As the United States adds more warships to the Korean theater and conducts more advanced military drills, the prospect of a diplomatic solution improves, say a range of experts.
Recently, both a former general and a current CIA analyst have affirmed the necessity of keeping both North Korea and it’s key lifeline, China, convinced that the United States is prepared to use force should a nuclear attack from North Korea become a credible threat.
After North Korea’s sixth underground nuclear test on Sept. 3 proved it had reached a new and dangerous level of atomic capability, the United States upped its show of force in the region, moving more military assets into the area and increasing military exercises.
In another shift, President Trump departed from the usual indifference previous U.S. presidents have paid to Kim Jong Un’s provocative statements of war and other threats toward the United States and its allies.
Now, when the rogue regime threatens to nuke the United States or its territories, the U.S. president makes known the consequences.
That rhetoric has raised the ire of some politicians and pundits, who suggest North Korea’s fierce words are not to be taken seriously and should be ignored. They say diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis should take precedence over, or exclude, threats or preparation of military force.
But others disagree, arguing that the prospect of war is the only thing that can dissuade the communist regime from its relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons.
According to some experts, Trump’s forceful words—and the presence of credible military retaliation—are essential to any diplomatic effort to resolve the nuclear crisis.
Jack Keane, a retired four-star general and former Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, told Fox Business that the military options the Trump administration is developing make a diplomatic solution more feasible.
“Trump’s team understands that the threat of military force strengthens the diplomatic option. The main effort is diplomacy and economic sanctions,” said Keane.
North Korea’s past behavior limits the range of options, according to some experts.
The regime’s propaganda outlets frequently affirm that there is nothing that could stop the Kim regime from pursuing nuclear weapons.
“The DPRK will never put on a negotiating table its nuclear deterrence for self-defense, as long as the U.S. nuclear threat and hostile policy continue,” reads a recent speech from a senior North Korean official.
That line has become North Korea’s default position on nuclear armaments: as long as the United States has nuclear weapons and doesn’t approve of the communist regime, the regime will pursue nuclear armament.
Part of the challenge facing any diplomatic effort is that the Kim regime depends on the hostility of the United States to ensure its own survival, Yong Suk Lee, deputy assistant director of the CIA’s Korea Mission Center.
The North Korean regime has constantly demonized the United States, using the threat of an American invasion to justify the regime’s “Songun” or military-first policy.
Songun prioritizes the needs of the military over all other state affairs—including feeding the civilian population. The policy requires a clear and present threat from the United States—a manufactured threat that North Korea has maintained despite the United States’ diplomatic efforts.
“North Korea is a political organism that thrives on confrontation,” Lee told students and reporters at George Washington University on Oct 10.
Lee said one challenge for dialogue is that if North Korea reaches detente with the United States, the regime will be hard pressed to justify the oppression of its citizens and overwhelming priority on military spending.
Lee said it would be difficult for the regime to explain any change in position towards the United States.
“North Korea exists to oppose the United States so how are you going to explain to your population what you’re last 60, 70 years of sacrifice was all about.”
Without that option, Lee said it was essential to deal with North Korea with a clarity of purpose that was backed up with credible force.
To that end, President Donald Trump’s clear position on North Korea is a benefit, he suggested.
“I think that clarity of the strong purpose statement from the President, clarity of purpose demonstrated on the ground with our South Korean allies in lockstep, I think that needs to continue, that actually needs to probably increase,” he said.
That demonstration applies to China as well, he said. While China’s sole interest is to keep a buffer zone between itself and South Korea, a U.S. ally, the prospect of war on the peninsula is unsettling.
“The only way they [China] are going to put pressure on North Korea is if they are convinced of the seriousness of the U.S. purpose,” said Lee.
The fact that the North Korean regime violated a previous sweetheart deal in 2012 to abandon nuclear weapons development in exchange for U.S. aid has left some convinced that only the prospect of regime change can force Kim to stop his nuclear program.
“North Korea’s isolated dictators have long believed that nuclear weapons will ensure regime survival against U.S. military power, enabling it to unite the Korean Peninsula on its terms,” reads a recent op-ed by former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and Evans Revere, CEO of the Korea Society from 2007 to 2010.
“The main reason we are where we are today is because North Korea has walked away from every denuclearization agreement ever reached. The regime clearly wants nuclear weapons more than any inducement. And it has not changed its behavior in the face of sanctions.”
The pair writes that no former administration has arrayed all its tools and advantages in an effort to end North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program and force the regime to choose between nuclear weapons and its own survival.
“Compelling Pyongyang to make that stark choice offers the best way forward,” they write.