We can neither talk, bomb, nor wait our way out of the North Korea crisis

“The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.” – Winston Churchill

In one sense, North Korea’s first test of an ICBM should change little about our analysis of this crisis, other than to compress its timeline by two years. Two years ago, in fact, I predicted that we’d have reached this point by January. Most Korea-watchers have long assumed this development to be imminent, and have assumed for at least two years that Pyongyang could nuke Seoul or Tokyo. I’m no expert in missiles or missile defense, but when I ask the expert I trust the most on this subject (an Army friend) whether we can stop a North Korean strike, he says, “probably.” Pyongyang’s nuclear threat to the United States is probably still limited. Its missiles probably aren’t accurate, reliable, or numerous enough to overwhelm our nascent defenses — yet. The same is probably still true of our defenses against a nuclear strike against Seoul or Tokyo once THAAD is deployed, although Pyongyang’s rocket artillery (with its chemical and biological warheads) would likely overwhelm our defenses, as it would have when I was stationed in South Korea and had to get seven anthrax shots. Reassured?

But many other things have changed. North Korea is, for the first time ever, our top foreign policy priority. President Trump has done what his last three predecessors could not do — abandon the palliative illusion that China, which has done so much to weaponize Pyongyang, would enforce sanctions against it. There is bipartisan support in Congress for using all instruments of our national power short of war to deal with Kim Jong-Un. Whatever plans for Sunshine 1.1 Moon Jae-in may have delicately negotiated at the White House are in cinders. Even Moon had no choice but to call for more sanctions and support a new U.S. push for sanctions at the U.N. Security Council. Fine, but this is 2017, and an all-out campaign to bankrupt Pyongyang and subvert it politically would take from one to three years to work. That’s too late for some purposes, but not for others.

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This week, I’ve read more snark at President Trump for giving Xi Jinping three months to bring Kim Jong-Un to heel than Barack Obama got for outsourcing his entire North Korea policy to China for eight years. Regardless of your views of Trump, he inherited a problem that Obama (and lest we forget, Secretary of State Clinton) ignored for eight critical years. History should record that Obama, Clinton, and Kerry squandered our last, best chance to block Kim Jong-Un’s path to nuclear breakout without the use of force or violence.

Now, every option bequeathed to Trump — the man we elected to deal with this mess, for better or for worse — carries a significant risk of catastrophe. Building on yesterday’s parade of horribles, let’s start with the easiest option: doing nothing, or whatever it is we’ve done for the last eight years. If events continue on their present course, the region’s alliances and security framework will collapse, and South Korea will either be forced into a negotiated capitulation or will refuse (perhaps after a military coup) and start a war of its own accord. South Korea’s democracy and economy will collapse under the stress of political divisions, security risks, and ideological and regional factionalism before the neighbors tear at its carcass. Japan will be finlandized by China. China, which might subdue Pyongyang in the same way it nearly subdued Seoul, will inherit control of all of Korea, the western Pacific and Indian Oceans, and with them, the windpipe of our economy. There will be a regional (and perhaps, global) refugee crisis and recession.

Negotiate a “peace” treaty with Pyongyang on its terms and rest assured that we would, at best, delay all of the same outcomes. The capitulation of South Korea would not mean the end of North Korea as a threat to the United States and the rest of the world, of course — that threat has its origins in the ideology and extreme xenophobia of the regime itself. Pyongyang would continue to build its arsenal until it presented a serious threat to the U.S. mainland. It would become eBay for every terrorist and rogue state for both profit and sheer spite. Insecurity and terror would metastasize globally, just as they did when Syria collapsed. Free trade and immigration would come under greater pressure from the security state and isolationist sentiments. Pyongyang would not be content to allow our diplomats, scholars, and authors to criticize its crimes against humanity (and consequently, attack its greatest weakness — its domestic legitimacy). It would use every instrument of its unchecked power to demand a veto on what you see and read. And if you still believe that Kim Jong-Un has reformist ambitions, that those ambitions would make him less threatening to us, or that we’d see their positive effects in the next decade, you’re living in your own reality.

I suppose there are still people who believe that we can talk Pyongyang into a freeze or some other soothing and baffling expedient in exchange for giving up whatever leverage we have left. To believe that requires you to ignore that Pyongyang has said again and again and again that its nukes aren’t up for negotiation.

I find John Delury so personally likable that I really, really want to believe this tweet was a parody.

[Come out of the jungle, Lieutenant Onoda. The war is over.]

