Yep, Let’s Talk About North Korea Again


Michael McGrady Director of McGrady Policy Research
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A week cannot go by without the news media covering the “Hermit Kingdom” of North Korea. Even way before the recent ballistic missile tests and Kim Jong Un allegedly killing his own brother via female assassins, dealing with the North has been tricky and life-threatening. If you’re a history buff, as I am, you will know that the Korean War was one of the most costly conflicts of the Cold War era. Hundreds of thousands died on all sides, as the war was one of the most ambitious gambles of Maoist China and the Soviet Union.

Regardless of the backdrop and the gruesome loss, one of the biggest things that can be often overlooked by the casual onlooker is that the Korean War never really ended, ergo only an armistice, not an official peace treaty, was ratified. So, technically, the conflict never ended.

These remarks lead me into the key takeaway that I wish to leave you at the completion of reading this op-ed… There are billions of innocent people between places like Pyongyang, Beijing and, of course, Washington D.C., literally. Billions depending on the select few to guide them as their leaders, despotic or not.

I say this because one of the most important things to realize in our current state of affairs is that we are in the midst of a nuclear North Korea. President Donald Trump has said, at least on the public surface, that the current regime of Kim Jong Un is a viable threat to American national security and the very delicate international stability the world Is currently in (besides the Central Asia crises).

With recent diplomatic developments, especially in part to China’s surprising leadership in barring North Korean coal imports to enforce United Nations sanctions, the times have never been tenser when negotiating or attempting to bring stakeholders to the negotiating table.

As I pointed out in an op-ed from last week on the North Korea problem, the relationship between the Chinese and the North Koreans is unique and merits further analysis. Simply put, China does have a deep fear of a nuclear North Korea due to the inevitable threats of Western intervention. Due to this, a deeper fear in the Chinese government attributes to the country’s need for a “buffer state” between the U.N./U.S. backed South Korea and 30,000 American serviceman ready to kick some butt. Nevertheless, though, the Chinese government, the only real ally with the North Korean government, has no interest in armed conflict with the west. Merely, the frustrations are channeled into a never ending series of trade disputes that are commonly left alone, resolved through diplomatic channels, or that just simply vanish.

Aside from all the internal politics of the American-Chinese relationship, Jinping’s China does serve as the only possible way to diplomatically communicate with a country that is, nearly, 100% cut off from the entire world. The United States doesn’t even maintain and official diplomatic mission to the North.

With a presidential administration that is more conservative than its predecessor, a Trump foreign policy will derive from his “America First” doctrine. In this case, though, the administration needs to put national security first. By no means do I advocate the “nuke ’em all option,” however, the latter argument is that the typically eased show of force is effective.

Firstly, one key approach that can be taken to open up the dialogue is to, as aforementioned, get Beijing to grow a pair and face the realities of a nuclear North Korea.

Secondly, the United States, its partners, and the United Nations need to effectively freeze and seize foreign assets held by North Korean financial institutions, leaders, companies, or agencies. The sanctions should also be focused on all efforts and entities that help promote pro-North nuclear proliferation. Military intervention isn’t off the table in this scenario, either.

But, in the end, though, one of the main approaches should be to renew the defense commitment to free-Asia the United States military already maintains while working to allow regional powers to take the lead and address the problem. Cooperation is only the best possible way to approach any solutions in this precarious case. Unilateral actions against North Korea are near-suicidal at this point, to say the least.