National Security

The North Korean Conundrum

After Kim Jong Un fired a missile over Japan, "all options" are on the table for the U.S. But are they really?

Lewis Morris · Aug. 30, 2017

Kim Jung Un continues to stir up trouble in Asia and danger for the entire world. The attention-starved North Korean dictator fired off another missile, sending this one over northern Japan and warning that it was a “meaningful prelude to containing Guam.”

Japanese were startled by the launch and were sent running for cover by air raid sirens. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Donald Trump both condemned the action. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley called upon the Security Council to take strong action. What that might look like is still unknown, though the UNSC did issue a condemnation of North Korea’s “outrageous” launch.

The Security Council heaped sanctions on North Korea already for its missile launches earlier this month. Keeping China on board for tougher measures will be vital, as Kim’s fellow communists are pretty much the only friends he has — well, besides the Iranian mullahs.

PJ Media’s Claudia Rosett recaps the history briefly: “North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan on Tuesday, an act that all by itself qualifies as a stunning provocation. This followed a bout of North Korean threats earlier this month to girdle Guam with missile strikes. Those threats followed North Korea’s successful tests last month of two intercontinental ballistic missiles. Those tests followed an 11-year span from 2006-2016 in which North Korea conducted five nuclear tests, prepared to conduct a sixth — which could come anytime now — and in 2010 unveiled a uranium-enrichment program to complement its production of plutonium for bomb fuel.”

Some have speculated that Kim is trying to push the U.S. and its allies to sit down for negotiations, though he almost certainly won’t come to the table without first sufficiently demonstrating his capability of striking the U.S. mainland. It’s hard to see anything coming of negotiations, though — at least not anything better than has come out of a quarter century of such dialogue. Trump has vowed to keep North Korea from developing long-range nuclear capability. And Kim has sworn he won’t give up his nuclear program. Beyond that, what else is there left to discuss?

We’ve been to this rodeo many times. The stakes are higher now, though, with North Korea’s growing nuclear capability. As The Wall Street Journal observes, “The intermediate-range missile test will further roil the politics of security in Northeast Asia and is another prod toward Japan acquiring its own nuclear deterrent.” Trump recognizes that, but what’s to be done about it?

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was short-sighted enough to say just days before this latest launch that we were actually making progress with North Korea. “I am pleased to see that the regime in Pyongyang has certainly demonstrated some level of restraint that we’ve not seen in the past,” he said last week. “We hope that this is the beginning of this signal that we’ve been looking for that they are ready to restrain their level of tensions, they’re ready to restrain their provocative acts, and that perhaps we are seeing our pathway to sometime in the near future having some dialogue.”

His boss was little better. Trump declared last week that Kim was “starting to respect” the U.S.

Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon went so far as to say there is no military solution to the problem in North Korea because of the inevitable damage to Seoul, South Korea, just 30 miles from the border. Bannon may be right that it’s at least a costly option, but it’s one of those things an administration shouldn’t say out loud.

Trump has noted that “all options” remain on the table, and in order for that threat to deter Kim, he has to believe it. Force is the only language dictators understand. A display of power in Asia will let North Korea know that we will protect our allies. Trump standing side by side with South Korea and Japan will also demonstrate that we will protect our allies. After eight years of “leading from behind” and apologizing for American greatness, the international community needs to be reminded that we will not tolerate acts of aggression.

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