Pyongyang wants to negotiate, all right. Just as I predicted, it wants to negotiate South Korea’s unilateral disarmament and its incremental submission to Pyongyang’s political control. Here it is, in plain and stark terms: Pyongyang’s demand for surrender, for unification on its terms. I’ve pasted the full text in, below the fold, as a public service (click “continue reading”). Read every sobering word of it. That goes double for those of you living under the stupidity of South Korea’s censorship. It is you who have the greatest need to know what the future may hold for you, and to decide accordingly.

Or, we could launch a preemptive strike and risk a war that would kill millions. This option may present a marginally lower risk of an even greater catastrophe. It does have the advantage of preventing the greater, longer-term catastrophes of a nuclear North Korea. It is also madness.

We can neither bomb nor surrender our way out of this crisis. We cannot wait or talk our way out of it. It is too late for some options, but it is never too late for the least-worst options we still have. There is no option that does not risk catastrophe. The only question is which option carries the lowest risk of a catastrophe, that makes catastrophe the most amenable to diplomatic preemption, and that gives us the most potential to mitigate the consequences. The paradox before us now is to find a policy that convinces the generals in Pyongyang that time is not on their side and is quickly running out, but that Götterdämmerung is not so imminent that they must either use their nukes or lose them.

Also, the person who must now find that delicate, nuanced policy formula is Donald J. Trump.

Pyongyang, July 4 (KCNA) — The Central Committee of the Democratic Front for the Reunification of Korea (DFRK) issued a statement Tuesday, the 45th anniversary of the July 4 joint statement.

Thanks to President Kim Il Sung’s patriotic decision and wise guidance, high-level political talks were held between the north and the south of Korea in 1972, for the first time in history of their division, at which the three principles of Korea’s reunification–independence, peaceful reunification and the great national unity were declared

The birth of the July 4 joint statement provided the Korean nation with the most correct guidelines for carrying out the cause of independent reunification, and enabled nationwide reunification movement to dynamically advance along the coordinates of victory, while foiling all sorts of obstructive moves of the separatist forces at home and abroad, the statement says, and goes on:

Whoever is concerned about the future of the nation and wishes for the new future of a reunified country should not remain an on-looker to the situation of the north-south relations that have faced the worst catastrophe and tension but more courageously turn out under the immutable banner of the three principles of national reunification.

The DFRK Central Committee clarifies the following stand, reflecting the ardent desire of all Koreans for the improved north-south relations and the country’s reunification, out of its heavy responsibility for the destiny of the nation:

1. The forces submitting and kowtowing to the U.S. while going against the nation’s aspiration and desire for the earliest reunification of the country under the uplifted banner of national independence should be wiped out of this sacred land.

The deplorable situation, in which outsiders lord it over half of the land of the country and inflict all sorts of disaster and sacrifice on the Korean nation although more than 70 years have passed since the division of its territory at the hands of outsiders against the nation’s will, eloquently proves that the road of independence is the only way out for the reunification and the national prosperity.

That’s why we Koreans, never tolerated the traitors who sacrifice the nation’s dignity and interests in pursuance of outsiders, being subservient to the U.S., but dealt heavy blows on them.

The present south Korean chief executive who is leaving the records of submission to the U.S., while abusing the power granted to him by the candlelight demonstrators, being oblivious of this lesson of history, should clearly understand that he can never be exceptional.

What dialogues can be exchanged and how will it be possible to hold hands for the solution of the reunification issue with those who are so much worried about courting displeasure of his master and who take every careful step even on their own land so that their steps would not fall out of their master’s steps.

No matter how many times the regimes in south Korea are replaced and whoever holds power, nothing can be expected and can change unless the policy of dependence on foreign forces is replaced by the policy of giving priority to the nation and the old concept of submission and flunkeyism toward the U.S. is replaced by the idea of prioritizing the nation. This is a serious lesson we have drawn once again.

2. We have to deal heavy blows at the warmongers inside and outside who are bringing escalated tension and crisis of a nuclear war to the Korean peninsula through reckless military actions, in defiance of the fundamental principle of peaceful reunification.

The puppet warmongers, who turned south Korea into the biggest powder arsenal in the Far East and an advance base of a nuclear war for threatening and blackmailing the fellow countrymen with nukes, in defiance of the nation’s cherished desire for peaceful reunification, are making desperate efforts to shift the responsibility for the escalated tension on to the DPRK side, faulting its measures for bolstering the capabilities for self-defence whenever opportunity presents itself and shelving their own cursed crimes.

The south Korean authorities should not run amuck, clearly understanding what catastrophic consequences will entail in case they are inveigled into the outsiders’ attempt for a nuclear war.

