Archive for the ‘Military options re North Korea’ category

Trump may mull naval blockade, no-fly zone against N. Korea: expert

May 24, 2018

Published : May 23, 2017 Korea Herald

Source Link: Trump may mull naval blockade, no-fly zone against N. Korea: expert

{Naval blockade? If this happens, I’m going to need plenty of popcorn. – LS}

The Donald Trump administration may push for naval blockades or the imposition of a “no-fly” zone against North Korea should it succeed in developing an intercontinental ballistic missile, an expert here said Tuesday.

Trump would view it as a red line for the nuclear-armed communist nation, according to Shin Beom-chul, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy in Seoul.

In case of the North’s successful development of ICBMs, “Taking military actions against Pyongyang will be the most appealing option on the table from Trump’s perspective,” he said in a paper released to media ahead of a security forum to be co-organized by Korea National Defense University and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (foundation).

The forum will be held in Seoul on Wednesday with the theme of “The New US Administration and Its Alliance Relations: Change and Continuity.” Shin plans to give a presentation at the conference.

Shin pointed out that Trump will be restrained from launching a direct military strike against the North due to concerns about massive retaliatory attacks.

“He can still create military tensions through other options without carrying out a direct military attack on North Korea,” the professor said. “That is, military operations, naval blockades, and the imposition of a no-fly zone could also escalate tensions in Northeast Asia.”

For these reasons, he added, attention needs to be paid to the US decision to keep deploying its aircraft carrier Carl Vinson (CVN 70) in the East Sea after May.

Another key question is how China and Russia will respond to such US actions if taken.

Both Beijing and Moscow may seek to avoid a direct military confrontation with the US and step up efforts to nudge Pyongyang to return to the negotiating table on its nuclear program, Shin said.

Or they may try to check such unilateral military actions by the US, creating military tensions among the regional powers and exacerbating the security situation on the Korean Peninsula, he said.

If regional players fail to manage pending risk factors, he added, Northeast Asia is likely to slide into the vortex of armed confrontations. (Yonhap)

Trump cancels Singapore summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

May 24, 2018

by By Mike Calia | May 24, 2018 CNBC

Source Link: Trump cancels Singapore summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

Bonus Link: Donald Trump Tells Kim Jong Un: Summit Canceled — but Thanks for the Hostages

Bonus Link: Trump says U.S. military ready if North Korea’s Kim acts foolishly

{Kim scared to leave country? Who knows for sure, but I’m not surprised the meeting is off for now. Trump is positioning for more sincerity on the part of Kim Jong Un. – LS}

President Donald Trump has canceled his historic summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next month.

The meeting, which would have marked the first face-to-face encounter between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader, was set for June 12.

“Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” Trump wrote in a letter to Kim, which was released Thursday morning.

The news came as North Korea made a show of dismantling a nuclear test site, but also on the heels of some sharp words from the North Korean government about America denuclearization demands.

Doubts had grown in recent days about whether the summit would actually happen. North Korea abruptly canceled talks with South Korea out of anger over joint military tests with the U.S. in the Korean peninsula. While Trump had repeatedly played up the historic significance of the meeting, he also often leavened his optimism with a cautious “we’ll see.”

Much of the letter was written in conciliatory terms, including praise for North Korea’s recent release of three American prisoners, Trump also appeared to issue a threat that conjured memories of his war of words with Kim last year.

“You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used,” Trump wrote in the letter.

Earlier Thursday, a top North Korean official, Choe Son Hui, called Vice President Mike Pence’s remarks likening Pyongyang with Libya “ignorant” and “stupid.”

Pence had said North Korea could end up like Libya if it doesn’t make a nuclear deal with Washington.

“As a person involved in U.S. affairs, I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing from the mouth of the U.S. vice president,” Choe said, according to KCNA.

The vice president’s comments also echoed those of Trump’s national security advisor, John Bolton, who had suggested the U.S. could pursue a Libya-style denuclearization plan with North Korea. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was eventually violently overthrown, a move the U.S. supported. North Korea’s Kim is concerned about regime change.

Trump left the door open for arranging a new meeting with Kim, however.

