The North Korean Dilemma
North Korea is one of the most reclusive countries in the world. The sole remnant of the Cold War era, the Kim dynasty has ruled the country with an iron fist since the Korean War. North Korea has always been a major international concern for successive U.S. administrations. To deter North Korea, the United States has stationed nearly 30,000 U.S. troops equipped with Apache helicopters, F-16s and B2 stealth bombers in close proximity in the neighboring South Korea. Moreover, the United States, South Korea and Japan have formed a triangular military alliance in retaliation to any acts of hostility along the demilitarized zone, famously known as the DMZ in the Korean Peninsula.
In return, North Korea purportedly has the capability to strike cities both in Japan and South Korea within 10 minutes of unleashing any of its ballistic missiles. They have successfully developed an array of low-range and mid range ballistic missiles, (NODONG) 1,000KM, (TAEPODONG 1) 2,200KM and (MUSUDAN) 4,000 KM respective target ranges each. But as we speak, the North Korea still does not have any long range ballistic missile aimed at targeting U.S. cities in their arsenal.
Historically, North Korea has used the escalation and de escalation as a tactical maneuver to deter its nemesis the United States for any unilateral action against the regime. They have successfully conveyed a strong signal, capable of responding to any hostility with full utilization of their de facto military might.
Previously, the U.S. administrations had taken diverse approaches towards handling the North Korean nuke program than that of the incumbent president. President Clinton for instance, reached a deal with the Pyongyang in 1994, providing the country a sum of USD 4.0 billion in energy aid in exchange for abandoning its nuclear enrichment program and gradual return of the tyrannical regime to the global community. Unfortunately, the agreement never fulfilled its essential purpose, conversely enabling the communist regime to become more dangerous and disillusioned.
Whereas, the Bush administration pursued a rather different strategy countering North Korea; President Bush indulged in intensifying the already levied U.N. sanctions on the regime, labeling the regime as a rogue state hostile to the U.S. national security and that of its resident allies South Korea and Japan. In his famous State of the Union address in January 2002, he labeled the North Korean regime as an imminent threat, conspiring against American friends and allies. He subsequently, termed Iran, North Korea and Iraq as “Axis of Evil” ruled by infamous dictators, depriving their nation of freedom and democracy.
To no surprise President Trump is different; he has equivocally warned the country for any acts of provocations with an imminent military response, nevertheless, for the time being, he has consented with reaching out to the Chinese leadership pressuring the Korean dictator realize the seriousness on the American tone. In a surprising gesture, President Trump has also shown willingness to meet with the Korean leader “Under the right Circumstances”. He has occasionally applauded his leadership style calling him “a smart cookie” who has been able to retain legitimacy despite unsustainable economic sanctions on its regime.
President Trump has urged the Chinese to take the matter in their hand, China is the oldest trading partner of the North Korean regime, and Pyongyang heavily relies on Chinese products for almost 80% of its internal consumption. In contrast to his prior stance on China during his successful 2016 bid to the Whitehouse, the candidate Trump who was fiercely accusing the Chinese for currency manipulation and unfair trade with U.S. is toning down on the reassurance given by the Chinese President Xi Jinping reaching out to the North Korean leadership for a possible negotiation.
As part of the U.S. strategy on North Korea, as recently as last week, the White House invited all the 100 sitting senators for a classified briefing on the North Korean threat. The senators were notified that the U.S. administration is considering all options at its disposal including any probable military strike on North Korea if needed, but reassured that it will not initiate any preemptive attack on the regime unless deemed necessary. Based on current intelligence reports, the North Koreans still lack the capability to strike the U.S. mainland, especially Hawaii or its west coast, but they certainly have the ability to strike any South Korean and Japanese cities including the capitals Seoul and Tokyo merely in a matter of minutes.
On the other hand, North Korea is no terms to back down, recently in direct violations of the U.N. Security Council agreements, the regime fired an array of ballistic missiles into the Japan Sea, which was instantaneously condemned as an act of provocation and an attempt to destabilize the region by the Japanese and Korean officials. The U.S. intelligence officials believe that despite perpetual failed testing, North Korea is inching closer to adding long range Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) with the capability of carrying nuclear warheads targeting United State’s west coast in their portfolio. Citing the regime is vigorously striving to attain such status for its survival against any militaristic action by the resident U.N. command coalition.
In conclusion, North Korea as the sole surviving communist regime in the world has a full assessment on how to keep its close and distant foes at bay, they consider their nuclear capability as the only survival tool against any possible acts of transgression from Japan, South Korea and the United States combined. To that matter they have increased investing in adding additional nuclear payloads in their current missile arsenal, restricting the United States with two viable options, either wait for a gradual demise of the Kim dynasty or impose ever stronger sanctions to limit its nuke capabilities with China as the stabilizing factor in mind.
Author: Naser Koshan
Freelancer, Washington U.S.