Can North Korea be allowed to develop a functional nuclear weapons capability?

Lately, in political circles I have been posing a very important policy question.  The question I ask is what does the world look like if North Korea is allowed to possess a viable nuclear weapons capability that truly threatens the United States.  As of now, that world does not exist, but it soon will.  My question is designed to force policy makers to address this impending crisis situation while it still can be contained.  Disturbingly, it appears there is no real consensus on the issue and most seem to just hope that if they don’t acknowledge the problem, it will go away.  Well, I have news.  North Korea is only going to become a bigger problem for the world with disastrous consequences within five years.  Policy makers must seriously tackle this issue now before a nuclear war becomes a reality.

US policy toward North Korea is exceedingly complex and is becoming more dangerous by the week.  The fact the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un is as close to a true irrational actor as the contemporary world has witnessed only makes the situation more volatile.  Any policy missteps could cause anything from headaches to nuclear war for our allies like South Korea and Japan.  Further, China could quickly become involved in a major war against the US, which will be nuclear if it occurs.  Even worse, North Korea is now known inside of intelligence circles as a proxy for Iranian nuclear development.  It is no coincidence that since the Obama Administration freed up frozen Iranian assets that North Korea suddenly has had the funds to test multiple ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs.  Let me be clear, with every nuclear advancement North Korea makes, it not only destabilizes the Korean Peninsula, but it further destabilizers the Middle East and makes a massive war involving both Saudi Arabia and Israel against Iran even more likely.  If not averted now, the world will have one more reason very soon to expect a nuclear war that kills millions of people.

We can talk all day about how we got here because of the absolutely naïve and stupid policy decisions of both the Clinton and Obama Administrations, but that won’t change the current situation.  We now have North Korea simultaneously developing a viable long range ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to the US while also testing functional nuclear bombs.  North Korea views the US and South Korea as existential threats and proclaims daily it will annihilate both countries in an instant should we in anyway offend their repugnant “Dear Leader.”  Should North Korea be able to continue to develop and refine their missiles and bombs to such a state they are viable threats, there is no reason to believe Kim Jung-un will not use them or in the least, pass functional nuclear weapons to Iran.  Either way, North Korea seems poised to cause a nuclear war in the near future.

Making these points has thankfully rattled at least a few policy makers that still possess some sense into asking what can be done.  For those few, I hope they can educate their peers at the White House and in Congress because a lot needs to be done very quickly.  At this point there are only two options.  The first is a multilateral approach to peace that includes China and the other is most likely a pre-emptive war.  If there is any peaceful resolution to this impending crisis, it will be enabled by China.  China is the only nation that has the power and influence to pressure North Korea into “possibly” dismantling its nuclear program.  I for one will always give peace every chance, but I am not optimistic even China can pull this off.  North Korea and China have seen increasingly strained relations because of Kim Jung-un’s psychotic behavior.  Nonetheless, the US has to use every lever of political power it has to convince China to crush North Korea until it gives up its nuclear program.  Simultaneously, and this may sound a bit crazy at first, South Korea and the US need to unilaterally declare peace with North Korea and end the quasi-state of war that has existed since the 1950s.  This includes getting US military personnel stationed in South Korea out and redeploying them back to the US.  We need to overtly remove the stimuli for a nuclear arms race on the Korean Peninsula and remove any war propaganda the North can generate from US military exercises with South Korea.

Don’t think for a second I trust North Korea or expect them to comply.  In fact, removing US troops from South Korea isn’t a demonstration of weakness, but rather, a smart military maneuver to remove our troops from harm’s way while repositioning strategic forces better able to respond to any offensive actions by North Korea.  This is also a far more cost effective rebalancing of US forces in the region and will act to deescalate tensions if tensions can be deescalated.  Remember, we can do more with one Ohio Class nuclear sub waiting silently off the North Korean coast than an entire division waiting to get annihilated by a surprise attack in South Korea.  To be specific, while proclaiming peace, we must secretly be preparing to use nuclear weapons against North Korea should the North decide to ignore our peace treaty and invade the South.  The pullout of US ground troops should occur irrespective of whether or not China fails to get North Korea to dismantle its nuclear arsenal.  In fact, if North Korea refuses, getting our ground forces out of South Korea is even more important.  A second war with North Korea will be too costly to be fought conventionally and North Korea already embraces the use of biological, chemical, and now nuclear weapons in its arsenal so it is suicidal for the US to plan to fight North Korea with anything but nuclear weapons.  The bottom line is the only war we can fight with North Korea is a nuclear war and the sooner we come to terms with that reality, the better we will be if war breaks out again on the peninsula.

No North Korean policy will be effective if it does not put in place mechanisms to rigidly prevent any weapons technology related to missiles or nuclear bombs from either going to or coming from North Korea.  We cannot allow further proliferation.  In particular, if at any time the US detects that North Korea is attempting to export any part of its nuclear capability, we must take immediate military action to stop it.  Under no circumstances can Iran obtain a nuclear weapon from North Korea even if this means we seize or sink a ship.  This must be a standing military order directly from the White House.  If we fail in this regard, the only thing we have done is allow for the potential of not just one, but two nuclear wars to break out.  The destabilizing effects cannot be understated.

In summary, the world where North Korea possesses a viable nuclear weapons capability is one that will lead to a nuclear war.  North Korea’s leader is an irrational actor that has become desperate and unpredictable.  North Korea is already well on their way to achieving a full nuclear weapons capability and needs to be stopped preferably peacefully, but militarily if necessary.  If there must be war, let it be on our terms.  If we fail to stop North Korea, we will face a nuclear war in Asia and almost certainly cause one in the Middle East.

By Guiles Hendrik

May 10, 2016

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