How to diffuse the North Korean crisis
The plot is thickening. North Korea could be just months away from ability to strike the US homeland with a nuclear-armed ballistic missile, according to CIA chief Mike Pompeo (1). Meanwhile, Pyongyang says a hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific should be taken literally. (2).
President Trump has warned that the US military is “locked and loaded”. Three US aircraft carrier strike groups are now operating in the Pacific within reach of North Korea. (3)
What transpires is escalation of an unstable spiral of mutual mistrust and escalating confrontation between North Korea and the US, driving the region, and probably the world, to nuclear Armageddon.
What has not been grasped is what drives the supposedly mad Kim to such lengths. It is evident that taking a leaf out of Chairman Mao’s book (against former USSR aggression), Kim is hell-bent to acquire a credible nuclear insurance policy to ensure survival against perceived continual US hidden agenda of regime change. (4) After rounds of fruitless Six-Party talks, he is unlikely to trust words of assurances from the United States, especially from a capricious Donald Trump.
There is now increasing US talk of a military option. However, a preemptive strike will trigger an immediate catastrophe, beginning with Seoul, which is easy cannon fodder for thousands of North Korean heavy artillery just across the border. Subsequent escalation, which is likely, will pull the major military powers, including China and Russia, into the fray. Even World War III cannot be ruled out.
Even a land-based decapitation exercise inside North Korea would lead to uncontrollable consequences. It would result in subsequent deployment of substantial numbers of US and South Korean troops inside North Korea to secure the nuclear arsenal and to control any consequential upheaval. In the circumstances, China and Russia are unlikely to sit tight watching the geopolitical landscape in the Korean Peninsula dramatically change to their disadvantage.
Yes, China has economic levers to bear on North Korea. But causing a massive humanitarian crisis at China’s doorstep is not an appealing option. Nor would China want military unification of the Peninsula on American terms. Let’s not forget that Russia has also quietly been supplying much needed oil to North Korea through Singapore. (5)
The Economist (6) urges all parties to keep calm to avoid risks of a nuclear war, while proposing more sanctions to contain North Korea. Sadly, sanctions have not worked. The clock is ticking.
However, if the United States genuinely gives up a hidden agenda of regime change and concentrates only on de-nuclearization, the North Korean crisis may not be insoluble. (7)
If better understanding could be reached following President Trump’s forthcoming visit to Beijing, China may well be able to broker a deal with Kim behind the scene. The object is a formal, open, bilateral US-North Korea Non-Aggression Treaty, backed by an immediate program of verifiable de-escalation on both sides. This is to be predicated on Kim freezing further efforts to develop inter-continental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the US homeland in exchange for easing of sanctions and economic assistance. (8)
All parties, including the US, China and South Korea, should then help with investments to normalize, the nation.
Let’s not forget that the Viet Cong regime wasn’t toppled by war. What has turned Vietnam into an American ally is economics. (9)