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2017-11-09 17:26
By Ted Gover

 

According to intelligence estimates, Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program is on course to attaining the capability of striking the U.S. mainland with a nuclear weapon within a year. Other reports claim that North Korea may already possess this capability.

Prudence requires that Washington assume Pyongyang can attack the U.S. with a nuclear weapon and that any armed conflict with North Korea would involve the threat of a nuclear strike against the U.S. and its allies. 

Beyond this, a non-nuclear conflict with North Korea would be costly given the 30 million South Korean citizens, 200,000 U.S. citizens and 25,000 U.S. military personnel concentrated in greater Seoul, all of whom are within range of the North’s rocket battery artillery.

This reality requires that the U.S. and its allies construct a North Korea policy that involves a long game of strategic deterrence, containment and sanctions while leaving the door open to negotiations.

Perhaps the first step in this process is for Washington to acknowledge that Kim Jong-un is unlikely to abandon his nuclear weapons programs due to sanctions and urging from the White House, Beijing and others. Kim’s primary focus is the survival of his regime and he knows of the fates of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, both of whom are dead after their non-nuclear states were overthrown by outside powers.

It bears saying that Kim is also keenly aware of Ukraine’s current situation which, at the urging of Washington, London and Moscow in return for guarantees to its territorial integrity, gave up 2,000 nuclear weapons in 1994. Yet, as it stands today, the Crimea and most of eastern Ukraine is under Russia’s control.

Pyongyang has taken note. Regardless of the cost of economic sanctions, it will not engage in arms talks until it has mastered and demonstrated the capability of conducting a nuclear strike against a U.S. city. 

Washington can protect against a nuclear North Korea by recommitting to some of the first principles applied during the Cold War against the Soviet Union, i.e., utilizing a long-term strategy of containment, sanctions and deterrence with overwhelming capabilities.

This approach, although imperfect, has worked well on the Korean peninsula over the past 65 years. While it has failed to prevent North Korea from developing a nuclear weapons program, it has prevented another Korean war.

Without such a framework, the risk of a nuclear North reigniting hostilities on the Korean peninsula rises while the chances of a U.S.-China strategic agreement regarding the North decreases.

The end goal is that in years to come Pyongyang will enter into disarmament discussions, the regime will come to an end or a different type of leader will emerge in Pyongyang.

Going forward, the need for a long-term strategy is in order, similar to the approach used towards Soviet Union during the Cold War.


Ted Gover (tedgover@gmail.com), Ph.D., is instructor of Political Science at Central Texas College, U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California.


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