What next with North Korea?

Rea­gan’s ‘peace through strength’ faces a new test

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Cal Thomas Cal Thomas is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist. His lat­est book is “What Works: Com­mon Sense So­lu­tions for a Stronger Amer­ica” (Zon­der­van, 2014).

There was a mo­ment at Press Sec­re­tary Sean Spicer’s White House brief­ing Mon­day that was sig­nif­i­cant. Asked by a re­porter about North Korea’s mis­sile launch last week­end, Mr. Spicer said the ad­min­is­tra­tion was aware of the launch and that “it failed.” End of story. Next ques­tion, please. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the for­mer Con­ser­va­tive for­eign sec­re­tary in Bri­tain, might pro­vide an ex­pla­na­tion for Mr. Spicer’s tightlipped re­sponse. Mr. Rifkind told the BBC Sun­day that “there is a very strong be­lief that the U.S. — through cy­ber meth­ods — has been suc­cess­ful on sev­eral oc­ca­sions in in­ter­rupt­ing these sorts of tests and mak­ing them fail.”

At present, there are no di­rect links to a cy­ber-at­tack on North Korea from the United States, but that hasn’t stopped me­dia out­lets from re­port­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of one.

Last month, the United States be­gan send­ing the first el­e­ments of its Ter­mi­nal High Al­ti­tude Area De­fense mis­sile de­fense sys­tem to South Korea, though China op­posed the move. When it be­comes op­er­a­tional will it, along with cy­ber-at­tacks, be enough to de­ter North Korean dic­ta­tor Kim Jong-Un from con­duct­ing new mis­sile tests ca­pa­ble of hit­ting the United States with a nu­clear war­head, which he has re­peat­edly threat­ened to do? Mr. Kim has said he will con­duct mis­sile tests “weekly” in re­sponse to U.S. threats.

On a re­cent visit to South Korea, Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence vowed that “the era of strate­gic pa­tience is over,” a strat­egy adopted by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to ex­plain its long-term view on global con­flict res­o­lu­tion. Mr. Pence added, “North Korea would do well not to test [Pres­i­dent Trump’s] re­solve — or the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this re­gion.”

How much of this is blus­ter on both sides no one can say for sure. Af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump’s meet­ing with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, there is some op­ti­mism that China might be able to ex­ert suf­fi­cient pressure on its un­pre­dictable ally to pull back from a di­rect con­fronta­tion with the United States. Of great­est con­cern for the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, in ad­di­tion to South Korean civil­ians who would likely suf­fer mas­sive ca­su­al­ties should there be a North Korean in­va­sion, are the more than 28,000 U.S. troops sta­tioned in South Korea. Mr. Kim has threat­ened to at­tack them and flood South Korea with his ground forces.

What is our goal with North Korea? Is it regime change? If so, who and what would fol­low if Mr. Kim is ousted? Mr. Kim, his fa­ther and grand­fa­ther have es­tab­lished such an at­mos­phere of com­plete con­trol and cult-like obe­di­ence with North Kore­ans, who have been cut off from all out­side in­for­ma­tion, that it is hard to pre­dict how the peo­ple would re­act. It’s a good bet po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers in North Korea’s prison camps would be over­joyed if the regime fell and they were set free.

Hu­man­rights.gov es­ti­mates be­tween “80,000 and 120,000 po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers and fam­ily mem­bers are de­tained in these camps, where star­va­tion, forced la­bor, ex­e­cu­tions, tor­ture, rape, forced abor­tion and in­fan­ti­cide are com­mon­place.”

Those who wish to hold off on fur­ther chal­lenges to North Korea must ask them­selves a ques­tion. Given the er­ratic be­hav­ior of Kim Jong-Un and his bel­li­cose prom­ises to strike the United States with a nu­clear mis­sile, is it bet­ter to take him se­ri­ously and stop him now, or wait un­til he has the ca­pa­bil­ity to carry out his threat?

Last week, Hawaii’s House public safety com­mit­tee passed a res­o­lu­tion call­ing for the state’s de­fense agency to re­pair hun­dreds of fall­out shel­ters that have not been up­dated since the 1980s and re­stock them with med­i­cal sup­plies, food and wa­ter.

We haven’t yet reached the ten­sion level of the 1962 Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis, which put the United States in di­rect con­fronta­tion with the Soviet Union and brought the world to the brink of nu­clear war, but the cur­rent ten­sion be­tween the United States and North Korea could quickly spi­ral down­ward.

Will the “peace through strength” doc­trine of the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion, which sug­gested that mil­i­tary power could help pre­serve peace, work to­day? Dur­ing the Rea­gan years, Soviet lead­ers were not un­sta­ble, as Kim Jong-Un ap­pears to be, and a nu­clear con­fronta­tion was avoided. Per­haps a de­mon­stra­tion of what the United States can do with cy­ber­war­fare, a mis­sile de­fense sys­tem and help from China will be enough.

One can only hope.

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