Fiery talk won’t curb Kim, but other approaches might
Americans could be forgiven for losing sleep this week over developments on the Korean Peninsula.
First came word of North Korea’s breakthrough in developing a nuclear weapon small enough to fit on top of a long- range missile that could potentially reach the U. S. mainland, a scenario displayed in endless cable news simulations.
Within hours, President Trump apparently ad- libbed a warning that North Korean threats would “be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
Then the North Korean army said plans were in place for a nuclear “enveloping fire” around the U. S. territory of Guam, with its 160,000 people.
Whoa. Time for a deep breath. Fiery rhetoric aside, it bears remembering that the United States and North Korea do not seek dominion over the other. America has no desire to invade that faraway land, and the Kim family dynasty has demonstrated during seven decades of rule that its overriding goal is survival, not world conquest.
The current leader, Kim Jong Un, is many things: murderous, ruthless, a despot clinging to power under the state- sponsored fiction that his country is under siege. There’s no indication, however, that he is suicidal.
Kim watched Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi give up on nuclear arms only to lose their lives. To avoid their fate, Kim works toward a weapon that could threaten America, and Trump doesn’t want that to happen on his watch.
To deal with the threat, noncombat alternatives include:
uDiplomacy. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has offered the possibility of negotiations to ensure security for the Kim regime in exchange for curbing its nuclear ambitions. As Tillerson made plain to Pyongyang last week, “We are not your enemy, we are not your threat.”
uDeterrence. Even during the height of the Cold War, when Russia was threatening America with thousands of nuclear weapons, the doctrine of mutually assured destruction prevented a conflagration.
uCyber sabotage. The United States could have surreptitious tools to disrupt and delay North Korea’s missile testing. These would include covert cyber and electronic interference programs.
uMissile defense. Intermediate- missile defense systems have shown considerable success, and testing continues for batteries that can shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles targeting the USA.
uSanctions. Last week, in a noteworthy achievement at the United Nations, the Trump administration won unanimous Security Council consent for tougher sanctions that could slash North Korea’s annual export revenue. Adherence by China, which handles 85% of North Korea’s trade, holds the key.
All of these are ways to lessen the threat from North Korea without touching off a nuclear conflagration. In the meantime, “fire and fury” remarks are not helpful. Such brinkmanship can lead to lethal miscalculations and a humanitarian disaster. That outcome is avoidable. America fares best when it acts with steely resolve, not out of fear.
Television news in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday.