When I hear stories about North Korea, I wonder what has prompted their angry rhetoric. What do they stand to gain by threatening to turn South Korea into a “sea of fire?” The Kim family has always defied logic. Kim Jong Un certainly follows that pattern. Will a nuclear blackmail scheme win him concessions? Will it encourage the world to lift sanctions in place for its already illegal nuclear tests?
My best guess is no. North Korea’s bluster will further isolate it in the world. Even historical allies like Russia and the People’s Republic of China have distanced themselves from North Korea.
Sadly, that leaves North Korea with just one friend in the world, who is admittedly no friend of ours, Iran. The thought of the two nations exchanging arms and oil is a frightening notion. Iran’s indigenous nuclear weapons program would benefit greatly from an infusion of Korean technology and know-how. I’m fearful the price could be as low as a few tankers of oil.
It seems clear sanctions against both nations have failed. North Korea already has nuclear weapons. Their people are starving. Their conventional forces operate Cold War relics. Their missile technology may be the subject of punchlines, but if I were in Seoul or Tokyo, I wouldn’t be scoffing.
Iran may be a few years away from nuclear capability, but their ambition is clear. Sanctions have again driven the country into poverty, but have done little to blunt progress on weapons.
Regime change could be an option. I’m certainly not going to say an assassination would be the best choice, or a clear catalyst for regime change. Fostering an “Arab Spring” style movement might work. We would need to support a fifth column movement with training and weapons, however. Otherwise, we end up with another Syria. A long and brutal conflict with no end in site.
That last option sounds like the best hope, but it would not be without consequence. Both regimes would likely use weapons of mass destruction on their own people. Gas prices would reach sky-high levels seen during the insurgency in Iraq. Conflicts could overflow into neighboring nations and expand into regional conflicts.
Then there is a military option. Threatening the U.S., South Korea and Japan with nuclear weapons certainly warrants consideration of a first strike. But again, we have the consequence of being pulled into another long war, this time, with nations possessing weapons of mass destruction. If the U.S., or even better, the United Nations could conduct a brief air campaign to limit North Korea’s nuclear capability for a few years, the odds would favor a strike. We saw this strategy used successfully against Libya. An added benefit would be a reduction of their conventional forces. That could facilitate a rebellion against the Kim regime.
We have a final choice, to do nothing and maintain the status quo. Every morning, I’m checking the news to see if Tokyo and Tel Aviv are still there. It’s not the best choice, either.
So yes, Dr. Kissinger, you may be the best man to advise our nation on the next step. I’m still as confused as I was when I began.