America vs. North Korea: Can a Brutal War be Avoided?

November 16, 2017 Topic: Security Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Skeptics Tags: North KoreaMilitaryTechnologyWorldU.S. AsiaWarSouth Korea

America vs. North Korea: Can a Brutal War be Avoided?

Time is on our side, not on Kim Jong-un’s.

For logical and traceable reasons, the chances of war on the Korean peninsula have moved beyond “possible” and now solidly into “likely” territory. The combined actions, decisions, and positions of Presidents George W. Bush, Obama, and Trump, along with North Korean dictators Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un, have perversely created a no-win situation in which war may now be unavoidable––a tragic and avoidable situation for which hundreds of thousands or millions of Americans, South Koreas, and Japanese may pay with their lives.

With the adoption of a rational policy, however, American security can be assured, and war avoided.

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The seeds of today’s crisis were planted in October 1994 when newly installed North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il signed the Agreed Framework with the Clinton Administration. North Korea pledged to cease construction of nuclear reactors suspected of fueling a nuclear weapons program in exchange for the U.S. funding two light-water reactors that could not be used to produce material for a nuclear bomb. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were required to certify North Korea’s implementation.

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Kim initially complied with the agreement and in 1997 met with representatives of South Korea and the U.S., continuing what Secretary of State Madeline Albright termed “ this historic process .”  Soon thereafter, however, evidence began to accumulate that Pyongyang was secretly establishing a weapons program and impeding IAEA inspectors. Even Clinton’s patience started to run out, and in March 2000 he reported to Congress that he could not certify North Korea was not violating the Agreed Framework by secretly pursuing a weapons program.

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President Bush, with the encouragement of then-Undersecretary of State John Bolton, called out North Korea as a member of the “ axis of evil ” in his 2002 State of the Union address, adding to Kim’s paranoia of U.S. attack. In part citing this declaration , North Korea officially withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in January 2003 and kicked out IAEA inspectors. Free from the NPT and IAEA inspections, Kim Jong-il accelerated the development of his clandestine nuclear program. In October 2006 North Korea conducted the first of what has thus far been six underground nuclear tests.

In March of 2011, President Obama made a crucial decision that today makes any diplomatic solution with the Kim regime almost impossible to attain. In an attempt to “prevent a humanitarian catastrophe” in Libya, Obama authorized the U.S. military to join with other nations in bombing regime forces. Seven months later, Libyan dictator Muammar Kaddafi was driven from power and was brutally and publicly murdered by frenzied crowds. More than any other single event, Kaddafi’s death has convinced current North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un that negotiating away his nuclear weapons is a virtual death sentence.

In December 2003, Bush had negotiated with Kaddafi to end and verifiably dismantle his nuclear weapon’s program. "Colonel Kaddafi's commitment, once it is fulfilled,” Bush boasted at the time , “will make our country more safe and the world more peaceful." That commitment was fulfilled in 2009. Two years later, however, when Obama was the President, and Kaddafi had no nuclear weapons to defend himself, he was powerless to stop the allied air assault and lost his life. A powerful lesson was imprinted on the mind of Kim Jong-un: don’t trust American diplomacy.

President Trump is presently in Asia, discussing the Korean crisis with heads of states of several countries, including South Korea, Japan, and China. On Monday he stated , “The era of strategic patience is over,” while holding out the hope on Tuesday that he could “ make a deal ” with Kim Jong-un and avoid war.

Yet just last month at the U.N. Trump flatly stated that “denuclearization is its only acceptable future,” but that if he is forced to, Trump “will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”  Thus, we are left with two irreconcilable positions with war hanging in the balance.

The president says he will not allow North Korea to have the ability to strike U.S. territory with a nuclear weapon. The North Korean dictator says he will not give up his weapons under any circumstances. Washington says it wants a diplomatic solution , while Pyongyang has signaled it does not trust the U.S. and won’t put denuclearization on the table. As a result, there are only three possible outcomes:

1) Kim retains his nuclear weapons, calls Trump’s bluff, and Trump backs down;

2) Trump’s strong rhetoric pressures Kim to give up his weapons, and he is left to hopes a future U.S. president does not attack him;

3) Kim retains his nuclear weapons, calls Trump’s bluff, and Trump makes good on his threats and orders military action.