi­o­la­bil­ity. (The en­emy can­not find, and there­fore can­not pre­empt, a mo­bile mis­sile.) It’s a huge step for­ward for Py­ongyang. Sup­plied by Bei­jing.

How many times must we be taught that Bei­jing does not share our view of de­nu­cle­ariz­ing North Korea? It prefers a di­vided penin­sula, i.e., sus­tain­ing its client state as a guar­an­tee against a uni­fied Korea (pos­si­bly nu­clear) al­lied with the West and sit­ting on its bor­der.

Nukes as­sure regime sur­vival. That’s why the Kims have so sin­gle-mind­edly pur­sued them. The lessons are clear. Sad­dam Hus­sein, no nukes: hanged. Moam­mar Khadafy, gave up his nu­clear pro­gram: killed by his own people. The Kim dy­nasty, pos­sess­ing an arsenal of 10-16 bombs: un­touched, soon un­touch­able.

What are our choices? Trump has threat­ened that if China doesn’t help we’ll have to go it alone. If so, the choice is bi­nary: ac­qui­es­cence or war.

War is al­most un­think­able, given the prox­im­ity of the Demil­i­ta­rized Zone to the 10 mil­lion people of Seoul. A mere con­ven­tional war would be dev­as­tat­ing. And could rapidly go nu­clear.

Ac­qui­es­cence is not un­think­able. After all, we did it when China went nu­clear un­der Mao Tse-tung, whose regime promptly went in­sane un­der the Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion.

The hope for a third al­ter­na­tive, get­ting China to do the dirty work, is mostly wish­ful think­ing. There’s talk of sanc­tion­ing other Chi­nese banks. Will that re­ally change China’s strate­gic think­ing? Bour­geois democ­ra­cies be­lieve that eco­nom­ics su­per­sedes geostrat­egy. Maybe for us. But for dic­ta­tor­ships? Rarely.

If we want to de­ci­sively al­ter the strate­gic bal­ance, we could re­turn U.S. tac­ti­cal nukes (with­drawn in 1991) to South Korea. Or we could en­cour­age Ja­pan to build a nu­clear de­ter­rent of its own. Noth­ing would get more quick at­ten­tion from the Chi­nese. They would face a rad­i­cally new strate­gic dilemma: Is pre­serv­ing North Korea worth a nu­clear Ja­pan?

We do have pow­er­ful al­ter­na­tives. But each is dan­ger­ous and highly un­pre­dictable. Which is why the most likely ul­ti­mate out­come, by far, is ac­qui­es­cence. Mac Tully, CEO and Pub­lisher; Justin Mock, Se­nior Vice Pres­i­dent of Fi­nance and Chief Fi­nan­cial Of­fi­cer; Bill Reynolds, Se­nior VP, Cir­cu­la­tion and Pro­duc­tion; Judi Pat­ter­son, Vice Pres­i­dent, Hu­man Re­sources; Bob Kin­ney, Vice Pres­i­dent, In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy

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