“If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write,” the president wrote. “This missed opportunity is a truly sad moment in history.”

Read the full text of the letter here:

May 24, 2018

His Excellency
Kim Jong Un
Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democractic People’s Republic of Korea
Pyongyang

Dear Mr. Chairman:

We greatly appreciate your time, patience, and effort with respect to our recent negotiations and discussions relative to a summit long sought by both parties, which was scheduled to take place on June 12 in Singapore. We were informed that the meeting was requested by North Korea, but that to us is totally irrelevant. I was very much looking forward to being there with you. Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting. Therefore, please let this letter serve to represent that the Singapore summit, for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world, will not take place. You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that i pray to God they will never have to be used.

I felt a wonderful dialogue was building up between you and me, and ultimately it is only that dialogue that matters. Some day, I look very much forward to meeting you. In the meantime, I want to thank you for the release of the hostages who are now home with their families. That was a beautiful gesture and was very much appreciated.

If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write. The world, and North Korea in particular, has lost a great opportunity for lasting peace and great prosperity and wealth. This missed opportunity is a truly sad moment in history.

Sincerely yours,

Donald J. Trump
President of the United States of America

 

North Korea’s Ultimatum to America

September 5, 2017

North Korea’s Ultimatum to America, Front Page MagazineCaroline Glick, September 5, 2017

(We should strike North Korea and eliminate it as a nuclear threat. We have first-strike capability which, if used can eliminate the danger to South Korea and Japan as well as to America. Perhaps we should wait — but not long — until North Korea “tests” a missile directed toward Guam. Then we should act immediately and without warning. We can even do it successfully without using our own nukes. On the other hand, we have a new option. Please see also, How to neutralize the North Korea threat. It might, or might not, work. If it works as advertised, great. If it fails, we will have lost very little. –DM)

Originally published by the Jerusalem Post

If the US strikes North Korea in a credible manner and successfully diminishes its capacity to physically threaten the US, America will have taken the first step towards rebuilding its alliances in Asia.

On the other hand, if the current round of hostilities does not end with a significant reduction of North Korea’s offensive capabilities, either against the US or its allies, then the US will be hard pressed to maintain its posture as a Pacific power. So long as Pyongyang has the ability to directly threaten the US and its allies, US strategic credibility in East Asia will be shattered.

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The nuclear confrontation between the US and North Korea entered a critical phase Sunday with North Korea’s conduct of an underground test of a thermonuclear bomb.

If the previous round of this confrontation earlier this summer revolved around Pyongyang’s threat to attack the US territory of Guam, Sunday’s test, together with North Korea’s recent tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the continental US, was a direct threat to US cities.

In other words, the current confrontation isn’t about US superpower status in Asia, and the credibility of US deterrence or the capabilities of US military forces in the Pacific. The confrontation is now about the US’s ability to protect the lives of its citizens.

The distinction tells us a number of important things. All of them are alarming.

First, because this is about the lives of Americans, rather than allied populations like Japan and South Korea, the US cannot be diffident in its response to North Korea’s provocation. While attenuated during the Obama administration, the US’s position has always been that US military forces alone are responsible for guaranteeing the collective security of the American people.

Pyongyang is now directly threatening that security with hydrogen bombs. So if the Trump administration punts North Korea’s direct threat to attack US population centers with nuclear weapons to the UN Security Council, it will communicate profound weakness to its allies and adversaries alike.

Obviously, this limits the options that the Trump administration has. But it also clarifies the challenge it faces.

The second implication of North Korea’s test of their plutonium-based bomb is that the US’s security guarantees, which form the basis of its global power and its alliance system are on the verge of becoming completely discredited.

In an interview Sunday with Fox News’s Trish Regan, former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton was asked about the possible repercussions of a US military assault against North Korea for the security of South Korea.

Regan asked, “What are we risking though if we say we’re going to go in with strategic military strength?… Are we going to end up with so many people’s lives gone in South Korea, in Seoul because we make that move?” Bolton responded with brutal honesty.

