North Korea: What are the options?
“Across 25 years and five administrations, we have kicked the North Korean can down the road,” said Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post. “We are now out of road.” Last week, President Kim Jong Un’s isolationist regime conducted its first successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile. The launch showed that the Hermit Kingdom can now reach Alaska with its Hwasong-14 missile—and soon, “every American city” will be within range. Pyongyang is also feverishly working on miniaturizing nuclear weapons so they can be mounted on its ICBMs. Like predecessors Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, President Trump has only “bad options,” said Alex Ward in Vox.com. Repeated attempts to deter North Korea through economic sanctions and diplomacy have failed. And given that Kim has “the world’s largest artillery arsenal” pointed across the border at Seoul, South Korea’s populous capital, any pre-emptive U.S. military strike could result in hundreds of thousands or even millions of deaths.
Doing nothing carries its own risks, said Bret Stephens in The New York Times. North Korea could well share its nuclear secrets with other rogue states, such as Syria or Iran. And because Kim often lashes out with irrational fury, relying on deterrence is dangerous. Our best option is to try to bring about peaceful regime change by ramping up the pressure on North Korea’s main trading partner, China, and imposing severe sanctions on all Chinese banks and companies that do business with Kim’s regime.
Beijing is unlikely to budge, said Fareed Zakaria in The Washington Post. If the North collapses, the unified countries will become “a giant version of South Korea”—with tens of thousands of U.S. troops and a pro-Western democracy right on China’s border. The truth is that we have only one viable, if unpalatable, option—“accepting North Korea as a nuclear power,” said Mark Bowden in TheAtlantic.com. Kim has shown himself to be ruthlessly efficient in eliminating all threats to his dictatorial rule—but “neither suicidal nor crazy.” He knows his nuclear arsenal and ICBMs are useful as a deterrent against any U.S. attempt to invade or oust him. But he also knows that to use them would result in his regime’s “swift annihilation.” Think of it this way: “As a young man with a lifetime of wealth and power before him, how likely is he to wake up one morning and set fire to his world?” ■