The United States Must Meet the North Korean Threat

The Jewish Voice - - OP-ED - By: Michael Cur­tis

On Oc­to­ber 6, 2017, the Nor­we­gian No­bel Com­mit­tee awarded the No­bel Peace Prize of 2017 to the In­ter­na­tional Cam­paign to Abol­ish Nu­clear Weapons (ICAN). The text of the award stated, "We live in a world where the risk of nu­clear weapons be­ing used is greater than it has been for a long time[.] ... [T]here is a real danger that more coun­tries will try to pro­cure nu­clear weapons, as ex­em­pli­fied by North Korea."

The world, most of all Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump but even China, is well aware of that par­tic­u­lar danger. Trump has de­clared that "we can­not al­low [Kim's] dic­ta­tor­ship to threaten our na­tion or our al­lies with unimag­in­able loss of life[.] ... [T] he goal is de­nu­cle­ariza­tion." But would the United States to­tally de­stroy North Korea to de­fend it­self and al­lies? U.S. pol­i­cy­mak­ers are di­vided on the is­sue.

Sec­re­tary of state Rex Tiller­son speaks of di­rect lines, a cou­ple of di­rect chan­nels, and of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with North Korea, while Pres­i­dent Trump ap­pears to be­lieve that it is a waste of time to try ne­go­ti­at­ing. This war of words may be un­de­sir­able, but both sides ac­knowl­edge that the use of a nu­clear weapon by North Korea would start a war it could not win and would lead to Kim's de­struc­tion. All would suf­fer.

Sim­i­larly, the world is aware that the North Korean nu­clear arse­nal is grow­ing and that its bal­lis­tic mis­sile force is now a real danger. The coun­try has con­ducted six bal­lis­tic nu­clear tests, has a hy­dro­gen bomb, and has in­tercon­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic ca­pa­bil­ity that can hit the western part of the U.S. and per­haps also Wash­ing­ton, D.C. and New York City.

Though there are le­git­i­mate dif­fer­ences of opin­ion on how to re­spond to North Korea's nu­clear arse­nal, there are no dif­fer­ences about the dic­ta­tor Kim Jong-un, the ruler since he took power in 2011. He is a ruth­less killer who has acted to con­sol­i­date power, mur­der­ing his un­cle Jang Song-thaek, "a traitor for all ages," and or­der­ing the as­sas­si­na­tion of his half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, in Malaysia. He acts to main­tain his grip on power as well as to cre­ate a nu­clear state. By one es­ti­mate, he has ex­e­cuted 340, in­clud­ing 140 se­nior po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary of­fi­cials.

Kim has used bar­barous lan­guage, a sub­sti­tute for phys­i­cal ex­e­cu­tion, about Amer­i­can lead­ers. Most re­cently, Don­ald Trump is "men­tally de­ranged and is a dotard" (Septem­ber 22, 2017); Barack Obama was "rem­i­nis­cent of a wicked black mon­key," (2014); Hillary Clin­ton "some­times looks like a pri­mary school­girl and some­times a pen­sioner go­ing shop­ping" (July 23, 2009); and Ge­orge W. Bush was a "hooli­gan, bereft of any per­son­al­ity as a hu­man be­ing" (May 2005).

Oth­ers might dis­agree, but U.S. CIA sources hold that Kim is not crazy, but a "ra­tio­nal ac­tor" con­cerned with the sur­vival of his regime. More likely, the un­pre­dictable Kim wants to make North Korea a rel­e­vant player in in­ter­na­tional af­fairs, re­spected for its mil­i­tary strength and es­pe­cially its nu­clear strength, as­sert his equiv­a­lence with Don­ald Trump, and make North Korea a prom­i­nent is­sue at the U.N. Gen­eral As­sem­bly and other in­ter­na­tional meet­ings.

The present ruler's grand­fa­ther, Kim Il-sung, on be­com­ing the ruler in 1972, wanted nu­clear weapons from the start and built a nu­clear re­search re­ac­tor in Yong­byon that could be a source of plu­to­nium. At the time, both Rus­sia and China de­nied him help in nu­clear weapons. How­ever, his nu­clear pro­gram con­tin­ued. In Oc­to­ber 1994, North Korea signed an Agreed Frame­work (A.F.) by which it would freeze and even­tu­ally dis­man­tle its nu­clear pro­gram in ex­change for re­ceiv­ing from the U.S. en­ergy as­sis­tance in the form of heavy fuel oil and light wa­ter re­ac­tors. Ge­orge W. Bush re­ferred to it as "a mis­take." The Agreed Frame­work broke down in 2002, when it was found that North Korea had a highly en­riched se­cret nu­clear pro­gram, had bought tech­nol­ogy and equip­ment abroad, and had made se­cret deals with Pakistan. In Jan­uary 2003, North Korea with­drew from the A.F.