“Let me ask you this: how do you feel about dead Americans?” In other words, Bolton said that under prevailing conditions, the US faces the painful choice between imperiling its own citizens and imperiling the citizens of an allied nation. And things will only get worse. Bolton warned that if North Korea’s nuclear threat is left unaddressed, US options will only become more problematic and limited in the years to come.

This then brings us to the third lesson of the current round of confrontation between the US and North Korea.

If you appease an enemy on behalf of an ally then you aren’t an ally.

And eventually your alliance become empty of all meaning.

For 25 years, three successive US administrations opted to turn a blind eye to North Korea’s nuclear program in large part out of concern for South Korea.

Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all sought to appease North Korea’s aggressive nuclear adventurism because they didn’t believe they had a credible military option to deal with it.

In the 1980s, North Korea developed and deployed a conventional arsenal of bombs and artillery along the demilitarized zone capable of vaporizing Seoul.

Any US military strike against North Korea’s nuclear installation it was and continues to be argued, would cause the destruction of Seoul and the murder of millions of South Koreans.

So US efforts to appease Pyongyang on behalf of Seoul emptied the US-South Korean alliance of meaning. The US can only serve as the protector of its allies, and so assert its great power status in the Pacific and worldwide, if it prevents its allies from being held hostage by its enemies.

And now, not only does the US lack a clear means of defending South Korea, and Japan, America itself is threatened by the criminal regime it demurred from effectively confronting.

Regardless of the means US President Donald Trump decides to use to respond to North Korea’s provocative actions and threats to America’s national security, given the nature of the situation, it is clear that the balance of forces on the ground cannot and will not remain as they have been.

If the US strikes North Korea in a credible manner and successfully diminishes its capacity to physically threaten the US, America will have taken the first step towards rebuilding its alliances in Asia.

On the other hand, if the current round of hostilities does not end with a significant reduction of North Korea’s offensive capabilities, either against the US or its allies, then the US will be hard pressed to maintain its posture as a Pacific power. So long as Pyongyang has the ability to directly threaten the US and its allies, US strategic credibility in East Asia will be shattered.

This then brings us to China.

China has been the main beneficiary of North Korea’s conventional and nuclear aggression and brinksmanship.

This state of affairs was laid bare in a critical way last month.

In mid-August, Trump’s then chief strategist Steve Bannon was preparing a speech Trump was set to deliver that would have effectively declared a trade war against China in retaliation for its predatory trade practices against US companies and technology. The speech was placed in the deep freeze – and Bannon was forced to resign his position – when North Korea threatened to attack the US territory of Guam with nuclear weapons. The US, Trump’s other senior advisers argued, couldn’t declare a trade war against China when it needed China’s help to restrain North Korea.

So by enabling North Korea’s aggression against the US and its allies, China has created a situation where the US has become neutralized as a strategic competitor.

Rather than advance its bilateral interests – like curbing China’s naval aggression in the South China Sea – in its contacts with China, the US is forced into the position of supplicant, begging China to restrain North Korea in order to avert war.

If the US does not act to significantly downgrade North Korea’s offensive capabilities now, when its own territory is being threatened, it is difficult to see how the US will be able to develop an effective strategy for coping with China’s rise as an economic and strategic rival in Asia and beyond. That is, the US’s actions now in response to North Korea’s threat to its national security will determine whether or not the US will be in a position to develop and implement a wider strategy for maintaining its capacity to project its economic and military power in the Pacific in the near and long term.

Finally, part of the considerations that need to inform US action now involve what North Korea’s success in developing a nuclear arsenal under the noses of successive US administrations means for the future of nuclear proliferation.

In all likelihood, unless the North Korean nuclear arsenal is obliterated, Pyongyang’s nuclear triumphalism will precipitate a spasm of nuclear proliferation in Asia and in the Middle East. The implications of this for the US and its allies will be far reaching.

Not only can Japan and South Korea be reasonably expected to develop nuclear arsenals. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and other inherently unstable Arab states can be expected to develop or purchase nuclear arsenals in response to concerns over North Korea and its ally Iran with its nuclear weapons program linked to Pyongyang’s.

In other words, if the US does not respond in a strategically profound way to Pyongyang now, it will not only lose its alliance system in Asia, it will see the rapid collapse of its alliance system and superpower status in the Middle East.

Israel, for one, will be imperiled by the sudden diffusion of nuclear power.

Monday morning, North Korea followed up its thermonuclear bomb test with a spate of threats to destroy the United States. These threats are deadly even if North Korea doesn’t attack the US with its nuclear weapons. If the US does not directly defeat North Korea in a clear-cut way now, its position as a superpower in Asia and worldwide will be destroyed and its ability to defend its own citizens will be called into question with increasing frequency and lethality.

USA vs North Korea: This is the US military arsenal poised to WIPE OUT Kim’s threat

September 4, 2017

USA vs North Korea: This is the US military arsenal poised to WIPE OUT Kim’s threat, Express [UK]Will Kirby, September 4, 2017

[French] Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned a nuclear strike on Europe was possible and said a world war could erupt in months.

He said: “The situation is extremely serious… we see North Korea setting itself as an objective to have, tomorrow or the day after, missiles that can transport nuclear weapons.

“In a few months that will be a reality.”

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After ’s UN envoy said the country would never bow down to international pressure and give up its nuclear weapons program, diplomatic means of addressing the hostilities appear to have been sidelined in favour of military action.

’s UN ambassador Nikki Haley and the President himself have said “the time for talk is over”, despite China, Russia, and other members of the US administration claiming dialogue remains the main aim.

The US military has a huge presence in the area around North Korea, particularly in Japan and increasingly close allies South Korea.

There are almost 40,000 US troops serving in Japan, more than in any other country, and earlier this year the US Air Force lined up a huge array of helicopters, tactical fighter jets and surveillance aircraft in a show of force aimed to intimidate Kim Jong-un.

Among the aircraft were HH-60 Pave Hawks, a twin-turboshaft helicopter primarily used for the insertion and rescue of special operation personnel.

The aircraft’s versatility makes it incredibly useful in other operations too, including civilian rescue and disaster relief.

The F-15 Eagles, America’s twin-engine, all-weather tactile fighter jets, are also stationed in the region and are among the most successful modern fighters, with over 100 victories and no losses in aerial combat.

Also headquartered in Japan is the Seventh Fleet, the largest of the US navy’s deployed sea forces.

The flagship carrier is the USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered aircraft supercarrier that forms part of “the most effective and agile fighting force in the world”.

Two US Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers fly from Guam escorted by a pair of Japanese F-15 fighter jets. REUTERS

Also in the fleet are up to 14 destroyers and cruisers at any given time, some armed with ballistic missile interceptors.

A collection of long-range Tomahawk land missiles, which made headlines earlier this year when President Trump fired 59 of them at an airbase in Syria, joins the arsenal.

As if that wasn’t enough, there are also 12 nuclear-powered submarines available should war break out.

South of the demilitarised zone (DMZ), the US has 23,468 troops at 83 different sites as well as hundreds of tanks and armoured vehicles, meaning there is always a heavy military presence should North Korea decide to launch a land attack.

There is also the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system, which, despite criticism from Beijing and Pyongyang, is ready and waiting to intercept missiles and destroy the incoming projectiles while in mid-flight.

Guam, the US territory that Kim Jong-un has threatened to fire four ballistic missiles towards, is also host to a huge military presence.

Much of the island is controlled by the armed forces and the Andersen air base hosts a range of bombers, resulting in Guam being dubbed a “permanent aircraft carrier”.

Among the aircraft at the base are B-1B bombers, B-52 bombers and F-35B stealth fighters, some of the US Air Force’s most impressive jets.

The revered B-52 bomber is capable of carrying more than 30 tonnes of weapons. GETTY

The B-1B bomber is heralded for its survivability and although initially designed to carry nuclear arms, it was converted to carry more conventional weaponry after the Cold War.

The US is believed to have at least six B-1B bombers stationed in Guam and is best suited to a ‘medium threat environment’, rather than a heavily defended airspace.

Speaking about plans for a possible preemptive strike on North Korea earlier this month, retired Admiral James Stavridis told NBC News: “The B-1b has also been selected because it has the added benefit of not being able to carry nuclear weapons.

“Military planners think that will signal China, Russia, and Pyongyang that the US is not trying to escalate an already bad situation any further.”

The B-52 was first introduced in 1955 and was originally designed to carry nuclear weapons during the Cold War. It remains one of the most superior aircraft in the US Air Force.

The long-range, subsonic, jet-powered strategic bomber is capable of carrying more than 30 tons of weapons. The aircraft’s fearsome appearance and reputation has resulted in the nickname BUFF, which stands for Big Ugly Fat F*****.

The US also maintains a smaller presence in other countries in the region, including Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines. US military aircraft use Thai runways while the US Navy will operate four warships out of Singapore by next year.

Tensions have been stepped across the region over recent days following North Korea firing a test missile over Japan.

The provocative action saw South Korea and US forces drop bombs on the border of the hermit state.

Earlier today France warned the situation was “extremely serious”.

Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned a nuclear strike on Europe was possible and said a world war could erupt in months.

He said: “The situation is extremely serious… we see North Korea setting itself as an objective to have, tomorrow or the day after, missiles that can transport nuclear weapons.

“In a few months that will be a reality.”

Part II: Tough Is Not Enough

September 4, 2017

Part II: Tough Is Not Enough, 38 North, September 4, 2017

(In what fantasy world does the author live? He states,

What sort of deployments (strategic systems, missile defense, precision strike conventional weapons, conventional land, sea, special and air forces) would be a function of both military and diplomatic would need to be hammered out in the National Security Council and with regional allies.

It is inconceivable that the UN Security Council, where each permanent member has a veto, would approve any “deployment of significant and visible assets [which] would make it clear to the DPRK that it cannot compete with the US in the nuclear field regardless of the size, scope, pace and duration of that effort.”  Even were it to happen, North Korea would be told, in advance, how to prepare for whatever America and perhaps our allies will do when North Korea again tests or uses a nuke or missile. 

Please see also, North Korea Nuclear Test Puts Pressure on China and Undercuts Xi. — DM)

North Korea Nuclear Test Puts Pressure on China and Undercuts Xi

In Part I of this seriesI argued that advocates for “getting tough on North Korea” were prone to adopt inappropriate models for a harsher sanctions regime and to ignore the risk of counterproductive North Korean reactions to such sanctions. This is not an argument for no more sanctions. Given North Korean progress on its ICBM and nuclear weapons capabilities, we remain in an ongoing cycle of actions and reactions that may lead to a major war. A very vigorous political/military effort to contain and eventually eliminate the DPRK nuclear threat is essential now before the tensions and ill-considered rhetoric once again create the risk of the US and North Korea bellowing and stumbling their way into a catastrophic conflict. But sanctions should be only one element of the effort. The final push for a stabilization[1] of the North Korean nuclear and missile issue has to include the following components.

Military Deterrence and Defense

The additional deployment of significant and visible assets would make it clear to the DPRK that it cannot compete with the US in the nuclear field regardless of the size, scope, pace and duration of that effort. What sort of deployments (strategic systems, missile defense, precision strike conventional weapons, conventional land, sea, special and air forces) would be a function of both military and diplomatic would need to be hammered out in the National Security Council and with regional allies. The purpose of these forces would be both to provide diplomatic leverage and to prevent Kim from believing a military gamble would pay off.

Sanctions and Targeted Secondary Sanctions

The sanctions campaign should begin with the enforcement of UNSCRs 2270 and 2371. The initial goal would be to get full compliance with some of the difficult-to-enforce provisions, notably the caps on joint ventures and on North Korean labor exports. To this end, the US should target secondary sanctions on Chinese and other third country entities that are violating the UN resolutions. Rather than seeking to squash every sanctions-evading gnat, it should inflict significant pain on one large and vulnerable entity to have a bracing effect on many more. And, it might well create massive ripple effects if it is a key node in North Korea’s sanctions evasion network—for example, Chinese companies outlined in the recent C4ADS report—that are clearly violating UN sanctions and making extensive use of the US banking system. The US may also wish to find a similar target outside the Chinese network of businesses—perhaps one in a friendly Middle Eastern or African country that has chosen to ignore past US efforts to cut connections to Pyongyang. The US should for now avoid steps to coerce others to accept its own definition of sanctions that go beyond the resolutions. It appears that the most recent sanctions by the US Treasury against Chinese, Russian and one Namibian entity, as well as a recent freeze on some aid to Egypt, may fit the model described above.

