Previous columns explored the skills, priorities, and mindset Kim Jong Un brought to the abortive summits. We’ve reviewed Kim’s military capabilities and their geopolitical context. So what should we do about it?
Kim will not eliminate his nuclear weapons until he’s convinced his regime’s security no longer depends on them. If rapidly ridding the DPRK of all nukes is our goal, we will fail.
Is T so impatient as to risk “regime change” war on the Korean peninsula in order to impress his base?
In the event of a new Korean War, regional spread would be likely. Kim’s “launchables” could reach our allies in Japan or Taiwan in an effort to pressure the U.S. to negotiate a cease-fire. China could be drawn into the conflagration by U.S. retaliation – again.
However, it’s a bad time to negotiate new arms control agreements; the Trump administration keeps weaseling out of them. Against opposition from our allies, T pulled out of the multilateral Iran nuclear deal. Overreacting to Russian missile developments, he unilaterally abrogated the US-Russian Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Now he’s threatening to undermine the new START treaty limiting US and Russian nuke deployment, by either pulling out or refusing to discuss extending it beyond its February 2021 expiration date.
For some reason, many foreign leaders don’t trust T to keep American promises.
The U.S. currently maintains a no-first-use-of-nukes guarantee, but only to nations that don’t possess nukes themselves. For countries that do have nukes, our bombs are intended for deterrence against their weapons’ first-use potential. Either side could expect nuclear retaliation after launching a first strike.
It would cost us nothing to renounce first-strike nuclear interventions against all countries, since the point of having nukes is to avoid using nukes. Kim would feel more secure, and less belligerent, if we renounced the preemptive nuclear strike he fears. As we’ve seen, our preemptive use of nukes would fail, since we could not hope to detect, much less obliterate, the scattered hidden Korean weapons.
Moreover, if we retain the threat of a nuclear first strike, we invite an adversary to launch his own nukes preemptively during a crisis, if he fears we are about to beat him to the punch.
Alas, T is planning to spend $2 trillion over three decades to upgrade US nuclear forces. Some maintenance and replacement is justified, but the plan’s massive scale, coupled with our abrupt withdrawals from various arms control treaties, signals to other countries that we don’t value arms control and restraint. We just expect everybody else to toe the line.
Following WWII, Japan, Germany, and Italy were devastated. The punitive Treaty of Versailles that ended WWI is widely regarded as a proximate cause of Hitler’s rise to power. Then what should be done with the defeated Axis powers? Those who lost relatives and friends in WWII might demand retribution in kind; show the merciless no mercy.
But that doesn’t work. What did enhance the process of recovery and stabilization was the Marshall Plan. Many factors were in play, but when we funded repair and recovery, the three former foes emerged as today’s valued allies. Not incidentally, Communism failed to develop inroads into wrecked nations friendly to the West.
Why wait for a war to break out before we take measures to address the precipitating factors?
It was South Korea’s persistent diplomatic efforts — not T’s “fire and fury” threats — that led to the opening of hopeful high-level discussions last year. What brought Kim to the negotiating table – until T botched it — was South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s willingness to engage without preconditions.
T’s precondition, as we learned subsequently, was for Kim to “hand over” all his nukes and destroy his capacity to replace them.
That’s not negotiation, that’s extortion. That’s Trump.
Moon displayed a genuine desire for peaceful resolution, which is why Kim reciprocated by halting nuke and missile testing, a vital first step. (He has since renewed them, after T failed to understand Kim’s genuine fears of foreign intervention.)
Moon’s diplomacy treated the DPRK with respect, eyeing a long-term solution beyond short-term transactions. Moon knows what T doesn’t –—we can open our proposals by exploiting Kim’s longstanding desire for an actual peace treaty to replace the armistice in place since Korean War hostilities subsided. Kim also seeks normalized ambassadorial relations, which would markedly reduce his incentives to flaunt the nuclear option.
A peace treaty would cost us little, and providing the DPRK a path to economic stability would enhance Kim’s all-important sense of national security.
What offers we can bring to real negotiations? Stop the inclusion of “nuclear and strategic assets” during US joint military exercises with the South. Guarantee that the US itself won’t initiate hostilities using either conventional or nuclear weapons. Convert the armistice into a peace treaty. Remove the DPRK from our list of terrorism sponsors, as Bush did in 2008, opening some avenues to international economic assistance and World Bank loans. (T re-listed the DPRK last year.)
The U.S. and allies could help the DPRK acquire fertilizer and upgrade irrigation systems to grow more of its own food. Rich in minerals, the DPRK could earn foreign exchange if its mining sector were developed.
A “trust-but-verify” posture is still essential, and chemical/biologic warfare capabilities must be addressed. Nonetheless, a preemptive Marshall Plan for the DPRK could save money and lives in the future.
Jon Hauxwell, MD, is a retired family physician who grew up in Stockton
and lives outside Hays.