Rus­sia got Kim to sign a nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion treaty in 1985, but North Korea didn't give the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency (IAEA) ac­cess to Yong­byon and was slow to ful­fill the treaty. Again, in De­cem­ber 1991, North and South Korea agreed to a dec­la­ra­tion for de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean penin­sula, and the North said it would agree to an inspections regime. But North Korea again cheated re­gard­ing its plu­to­nium and re­fused to com­ply. It was hid­ing its nu­clear pro­gram; it had bought tech­nol­ogy and equip­ment abroad and had made deals with Pakistan.

In re­sponse, sanc­tions were im­posed by the U.S. in the be­lief that only strong eco­nomic pres­sure can lead to a change in N.K. pol­icy on nu­clear weapons and other pro­grams. This is be­ing done in spite of the fact that the N.K. 1972 con­sti­tu­tion, amended in 2012, iden­ti­fies the regime as so­cial­ist and rev­o­lu­tion­ary, a dic­ta­tor­ship of peo­ple's democ­racy, and as a "nu­clear armed state."

It is too late and ab­surd to sug­gest that the prob­lem of the Korean penin­sula would be solved if it were given back to Ja­pan. An­other fac­tor is that the 1953 ar­mistice be­tween the two Koreas that sus­pended the Korean civil war has lasted for 64 years, though Kim has re­nounced it and de­clared that N.K. has a right to a pre-emp­tive nu­clear weapon.

The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity sees N.K. as dan­ger­ous and provoca­tive. What is to be done? There are four al­ter­na­tives, if not real pos­si­bil­i­ties.

One is the re­moval of Kim, peace­fully or not. Po­lit­i­cal peace­ful pro­ce­dures are not of course yet avail­able in the coun­try. But the use of force by the U.S. is un­likely for two rea­sons. The first is that as­sas­si­na­tion is not nor­mal U.S. pro­ce­dure. The other re­al­is­tic fac­tor is that Kim is well pro­tected and spends much time in un­der­ground fa­cil­i­ties.

Se­cond is the elim­i­na­tion of nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties – again, dif­fi­cult, be­cause much of N.K. fa­cil­i­ties, and its im­por­tant mil­i­tary in­fra­struc­ture, is un­der­ground. More­over, N.K. has con­sid­er­able mil­i­tary as­sets, es­pe­cially ar­tillery along the bor­der with South Korea. In the event of hos­til­i­ties, N.K. could strike the 24,000 U.S. troops in South Korea.

In any case, is the U.S. mis­sile de­fense sys­tem, a mix­ture of the Pa­triot mis­siles, the ter­mi­nal high-al­ti­tude area de­fense sys­tem (THAAD), and the Aegis de­fense sys­tem, and the ground -based mid­course de­fense sys­tem (GMD), able to de­stroy a N.K. nu­clear war­head?

Third is strength­en­ing of

sanc­tions by other states as well as the U.S. Sanc­tions have tar­geted in­sti­tu­tions and peo­ple in­volved in de­vel­op­ing and fi­nanc­ing the weapons pro­grams, arms trade, hu­man rights abuses, oil im­ports, vi­o­la­tions of cy­ber-se­cu­rity, lim­it­ing ac­cess to the in­ter­na­tional fi­nance sys­tem, and en­ti­ties that con­trib­ute to the coun­try's ex­port earn­ings. These in­sti­tu­tions and peo­ple can­not do busi­ness with the U.S. and Amer­i­can com­pa­nies. U.N. am­bas­sador Nikki Ha­ley wanted the strong­est pos­si­ble sanc­tions, es­pe­cially a com­plete oil em­bargo, and puni­tive mea­sures against Kim. The U.N. res­o­lu­tion on the is­sue calls for a limit of im­ports of re­fined and crude oil to 8.5 mil­lion bar­rels a year. Also, tex­tiles, ac­count­ing for a quar­ter of N.K. ex­port in­come, are banned.

China has been help­ful to an ex­tent: al­ready it has up a sys­tem of in­spec­tors and check­points, in­clud­ing the use of mil­i­tary dogs in an ef­fort to close down N.K. smug­gling routes. China has also been ad­mit­ting N.K. de­fec­tors.

Fi­nally and fourth, what is left is diplo­macy be­tween N.K. and the U.S. and rest of the world. Here Rus­sia and es­pe­cially China which must play a role, as the lat­ter has be­gun in im­pos­ing sanc­tions. Ev­ery­one knows that nu­clear weapons pose a con­stant threat to hu­man­ity. The U.S. has a prom­i­nent role in meet­ing that threat. Whether Kim is crazy or not, U.S. ac­tions should be do­ing the dif­fi­cult thing right now. The im­pos­si­ble will take a lit­tle longer.

Though there are le­git­i­mate dif­fer­ences of opin­ion on how to re­spond to North Korea's nu­clear arse­nal, there are no dif­fer­ences about the dic­ta­tor Kim Jong-un, the ruler since he took power in 2011. He is a ruth­less killer who has acted to con­sol­i­date power, mur­der­ing his un­cle Jang Song-thaek, "a traitor for all ages," and or­der­ing the as­sas­si­na­tion of his half­brother, Kim Jong-nam, in Malaysia

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