However, it is unlikely the UN sanctions as currently written will suffice. The US should be building the case now for significant sanctions tightening if North Korea does not shift its current direction. This should best be done in steps, perhaps starting with the change of the labor and investment caps and moving to a full ban as a first iteration with the dusted off version of UNSCR 661 as the final alternative to military conflict. As the risk of conflict moves closer, the US will have to consider when secondary sanctions as a coercive mechanism for third countries needs to be deployed more widely. This is a high-risk enterprise in an already risky situation, but when stacked up against nuclear war in Asia, surely secondary sanctions are preferable.

Many Tracks of Diplomacy

These tough military and sanctions components will do nothing but open the door to miscalculation and war if other “softer” components are ignored or—more likely—mishandled. A stabilization of the Korean nuclear and missile issue is going to require multilateral diplomacy—and only the US has the ability to be at the center of this effort. It cannot subcontract the effort primarily to China. The PRC does not have the entre with some of the players, nor could it speak for the US to the most difficult audience of all: Pyongyang. These rings of diplomatic activity have existed in one form or another for many years, but they will need to be greatly invigorated and placed in the service of a clear set of policy objectives. These rings include:

  • US-ROK and US-Japan: This ring will need to create a solid front on possible military deterrence force deployments and on a sanctions strategy in the United Nations. The Trump administration appears to be in the middle of such an effort.
  • US-PRC: This ring is key. It needs to be removed from undisciplined and uncoordinated public commentary and shifted to sustained bilateral dialogue. Washington will need to enlist Chinese assistance both to create sanctions pressure on Pyongyang and to generate multilateral negotiations and a viable US-DPRK diplomatic channel. The US cannot expect pressure without political dialogue and Beijing cannot expect dialogue without real pressure on Pyongyang. The less we hear about the content of this channel (not to mention the US-DPRK channel) in public the better.
  • UN Security Council: Iraq sanctions failed when P-5 unity in the UNSC failed. The Trump Administration deserves credit for maintaining P-5 unity with the passage of UNSCR 2371, but this will have to be the first of many efforts in the Council.
  • Six Party (US, ROK, China, Russia, Japan and DPRK): At some point this channel will have to generate the political agreements and the framework for a settlement. There is nothing sacred about this particular forum or format, but something like it will have to be active and available for the formal public structure of a diplomatic settlement.
  • A direct US-DPRK channel: With one exception in the second term of the George W. Bush administration, the most rapid and extensive progress I have seen in over 28 years of interchange with North Korea over the nuclear issue has always taken place in a US-DPRK bilateral channel. The potential causes of war lie between Washington and Pyongyang. The US would be well advised to put together a small, tight, empowered negotiating team to create a channel for bilateral discussions. If the leak-prone and undisciplined Trump administration could manage to do so without us all hearing about it, so much the better.

Orchestrating this diplomacy will be one of the most complex challenges of the past 50 years. It is unclear whether the US State Department—suffering from several levels of missing leadership, low morale and persistent and unhelpful interference from the White House—is up to the task. But a way will have to be found to perform it if there is to be success on this issue.

Clarity, Discipline and Accountability in Public Commentary

US diplomacy during the recent dust-up with North Korea over its July ICBM tests was clumsy and amateurish: the incendiary rhetoric coming out of the White House needlessly escalated tensions and the uncoordinated and incoherent public messaging sowed confusion among our allies over US goals and intentions. That said, it did signal that the United States was approaching the limit of its patience over North Korean missile developments. Nevertheless, a policy vacuum continues to exist.

