Things Aren’t Simple When It Comes To North Korea

KCNA/Handout via Reuters

Michael McGrady Director of McGrady Policy Research
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Continuously, the threats spewing from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea, have put the United States and its partners in a precarious position. This is especially the case with the new presidential administration and when relations between the DPRK and the West are so tense, you can cut through it with a knife.

To test the prowess of President Donald Trump, Kim Jong Un and his hard-lining advisers authorized a ballistic missile test on Sunday. Merely, this test launch is representative of two things. The first: the North Korean government is trying to be the bold power they yearn for. The second: to expose any weakness associated with the President’s approach to dealing with the totalitarian regime.

Regardless, though, all eyes are turned onto the Trump White House as the Administration is faced with the question of how they wish to respond without escalation.

In a statement on the launch from U.S. Strategic Command, one of nine unified combatant commands under the leadership of new Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, the launch was no obvious threat to the United States or its allies, per the detection that the projectile crashed into the Sea of Japan as a part of the test. Nevermore, Strategic Command, including other cohorts of the federal government, have voiced the major concerns surrounding this launch as it contributes to the overarching concern of how North Korea is a legitimate national and international security threat.

Bloomberg, in an analysis on the events of late, quoted Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, in stating that the continued threats from the DPRK, though empty at the current moment, still present a troubling matter.

Haass, on CNN via the aforementioned report, pointed out that, “Trump is going to have to face a truly fateful decision about whether we’re prepared to live with that, a North Korea that has that [nuclear] capability against us, or we are going to use military force one way or another to destroy their nuclear missile capability.” Essentially, Haass is calling the probability of Trump having to make a landmark decision on America’s approach to the DPRK threat to be very high. From my own observations, such a realization is not as far-fetched and can have overwhelming ramifications for both countries, and the entire world.

President Trump, siding with many international leaders, have vowed to address the North Korean threat by several means. The most salient means for Trump is to contribute to the ignition of the next Cold War by following courses of action that illustrate the force of the United States military. Ergo, the development of THAAD countermeasures and continuing with the foreign policy approach that is pro-South Korea. But, the state of affairs we find ourselves in also indicates the need for dealing with North Korea bilaterally, rather than unilaterally.

With this sentiment, the United States, under Trump’s leadership, needs to consider the fact that dealing with states like North Korea requires us to side with diplomatic and geopolitical adversaries like China and Russia.

In the instance of the most recent launch, Russia joined with the United States, Japan, the NATO-block and several United Nations members in condemning the tests. China has remained, ultimately, silent, no surprise there.

In the case of utilizing Russia for proxy foreign affairs, the United States will find a challenge, to say the least. Besides getting past the issues both countries have, what appears to be the only chance Putin’s Kremlin will authorize joint efforts with the U.S. is determined on whether China will be involved or not. Thus, we find ourselves back to square one.

International leaders like Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has protested the DPRK nuclear test via contending to the graces of China. Chinese president Xi Jinping, however, must be lobbied aggressively to make any defamatory actions against Un and the DPRK’s sitting regime. Trump needs to institute a policy approach that brings the stakeholders to the table, including Jinping, Un, himself, and other salient actors like Abe and the next South Korean president (obviously after the country heals from the aftermath of the Park Geun-hye scandal and the current election).

Nevertheless, though, my ending argument, simply put, is that all international actors need to understand that the “same-old” foreign policy isn’t working. For Trump, he needs to utilize the expertise of Secretary Rex Tillerson, hold China accountable for reining in Pyongyang with cooperation and secondary sanctions and even bring in the insights of Congress via such channels like enforcing the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2016.

For China, Jinping’s government needs to cooperate with the international community and not sit idly by as North Korea gains nuclear capabilities. As Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at The Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, spells out in a 2016 op-ed for The Daily Signal, “North Korea is willing to directly challenge China’s calls for peace, stability, and denuclearization by repeatedly upping the ante to achieve its objectives—including buying time to further augment its nuclear and missile capabilities.” Klingner’s observations cited the clearly apparent lackluster dedication China has when it faces North Korea. All of it is due in part to the country’s own fear.

In the end, though, time and responsive diplomacy can only dictate the outcomes. North Korea has placed the entire world on edge since the final days of Kim Jong Il and his son, Jong Un, rose to power. The solution isn’t as simple as nuking the unicorns, allegedly discovered by the DPRK, and the communist hardliners in the regime.