We cannot live with a nuclear North Korea (or rather, it will not live with us)

Yesterday, the North Korean threat finally crossed the ocean to our shores. As it is after every fresh outrage from Pyongyang, the question many will ask is, “Now what?” Certainly, there are plenty of legal, financial, and diplomatic options on this list that President Trump’s cabinet can exercise. Congress is also ready to act, or nearly so. You should expect to see the Senate move legislation you’ve seen (or something similar to it) and legislation you have not yet seen. That is good, but is there still time? After years of indecision and neglect, it will take concerted diplomatic and law-enforcement efforts for financial pressure to show its effects on Pyongyang, and no pressure that fails to threaten the very end of Kim Jong-Un’s misrule will be sufficient.

As you read this, “experts” across Northwest D.C., including some of those who are most responsible for getting us into this mess in the first place, are proof-reading their next op-eds calling for us to beg for a deal that Pyongyang doesn’t want and wouldn’t keep. As Pyongyang has said repeatedly (though too many of us choose not to hear it) it will not negotiate away its nuclear arsenal. A freeze would only trade away valuable concessions until Pyongyang seizes on the slightest pretext to renege on it.  Those who tell us that we must talk to North Korea ignore the evidence of how often we have tried. Indeed, it is they who aren’t listening to North Korea. These people are deluding everyone — most of all themselves. Pyongyang did not starve millions of “expendable” people to build a nuclear arsenal so that it could trade that arsenal away. Kim Jong-Un does not want nuclear weapons merely to defend himself from us. He will use them to blackmail Seoul into a “peace process” that would achieve the incremental surrender of South Korea and ultimately, the legacy to which his father and grandfather devoted their lives — the reunification of Korea under his rule. I believe he now sees that goal as within his reach. He may be right.

Can we learn to live with a nuclear North Korea that sold missile technology to Iran, built a nuclear reactor in a part of Syria now controlled by ISIS, and threatened to sell nuclear weapons to terrorists? That attacked our South Korean treaty ally or U.S. forces stationed in Korea in 1968, 1969, 1970, 1976, 1983, 1987, 1998, 2002, 2010, and 2015, killing 50 South Koreans in 2010 alone? That sends assassins to murder human rights activists and dissidents in exile? That has launched cyberattacks against banks, newspapers, nuclear power plants, and the Seoul subway? That launched another cyberattack against a Hollywood movie studio, made terrorist threats against movie theaters in the United States, and chilled the freedom of expression that Americans cherish and have given their lives for? That murdered the half-brother of its tyrant with a deadly nerve agent, in a crowded airport terminal, in the capital city of a friendly nation, 5,000 miles away? That may already be able to strike the United States with a nuclear weapon? The very idea is madness. One day, Kim Jong-Un, whose tolerance for risk always exceeds the calculations of our “expert” class, will go further than we are prepared to tolerate. Down this path lies war — a war whose potential will grow more destructive with each passing year.

Any fool who can hear the rising roar and see the boiling cloud of mist ahead knows where this current is carrying us. We cannot live with a nuclear North Korea if it means — as it assuredly does — the end of nonproliferation and the beginning of an age in which nuclear, chemical, biological, and cyber-terrorism will cease to be theoretical and become imminent and frequent. Fundamentally, the question isn’t really whether we can live with a nuclear North Korea, but whether a nuclear North Korea so inculcated with hatred of America, and with contempt for our open and democratic society, would live with us.

For now, I doubt we’ll make much progress with Russia or China at the U.N., though I think we should give it a token try. One additional provision that’s now worth asking for is an air and sea blockade in which only imports of food, non-luxury consumer goods, and humanitarian supplies should go through. But China and Russia would not agree to this, and I increasingly incline toward not wasting our political capital there. Instead, we should re-focus our diplomatic energy on progressive diplomacy to build a coalition outside of the U.N. to enforce existing U.N. sanctions and deny the North Korean regime the funds that sustain it. But is there still time? And more importantly, don’t Pyongyang’s escalations call for a reassessment of what sanctions are meant to achieve, and therefore the targeting strategy?


  1. If there is no American travel ban by August,admit that the first world citizen hobby of our privileged class shows Totalitarianism works.


  2. If war is going to breakout(and I would still like to think if) how are we going to deal with China? We either need to broker somesort of deal with them about having a united Korea without US troops on the peninsula or we will have to directly engage their forces and be willing to push them back deep into Chinese soil. Granted that would be just trying to limit a war between the US and China, and that would fail. I know that this blog’s focus is on Korea, but the only way to unify Korea under Seoul’s democratic/capitalist rule(yes, we can argue about how valid those terms are, but for now I will say they are) is if the Chinese are ok with it.

    The Chinese have to be made to see how this would benefit them, for example more customers for there goods, and having a secure border. Is there anything that could be done to convince them of this?


  3. This post is a tour de force. It is so succinct and powerful that it really should be spread far and wide. I will certainly try to share
    it with all my friends an colleagues. It is both an irony and a great tragedy that the “engagers,” really as history has shown, “appeasers,” in spite of their intentions, have actually been
    and are still now increasing the likelihood of war.


  4. Mr. Stanton, as usual, places the current climate, where it belongs. The Kim regime is now where it was supposed to be in 2019 and therefore can be arrogant and belligerent as it could afford to be in its last informal talks with Washington (per Sue Mi Terry).

    As far as Jong Un is concerned he has the upper hand in anything and everything we can throw at him. As long as he doesn’t end up like Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein, he can act like he has nothing to worry about but to get to where he thinks he can be by the end of this year.

    The Winter Olympics in Pyongchang (ROK) isn’t until January or February of 2018. Until then, he knows Moon Jae In, who is in love with the idea of “Sports Diplomacy” – which by the way, is not even a fucking original concept, will not do shit. Moon, in my opinion, will do all he can to show that he is a such genius by fielding a unified team full of DPRK summer athletes while Kim perfects the weapon capable of killing everybody in Seoul, Tokyo and Anchorage…

    He ain’t gonna get no nonsense Xi Jing Ping, Putin, Trump, AND delusional mass in Seoul and hapless victims in Pyongyang.

    He killed a man who supposedly stole a banner in North Korea. What do you think he wants to do to the people in the opposing camp that has been calling for his FAT head?

    Let’s wake up!