We have got ourselves fully ready including the ability to mount precision strike to target even the eyes of all sorts of enemies, after putting in place the deterrence for showering the U.S. with bullets and shells of justice any moment. Yet, we are making all possible efforts for the peaceful reunification of the country as we do not want to see the land of the nation getting enveloped in the flame of war and the whole nation getting embroiled in the holocaust of a war.

The starting point for the genuine peace on the Korean peninsula is the aggressor U.S. imperialists’ withdrawal from south Korea with all lethal weapons with them, not the DPRK’s “nuclear dismantlement”, and the first step toward the peaceful reunification is for the south Korean authorities to lay down the arms leveling at the DPRK and responding to the DPRK’s measure for defusing military tension. They should pay heed to this advice.

3. The whole nation should pave a wide avenue to reunification by its concerted efforts after resolutely doing away with the evil practices of confrontation and hostility that block the nationwide trend toward the great national unity.

Even though differing ideologies and social systems have existed in the north and the south for scores of years, there can not be any reason for them not to get united if they put the national commonness and co-interests above all, and the north and the south can certainly hold hands as companions in the road for reunification.

The difference between the ideology and social system can not be a reason for the same fellow countrymen to distrust and stand in confrontation and isms and interests of classes and strata can never be an obstacle preventing the nation from achieving unity. This is our principled stand.

But the south Korean authorities, shunning such good faith and effort shown by the DPRK, hold their hands with outsiders standing against national reconciliation and unity and incite mistrust and stand-off while faulting the north over the nuclear force, tantamount to a treasure common to the nation, and the non-existent “human rights issue”. How can the smooth development of the north-south relations be expected?

The great national unity is a short-cut to reunification.

Invariable is the will and faith of the DPRK to open up the new horizon of independent reunification in closer unity, however desperate the separatist forces at home and abroad may get.

We will hold hands with anyone who values the nation and courageously turns out for the solution to the reunification issue, but we will neither compromise nor pardon those who still take to the path of treachery, not away from the old concept of sycophancy toward the U.S. and confrontation with the fellow countrymen.

The statement stresses that the DPRK will as ever fulfill its noble mission and responsibility in improving the north-south relations and achieving the independent reunification in line with the requirements and interests of the nation, while consistently holding fast to the three principles of national reunification and their embodiments north-south joint declarations. -0-



  1. Mr Stanton, on the coup part, I won’t be surprised if Moon decided to pull an Erdogan style purge in order to appease N. Korea.


  2. I see a lot of people saying it’s all right because Pyongyang’s ICBM(s) is/are not accurate and they have some time ahead before they can be perfected. But, all Pyongyang needs is to be able to strike US territory to pressure the US to withdraw from South Korea. Someone implied that this wasn’t that big a deal because they can’t reach the naval base at San Diego yet. Would Pyongyang really care if they nuked a civilian rather than military target? They shelled Yonpyong-do and killed Otto Warmbier.


  3. Hello. Would you please calm down.

    As it stands, there is no evidence that conditions on the ground are as bad as they seem.

    You can understand why your president does not use human rights abuses in his rhetoric in his stance on North Korea.

    As any secret service has looked into by now and can tell you, along with the majority of South Koreans and even North Korean Defector Organisations have come to understand, there are a lot of creative people in the world.. some even own uniforms.

    There are a number of reasons why migrants may misremember their time in a country they recently have fled. They are hurt and are afraid of being hurt. The creative ones want revenge. I cannot say I blame them.

    There is little doubt those are camps you have identified. As to what takes place there, well..

    If you would like to be constructive on the North Korean issue, you could advocate for UN inspections to bring you peace of mind instead of breeding further prejudices which actively hamper efforts at dialogue and reconciliation.

    Really, the major obstacle that has been keeping NK a poor country all these years is the US government pursuing active intetest in maintaining conflicts and the division of peoples.

    A lot of nations of whom you might have had no idea why they are anti-american, are getting increasingly tired the US pushing its way into affairs and standing in their way of some form of unity or reconciliation.


  4. So Gab, what strategic interest does the US have for keeping Korea divided? Does it want another nuclear adversary? Does it want an enemy that kills Americans? (Warmbier and a Protestant pastor from Illinois) Does it want an enemy that will proliferate anything to anyone? Does it want an enemy that threatens terrorism against US moviegoers? Does it want an enemy that allows a VX attack in an airport to become a thinkable reality?


  5. The Japanese ought to be most worried about a North Korea nuke. The Kim Family Regime would secure veneration forever by the Korean race were they to attack Japan with nuclear weapons as a final lash-out, should the regime be on the brink of collapse. Statues would be built in towns from one end of the Peninsula to the other if the KFR struck those “Japanese Bastards” with such a terrific blow. The Japanese would be well advised to develop their own nuclear weapons soon.


