Strategic Impatience Won't Defeat North Korea

The more Washington threatens, the stronger the case becomes for the North to develop long-range missiles capable of hitting U.S. targets.

“We are going to achieve the end of a denuclearization of the Korean peninsula—one way or the other,” said the vice president. But again, how? With military action? If forced to choose between war and surrender, surrender which the Kim regime might view as the equivalent of war, just under less favorable circumstances (think Libya!), Pyongyang might choose the first. If Washington ends up only bluffing, however, another dead end would be reached. And administration credibility would be in tatters.

The greatest irony may be that the more Washington threatens, even if its warnings turn out to be empty, the stronger the case becomes for the North to develop long-range missiles capable of hitting U.S. targets. How else to deter the superpower from yet another exercise in regime change? Obviously the DPRK has other reasons for desiring a nuclear arsenal, but the price for yielding it can only grow to the extent that it genuinely fears U.S. military action.

It was evident during the campaign that President Trump put a high value on bluster. So apparently do his appointees. Unfortunately, huffing and puffing won’t solve the North Korea problem.

The president still has time to return to some of his campaign ideas, such as being willing to talk to Kim Jong-un. It turns out that candidate Trump unscripted is more sensible than President Trump programmed. If he doesn’t rediscover his voice, his foreign policy will be no more successful than that of his predecessor. And America could find itself in a flurry of wars, including Korea. There would be no quicker way to wreck his presidency.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He is the author of Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World and coauthor of The Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations with North and South Korea.

Image: Vice President Mike Pence is briefed by Army Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, Combined Forces Command and United Nations Command, at the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea, April 17, 2017. Wikimedia Commons / U.S. Department of Defense.