North Korea Does Not Trust America for a Pretty Good Reason
That changed in the next administration. The 2011 Arab Spring gave the Obama administration its opportunity to defenestrate the Libyan dictator. In the name of humanitarianism, even though Qaddafi had neither targeted nor threatened civilians—his infamous speech was directed against armed insurgents—the United States and Europeans pushed regime change. Never mind past deals and discussions of aid. Qaddafi was vulnerable and the allies struck.
No one knows who will follow President Trump. It could be an uber-hawk Republican. Moreover, Hillary Clinton could run again. Her comment on Qaddafi’s end, delivered while laughing, was “we came, we saw, he died.” If Kim disarmed, what would prevent a change of position in Washington similar to that toward Libya?
Of course we would be better off if the Kims went the way of the Ceausescus, Romanovs, Habsburgs, and other ruling dynasties. However, like others before them, they are not likely to go voluntarily, quietly or peacefully. To the extent they believe they are threatened, they will amass the tools necessary to resist their ouster. In North Korea’s case that means nukes and missiles.
If Secretary Tillerson wants to convince Kim Jong-un that the United States does not seek the North Korean dictator’s ouster, America needs to act the part. That means reducing obvious military threats against the DPRK: warnings of potential attack, comments that all options are on the table, bomber overflights, carrier sail-byes, military exercises, bases and garrisons, and the like.
More important, Washington should bring home its troops from South Korea. It is the bilateral alliance which puts American military units up against those of the North. The Republic of Korea is capable of defending itself. Seoul should construct the military and adopt the policies necessary to deter the North from attacking and win the war if one erupts. That could include South Korean nuclear weapons as an alternative to the United States providing a so-called nuclear umbrella over South Korea. If Washington was not aiming its forces at the DPRK, the Kim regime would not be aiming back.
Secretary Tillerson has the right idea in trying to reassure North Korea about America’s intentions. But Kim would be foolish to believe verbal assurances by someone who may not even speak for his own administration, let alone for the U.S. government over the long-term. American conduct must change. Only if Washington stops targeting the DPRK is the latter likely to see no need for a nuclear deterrent against America. Washington policymakers must decide if they believe defending South Korea is worth endangering the American people.
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He is the author of Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World and co-author of The Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations with North and South Korea.