The United States has not made clear to Pyongyang, the American public, or its allies how it would respond to North Korean nuclear intimidation or aggression. There may be a place for strategic ambiguity in deterrence policy under some circumstances but not strategic incoherence. As a result of the loose and imprecise US rhetoric and mixed messaging, all parties are groping for an understanding of what might trigger nuclear conflict in Korea and beyond. To end this confusion and uncertainty, an authoritative figure such as the Secretary of State or Defense should give a policy speech which lays out for the American public, our allies, the Chinese and the North Koreans what American nuclear deterrence policy is vis-a-vis North Korea—and then the White House needs to discipline itself and other agencies to hew scrupulously to this script in all their public messaging on the policy.

The speech or the press backgrounding around it should also designate a single, high level official who would be accountable for the North Korean issue; this is simply not an issue that can survive current White House tong wars, presidential pique or bureaucratic backstabbing. This speech will also be the best place to signal that toughness will be accompanied by dialogue. It needs to open the door to real negotiations with a concrete proposal. This could be done through a proposal to reopen Six Party Talks or through a prearranged signal to Pyongyang that certain words in the speech are an invitation to a private authoritative back-channel discussion.

Goals and Trade Bait

The Obama administration’s efforts on North Korea foundered on a couple of rocks. The first was its inability or unwillingness to commit political capital to an issue that was highly controversial, with a very small (or nonexistent) solution set and a timeline that was less pressing than the Iran nuclear issue. The second was that the only goal for resolving or even trying to resolve the crisis that could garner consensus support was complete DPRK denuclearization. However, given the Obama administration’s unwillingness to invest fully in the issue, the White House’s highly constrained room for political maneuvering and Pyongyang’s commitment to its nuclear strategy, the goal of denuclearization became an obstacle to even starting a process for dealing with Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile progress.

Denuclearization remains a worthy goal and it is the only one that preserves the global nonproliferation regime and the long-term security of the US and its allies. But the first goal of renewed diplomatic engagement needs to be more focused and urgent: to stabilize peace in Northeast Asia and to prevent a stumble into a nuclearized second Korean War. Achieving this goal, by definition, will require North Korea to put limits on its ICBM program, which is the essential immediate need for American security policy. There are interim steps that would be of value in preserving peace and security. The parties might wish to develop mechanisms to prevent accidental war. It might also be a worthy tactical goal to create geographic limits on North Korean missile testing targets, thus putting US territories like Guam and Japanese waters off limits. The US might, at some point, trade off a particular sanction in return for a firm ICBM testing ban or moratorium or a halt to nuclear tests.

At no point should the US take ultimate denuclearization off the table, but it is necessary first to identify immediate steps to stabilize what is a dangerous dynamic. The two great dangers to pursuing more modest, immediate goals will be the accusation the US has “accepted” a nuclear DPRK and the concessions the DPRK may want. Sanctions should be considered legitimate items to trade. Our alliances should not. Our political relationship with the DPRK—including at some point a peace treaty ending the Korean War—should be legitimate points of discussion. Tangible payments to the DPRK should not, given the unfortunate experiences the ROK and US had with such payments in past agreements.

Conclusion

In a policy with any hope of resolving US and global concerns about North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat, sanctions play an important but supporting role. The key to a successful effort to deal with the North Korean threat without war is a combination of military deterrence, sanctions, a complex diplomatic offensive with clear and realistic short-term goals, and perhaps most importantly, a disciplined, clear public elucidation of US deterrence and diplomatic policy for Korea. The “tough” part of this approach (military deterrence and sanctions) is well within the reach of the Trump administration. Whether it has the personnel, structure and capacity for discipline for the diplomatic and public components of the effort is yet unproven.


  1. [1]

    Stabilization is chosen deliberately in this sentence. Denuclearization should be the long term stated goal of the effort but that goal should be placed in the same context as “general and complete disarmament” as used in Article VI of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It is a legitimate goal, but one that is far over the horizon. The key goal at this moment is to halt momentum towards having North Korean nuclear weapons capable of reaching the US homeland.

Mattis Holds EMERGENCY Press Conference on North Korea H-Bomb Test 9/3/17

September 3, 2017

Mattis Holds EMERGENCY Press Conference on North Korea H-Bomb Test 9/3/17 via YouTube