A nuclear trip wire for North Korea
The U.S. should define clear lines that must not be crossed
Now that North Korea has a bunch of nukes and is testing ways to deliver them by ballistic missile, we need to address the stark realities of what this new threat really means for us.
And just as important — what it should mean for them.
However, before we begin, it should now be a reality for us that negotiations with fat boy Kim Jong-un’s regime are a total waste of our time, energy and money, just as they were with his strokedout father’s crew.
Politically, of course, this result was the collective failure of our State Department, the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations, together with the defective concept of the “Six Party Talks.” The only “accomplishment” was to provide the time and diplomatic cover for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuke program, plus give the regime lots of oil and money in the process. In short, the Six Party Talks enabled North Korea’s nuke weapons program. If this sounds familiar, Barack Obama and John Kerry made the same mistakes with Iran.
So, North Korea is now a dangerous nuclear rookie and we must develop — and articulate — policies that reflect, in the words of Defense Secretary James Mattis, the “clear and present danger” they represent.
What should our new policies look like? What should be the “red lines,” and what North Korean behaviors should cause virtually automatic responses from us? As this is a whole new ball game, what should be the thresholds for our responses and what should we be telling the Russians and Chinese about it?
This because nothing we do in response to North Korean aggressive behaviors should come as a surprise to anyone.
It also seems clear we need both short- and longer-term strategies. Along with this approach, we should rule out a number of troublesome scenarios for possible armed conflicts with North Korea — in other words, let’s also define those situations in which we simply will not “play.”
Shorter-term strategies: The short term is, for a number of reasons, the most dangerous. This is because it’s the nuclear muscle-flexing stage for the fat boy and also the period he is most likely to make a mistake or do something dumb. For this same reason, it’s also the period when our responses should be in the virtually “automatic” mode, including pre-emptive strikes.
While there are a number of scenarios that should be addressed, there are a few that deserve special attention. In this category should be a pre-planned nuclear response option for each North Korean action:
• Preparations for a massive artillery attack on Seoul.
• Massing troops at the border. • Interception of ocean or coastal traffic.
• Interception of aviation.
• Launch of any ballistic missile with an aggressive trajectory.
Longer-term strategies: These should be developed with urgency, but on a different track from the shorter-term ones. In this category should be:
• Discussions with the Japanese for a cooperative nuclear relationship.
• Re-positioning nuclear assets — and nuclear-capable assets — to and around the Korean peninsula.
• Excluding North Korea from any relevant diplomatic discussions; maximizing all types of sanctions — in the U.N. and domestically; terminating any remaining Six Party benefits.
• Working trade embargos; interceptions of suspicious commerce; very aggressive information operations.
Defining when we won’t “play”: This category is as important as the other two — maybe more so, because it is the essence of deterring the fat boy from doing something stupid. Here are some things we won’t do in context of any conflict or confrontation with the North:
• A land war on the Korean peninsula — been there, done that.
• A build-up of our conventional forces in the region in response to North Korean aggressive behaviors — gradualism does not work.
• Any kind of negotiations with the North – they have given up this option.
Combined, these strategies are intended to have a simple “message” for the North Korean regime: We have defined the limits of your behavior. If you cross the lines, our response will be quick — and pre-emptive if we decide you are about to do something dumb. The response will be nuclear if that is appropriate for the risk you present to us — and in that event, you will cease to exist as a political entity.
Perhaps as important as promulgating these strategies is that they be articulated publicly and fully briefed to our allies and enemies alike.
A useful analogy: During the Cold War, we had a SIOP — a Single Integrated Operational Plan — that included a targeting doctrine (promulgated during the Carter administration) that focused on the top Soviet leadership. My personal experience during the ’80s was that the leadership-targeting aspect of the SIOP got the attention of the Soviets, along with President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative.
Will the fat boy behave differently if we promulgate the strategies described above? That’s his choice, of course, but if he doesn’t, he should realize that the slightest miscalculation on his part, let alone a dangerous overt act, could cause the end of him and his regime. In short, he has no margin for error — nor do we — and it should surprise no one.
Daniel Gallington served through 11 rounds of bilateral negotiations in Geneva as a member of the U.S. Delegation to the Nuclear and Space Talks with the former Soviet Union.
Defining when we won’t “play”: This category is as important as the other two — maybe more so, because it is the essence of deterring the fat boy from doing something stupid.