After 70 years of a seemingly endless and extremely dangerous military standoff held together by nothing more than a cease-fire agreement from the 1950s, North and South Korea are poised to declare peace and commit to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. These developments have unfolded rather quickly over the past few months and became public knowledge when the visiting South Korean delegation caught most of Washington by surprised when they announced that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un had extended an invitation to meet with President Donald Trump, and that Trump had agreed to do so. But after 70 years, how did we get here in such a short period of time.
The path to peace talks was set in motion just a few months ago when the North Koreans realized how close they had brought their nation to a military conflict with the United States and the subsequent threat that such a conflict would pose to the stability of the Kim regime. Multiple sources in the national security community have confirmed that the U.S. military has been actively preparing for conflict over the North Korean nuclear program and that the developments were noticed by both China and North Korea. While the prospect of war or armed conflict has loomed over the region for decades, recent advancements in North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs brought the two sides closer to conflict than ever before as North Korea was rapidly approaching a red line — a miniaturized nuclear war head that could be delivered against targets in the United States. Additionally, North Korea concluded that President Trump will follow through with threats of military action. So, Kim Jong Un decided that the best chance of regime survival was through peace talks. For the North Koreans, this has always been about regime survival and it always will be so long as the Kim family is in charge.
Over 25 years ago, North Korea began a nuclear weapons program with the hope that it would yield a nuclear weapon capable of striking the United States in an effort to achieve strategic nuclear deterrence. Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama tried everything from sanctions to food aide in an effort to stop North Korea’s nuclear program in its tracks and bring the hermit kingdom into the international fold. However, all three failed and no matter what they tried, the North Korean nuclear weapons program continued to grow and mature. Almost all U.S. foreign policy and national security experts believe that a nuclear armed North Korea capable of striking the United States was an unacceptable national security threat. Where they diverge is what to do about it.
At the heart of this issue is an underlying policy question that each presidential administration has been forced to answer: Can the United States accept a nuclear armed North Korea? As with all of the previous administrations, President Trump concluded that the answer was no. There are a range of options available to Presidents in terms of elements of national power which can be leveraged to achieve the policy outcome the United States is seeking. However, there comes a point where diplomatic, economic and all other options are no longer effective and you arrive at the last resort — the use of force by the U.S. military. For President Trump, that point has come as North Korea is said to be close to miniaturizing a nuclear warhead to fit atop one of their intercontinental ballistic missiles, which the North Korean’s recently demonstrated is capable of striking the U.S. mainland.
So, while many are quick to criticize President Trump’s decision to meet with Kim Jong Un, the alternative at this point appears to be armed conflict. The United States is simply out of time and the North Koreans are too close to having a nuclear weapon capable of striking the U.S. In the event that full-blown conflict were to be initiated, it has been estimated that civilian casualties in the first 48 hours of conflict could be in the millions. The number of dead and wounded Americans would be in the tens if not hundreds of thousands. And while the United States would ultimately win a fight in Korea, the cost in terms of lives would be like nothing the world has seen since World War II. So, while our military is prepared for war, we must pray for peace and rally behind the commander in chief as he attempts to forge a lasting peace and avoid a conflict that we don’t want to fight — though we are prepared to do so.
Alex Plitsas is a national security professional. He is a combat veteran and a former Pentagon official.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.