In face of the conventional wisdom, it’s time for some clear thinking and straight talk about the North Korean conundrum.
Top American officials, allied governments and parlor strategists assert that the aim of US policy should be the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula
That;s clearly unrealistic. It won’t happen.
Kim Jung-un is simply not going to give up his nuclear weapons and delivery systems that he’s worked so hard to develop. Maybe his program, can be constrained somewhat, through negotiations, but not eliminated.
It’s hard to conceive of a military option that wouldn’t result in the decimation of Seoul, many of its 25 million citizens, and a significant number of the nearly 30,000 US troops in country.
With an estimated 15,000 artillery pieces and rocket launchers just north of the DMZ, most in improvised bunkers, the capitol of South Korea stands as a hostage against the possibility of an American military strike against the North.
Unquestionably, China holds the key to the outcome. Perhaps that was behind President Trump’s overheated rhetoric, trying to persuade Beijing that he might be reckless enough to trigger some sort of military strike that could escalate into nuclear war.
It’s true that China fears that the collapse of the Kim regime could result in the flood of millions of North Koreans into China.
And some analysts contend Beijing also fears that the collapse and reunification under South Korea would put American troops on its border. But if the threat of a North Korean invasion of the South was thus eliminated, there would be no need for US troops in Korea.
However, there is a critically important, but largely overlooked, pressure on Chinese decision-makers. And that is genuine concern that if the North tontines to brandish its nuclear capability, South Korea and Japan will be strongly tempted to develop nuclear weapons of their own–for defensive purposes.
This would be especially true in the face of the North flaunting its ability to hit the heartland of the US. Would Trump risk Chicago or New York to save Seoul or Tokyo? Also a South Korean nuclear capability to destroy Pyongyang would deter the North’s threat to decimate Seoul with conventional artillery.
Now the emergence of South Korean and Japanese nuclear forces would represent a regional shift in the balance of power that Beijing would want to avoid at all costs.
China is in a position to exert a chokehold on the economy of North Korea. For example by shutting off the supply of oil and gasoline on which the North direly depends.
Might it use such power to force Kim into some kind of deal with which the US and its allies could live? Or to achieve regime change under some general with whom China could live?
In either case, if North Korea survives, some effort must be made to prevent it from selling nuclear weapons or technology to rogue states or terrorist organizations.
Recall that Pyongyang tried to help Syria become nuclear capable by starting to build a nuclear power plant from which weapons grade uranium could be extracted. The Israeli air force destroyed that facility.
There would have be some sort of tough international inspection regime to ensure Pyongyang abides by its undertakings–including US and Chinese representatives.