Does North Korea have a deliverable nuclear weapon that can destroy another country? The issues and diplomatic complexities surrounding this question are very troubling.
A twenty-something year old despot leads North Korea. Kim Jung-un is the grandson of Kim Il-sung, the man who was the first leader of the country. His family regime has always been affiliated with domestic brutality and external hostility.
The current leader is a paranoid who spends a great amount of the country’s resources on military expenditures including a standing army of 1.2 million soldiers. North Korea is capable of conducting a significant conventional war on land against its archrival South Korea. And it has a missile arsenal that may or may not be capable of destroying neighboring countries.
Kim is convinced that the longevity of his reign is dependent upon the military might of his country. A nuclear strike capability gives him credibility as a leader and the power to force his neighbors to deal with him.
North Korea is a poor country that has not developed economically like its southern neighbor South Korea. It’s almost exclusively dependent upon China for natural resources and for trade. Additionally China has provided North Korea with political cover over the past several decades.
Protection afforded by China, which abuts North Korea, is a remnant of the Korean War during which China and Russia assisted Kim’s grandfather in a fight and standoff with South Korea. The U.S. was South Korea’s benefactor then and now. China’s greatest concern, up to this point, has been the reunification of the Korea peninsula and the expected domination by South Korea.
The worm may have turned as North Korea’s missile and nuclear capabilities have developed. Until now China has protected North Korea using its seat on the Security Council at the United Nations. The U.S. and others have attempted to increase sanctions and condemnation of North Korea.
But it appears that North Korea’s only supporter may be having a change of heart. It has allowed increased sanctions by the U.N. on its little brother because of worldwide concern with North Korea’s nuclear program. More recently it seems as though President Trump and China’s Xi Jinping have agreed that Kim is a loose cannon (literally) who may create a crisis in the region and with other countries outside of the region.
The most important issues relating to North Korea are:
- Can North Korea produce an atomic and/or hydrogen bomb?
- Can North Korea attach a nuclear bomb to a ballistic missile and direct it at South Korea, Japan and other countries in the region (including China) and the U.S.?
- Should the U.S. initiate a preemptive strike on North Korea and destroy its nuclear arsenal before North Korea can launch a nuclear missile at another country?
- Is it possible that Kim, in a fit of rage or paranoia, would launch missiles at any of his neighbors?
- How will China react to a preemptive strike by the U.S. on North Korea?
Developing a strategy for the U.S. relating to North Korea is incredibly complicated. There are a number of extremely important issues that must be considered.
If the U.S. has intelligence that North Korea cannot launch a nuclear missile at any country at this time because it does not have the technology, why shouldn’t the U.S. preemptively attack North Korea before it becomes a real nuclear threat? The answer is that it makes perfect sense for the U.S. to move forward with such a plan.
The risks of such a plan are that North Korea really can launch a nuclear missile, how will China react and will North Korea march on South Korea employing conventional weapons and millions of soldiers?
If the U.S. believes North Korea can launch a nuclear weapon even with questionable accuracy, should it still attack preemptively? This decision is extraordinarily risky for obvious reasons. Of course the U.S. would attempt to destroy North Korea’s nuclear arsenal in such an attack. But can the U.S. take out all of North Korea’s launchers? The answer appears to be no as Kim has put many of his missiles on launchers that are mobile. In a U.S. attack, if Kim was able to launch one nuke at South Korea, Japan or China, the result would be devastating.
It appears that President Trump is considering all the right things. He has increased the presence of the U.S. in the region militarily. And he has been working with Xi. China has a stake in this nuclear dilemma and, finally, seems ready to deal with North Korea.
This situation is easily the most important and most dangerous foreign affairs issue of the decade.It’s the only one that poses a real existential threat to the U.S.