The threats and propaganda emanating from North Korea are quite disconcerting. The specter of having nuclear weapons aimed at America may soon be a reality. What’s the endgame for North Korea and how will the global community of nations react to the growing nuclear ambitions of a two-bit despot?
Kim Jong-un has managed to intimidate China, South Korea, Japan and the U.S. with his tough talk and belligerent attitude. It’s astounding that a dirt-poor nation with 26 million people and gross national product of $25 billion (Vermont’s GNP is $30 billion) can generate so much angst for two of the world’s super powers. It goes to prove that a nuclear capability can be a game changer for any country.
Let’s examine the options available to China and the U.S. since they are the only nations with enough clout, militarily and economically, to subdue North Korea.
Most people believe the Chinese are in the best position to rein in North Korea. The latter is totally dependent on China to survive. North Korea has very few other trading partners. If the Chinese were to pressure Kim it’s possible that he would relent. Exactly what that would mean is up in the air.
Would North Korea end its nuclear development program? It’s highly unlikely because a nuclear capability is the only diplomatic stick at Kim’s disposal. Without it all other countries would ignore him. It should be noted that North Korea has a huge standing army that is a threat to South Korea.
China could cease trading with North Korea and bring down its economy. This action would profoundly increase immigration of North Koreans into China, something Beijing wishes to avoid. However it could also destabilize the government and result in regime change.
The principal reason why China is reticent about taking drastic action against North Korea is the likelihood that North and South Korea would attempt to unify if Kim’s regime failed. The resultant nation would be dominated by South Korea, capitalistic and allied with the U.S. China will do almost anything to avoid having an ally of the U.S. on its border.
The U.S. is North Korea’s other main foil. Currently the U.S. is applying various types of pressure to force North Korea to end its nuclear efforts. These include United Nations sanctions, which have been supported by China and most of the world, economic sanctions prohibiting other countries from trading with North Korea and relocation of military assets to the region as if a military strike is inevitable.
The urgency for the U.S. to act militarily is increasing at a feverish clip as North Korea continues to test its nuclear arsenal. The main problem is that no one knows the true capability of North Korea’s missiles at this moment. Can they transport a nuclear package? What is their range and can they reach South Korea, Japan Hawaii, Alaska or the continental U.S.? Are they accurate?
If the U.S. were sure that North Korea was unable to deliver a nuclear warhead at this time it would be advisable to forge ahead and attack the country now. But if North Korea could retaliate with nuclear-armed missiles the ensuing damage would be horrific.
So the conversations and speculation continues in China and the U.S. reminiscent of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Does North Korea have deliverable weapon of mass destruction or not? In the meantime North Korea is testing its weaponry regularly evoking fear among its neighbors. Moreover Kim has further infuriated the U.S. by torturing and ultimately killing a college student for a petty misstep.
The stakes are growing every day. The Trump administration will have to make some tough decisions in the near future regarding North Korea. In any case it’s doubtful that a diplomatic or military solution is possible without significant Chinese participation and concurrence.