By Nick Busch
There have been tensions between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea since long before their current leaders were even a twinkle in their parents’ eyes. For over sixty years there have been many diplomatic successes and failures with North Korea…mostly failures. But for all the promises of a war that has yet to materialize since we last tangoed on the peninsula in the ‘50s, one thing is certainly clear: war or not, there is no shortage of heated rhetoric.
The most recent flare up was sparked when the international community cracked down on North Korea, yet again, for its ongoing pursuit of nuclear weapons technology. On February 12, North Korea conducted its third nuclear test. The United Nations Security Council immediately began moving to tighten sanctions in response. Those sanctions were passed unanimously. Unanimously…that includes China. Prior to the vote, many observers questioned whether China would support the resolution. China, one of five permanent members of the Security Council, has veto power and has, at times, been perceived as sympathetic to their neighbor.
China—who is far more pragmatic than many want to believe—must arrive upon the realization that now is probably a good time to start actively working to ease tensions.
It makes perfect sense that China supported the resolution. The list of reasons that China would want to improve relations with the United States, or at least not allow them to further deteriorate, is immediately apparent. Economically, China has been vastly outstripping the growth rates of almost any other place on earth. In short, China makes a lot of stuff…a lot of stuff that Americans buy. Could the United States look elsewhere for cheap goods and labor? Sure…if we had a good reason to. It just happens that we haven’t been put into much a position to want to go to all that trouble. The current system seems to work…at least for China and the CEOs of American multinational corporations…who have ironically found ways to marginalize and take advantage the labor force in both countries (but that’s for another day). But money aside, there are plenty of military and security motivations for China’s cooperation. Conflict on the Korean Peninsula would be an incredible inconvenience for China, at best. First, I’m sure that China would rather do without the high volume of refugees that would inevitably turn up at their doorstep. China would have no choice but to have to find some way to accommodate them or risk responsibility for the undoubtedly high profile humanitarian crisis which would ensue. Next, we all know that fallout doesn’t stop at the state line. Whether or not the United States uses them, one can’t help but to at least consider the possibility of North Korea experimenting with some kind of tactical nuclear weapons. So there’s the big one-two for China: refugees and fallout. Geopolitically, the last thing China wants is any kind of massive increase in American presence in their backyard…whether via military buildup or diplomatic prowess. After examining those considerations, China—who is far more pragmatic than many want to believe—must arrive upon the realization that now is probably a good time to start actively working to ease tensions.
There is broad public support for some kind of response in the United States. There is, however, sharp disagreement regarding exactly what that response should be. Most agree that we should, regardless of what happens, continue carefully monitoring what is coming out of North Korea. Many also concur that we should continue increasing our presence in and around the immediate vicinity of the peninsula. After that, things get kind of cloudy. In 2003, we attacked an arguably less dangerous country for rhetoric that was arguably less intense. But those were different times, with different leaders who had different intentions…and most notably with different political, cultural, and intellectual biases. History might imply, perhaps correctly, that if Bush 43 was still president, a preemptive strike would be in order…on rhetoric and shaky intelligence alone. I disagreed with that approach then…and I still do. Any preemptive strike carried out by the United States should be in response to a very clear indication that attack is imminent. In the event that nothing materializes, the best option for the United States is to wait it out until it happens and hope we catch it before they launch. In the interim, we should continue to increase our military and diplomatic presence. We should place an emphasis on maintaining and strengthening Chinese cooperation.
The quickest way to turn China against us on this is to start throwing more radiation in their pig carcass filled rivers.
If and when North Korea does decide to initiate conflict, we should strike preemptively if we are able to accurately predict the attack…or do our best to intercept it with missile defense systems. If North Korea strikes first, the United States and its allies are in an advantageous position to garner international support from the start. While we wait we should be preparing very detailed plan of action…which I am sure is already on file at the Pentagon. In order to maintain a positive reception, but more importantly global stability, the United States should refrain from using nuclear weapons…regardless of what North Korea does or says. The quickest way to turn China against us on this is to start throwing more radiation in their pig carcass filled rivers. Our plan should clearly outline the objective interest that the United States has in taking action. Obviously, being attacked helps fill in that blank on the run-up-to-war worksheet. We need to state exactly what we want to accomplish with military action. Will the war be limited, focusing primarily on North Korean military installations? Or will it be more total in nature, involving the complete destruction of the government and subsequent statecraft? Assuming that the second is the only option that many will believe to be effective, how do we get out? Remember the problems we had trying to support a 51st state called Iraq after we took Saddam Hussein down a peg or two…or through a trap door? How long should we expect to be hanging around in North Korea? Is the unification of the feuding Koreas one of our objectives? While we must be prepared to go it alone, it is necessary to wonder who might be of some assistance. Can we get some kind of material commitment from the international community? It not in the conflict phase, at least in the post-war reconstruction—read: expensive—phase? While we may have what we need to take care of North Korea militarily, I highly doubt that we are in much of a position to single-handedly put Humpty Dumpty back together again over the long term.
Remember the problems we had trying to support a 51st state called Iraq after we took Saddam Hussein down a peg or two…or through a trap door?
Ultimately, it is becoming a popular opinion…even among those of us that are less war-hungry and bloodthirsty than the neocons, that North Korea has been allowed to go on far too long with its saber rattling and posturing threats. It seems that everybody, except Dennis Rodman, is on board with ringing the DPRKs bell…at least a little bit. I would agree…and if we do, I hope Iran is watching.