  6. China has a 400 billion balance of trade surplus with the US, explain to China that they can have normal trade relations with the US or North Korea but not both. Only when the US plays hardball will China throw the North under the bus, will this happen, it hasn’t in 23 years and I am not holding my breath.


  7. To say that U.S. has no standing in current Korea conflict completely ignores the history and international relationship which has direct bearing on each and every world citizen’s daily life in our current universe.

    We are the leader of the free world. Whether we manipulated ourselves in to this position or by default simply does not matter. We had a legitimate reason to rescue and come to aid of South Korea back in 1950 and the fact that we have military bases all over the world including Seoul now has more to do with protecting the liberty and freedom that our country was founded upon more than anything else..

    When I see Kim Jong Un spewing his verbal diarrhea about killing American bastards and pushing for a unified and dignified Korea under HIS RULE (while killing his own half brother, Otto Warmbier, and millions of innocent victims in DPRK without cause or due process), I see no good reason to sit back and do nothing.

    Kim and his family has shown the inherent problems with blindly giving ultimate power to a bloodline without debate or challenge. As his people suffer everyday, Kim and his family drive around in a Mercedes, drinking imported spirits and conjuring up more hatred and fear that legitimatizes his bull shit regime.

    As a human being, I want to promote peace and harmony. As a country, America has a duty to protect its interest and its people around the world. When we hear Kim’s daily declaration that he wants to wipe the U.S. from the face of the earth, we have no choice but to act and react.

    I don’t have the answer. All I know is we must attack Kim Jong Un with all we have now before it is too late.


  8. Hi, Aidan, as much as I would like to seek or provide a simple explanation for things like US interests in maintaining the status quo of conflict or turmoil in NK, Israel-Palestine, Turkey/Syria or even Poland, I simply do not know.

    I shudder to think reasons are as simple or as cold as the US being the world’s leading supplier of arms. Neither do I suspect the reasons for the obstacle to peace are as simple as the noble intentions of politicians having staggeringly incompetent strategic follow-through. Lobbyist groups change frequently and its difficult to keep track of whose influencing what at which particular time. It is quite evident that the US president of any administration represents the interests of a various number of groups in various forms each time – though I should doubt there is any legitimate conspiracy, collusion or connection between such groups in each instance (other than the tendency of human nature, and greed, to be fairly consistent).

    So.. for any explanation on US foreign policy, to either conclude that US intentions are either sinister or benign seem insufficient – at least to this observer.

    Why did the French send the Statue of Liberty in America? A mixture of reasons, motives and intents you’ll discover. Various groups from France were involved, of course, some profitted, some genuinely championing their ideology, some were simply out to undermine their enemies and nothing more. All similar interests that you’ll find all the same in US foreign policy today. I can neither say the French agent provocateurs were doing right or wrong; to say either is simplistic fantasy. Same with the US today. People are just being people, unfortunately.

    As for VX, I am more ready to believe in the Malaysian authorities’ incompetence than that the poison used was VX. Indeed, they have up til now yet to open up their investigations, furnish any evidence, or submit their reports for international inspection. I don’t suspect any conspiracy or corruption, just a lot of pride and idiocy…

    As a number of independent voices literate in the process have already pointed out, it is in fact highly implausible that it was VX, actually. Moreover, the fact that VX – as a weapon of mass destruction – seems largely ignored in the language of political debate over NK seems rather indicative (to me) that the political bodies of relevant nations have also made up their own conclusions on the matter just short of outright embarrassing Malaysia.


  9. Exactly what is the concern with a nuclear nK? I could potentially see a nuclear device being used as blackmail, but not as a direct strike against the US. Because the last thing that Jong Un wants is to lose power and that is exactly what would happen if he were to use a nuclear weapon against anyone. He is clearly less predictable than his father or grandfather, but he’s not crazy. Sanctions will not work – period – as long as the Chinese continue to support nK. To be honest, i don’t think any of the major regional powers have any interest in a de-nuclearized or united Korean peninsula. I’m no snowflake, but i think we can afford to wait them out. The Kim regime will eventually end and at that point i believe we could begin constructive negotiations. Unless, the Chinese believe it to be in their best interest to keep things as they are and install another puppet dictator to maintain the status quo.

    By the way, I’ve lived in Seoul for 17 years off-and-on over the last 25 years. I may be very wrong, but i don’t see things changing dramatically no matter how many nuclear tipped ICBMs he builds.


  10. “Exactly what is the concern with a nuclear nK? ”

    The moment that Kim Jong Un realizes (or thinks) he can no longer play God in North Korea, he will send nuclear missiles to U.S., Seoul, Tokyo, and probably Beijing, not exactly in this order.



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