How to deal with North Korean problem

How to deal with North Korean problem

North Korea’s determination to pursue its policy of becoming a nuclear power continues to endanger world peace. When Kim Jong-un’s photos appeared in the international press jubilating his country’s latest test of an alleged hydrogen bomb, the international community condemned North Korea for its “unlawful, irresponsible and adventurous” behavior. South Korea launched its own missile test. U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis threatened North Korea with “massive military response, a response both effective and overwhelming.”

2017 has become a year which drew the attention of the world’s public opinion toward the Korean Peninsula. In February and May this year, North Korea tested long-range Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM’s) to give new momentum to its armament policy. Pyongyang aims at convincing the U.S., Japan and the international community that it has developed missiles to strike these two countries.

North Korea has also pursued a policy of nuclear armaments and is allegedly now capable of deploying miniaturized nuclear warheads to its ICBM’s. This means, Japan and the U.S. do not only face missile threats but are also exposed to a nuclear attack. Would it happen? What would then follow it if it did?

Nuclear deterrence is a dangerous game. It has become the main pillar of Cold War bipolarity between the U.S. and the USSR simply because nuclear powers do not become so with a single missile or a warhead. Nuclear powers having a second strike capability give birth to the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction and this, ironically, guarantees the non-war situation (it is hard to call this “peace” as long as the threat for war persists) through “balance of terror.” This was what the Cold War balance was about.

North Korea, apparently, is beyond the status of a nuclear midget. It is also difficult to locate the areas where its nuclear arsenal are hidden and this makes it more difficult to annihilate them entirely. The game, therefore, is built on retaliation, to the first strike offender. Yet this is also difficult because no matter how massive that retaliation could be, one cannot be sure whether North Korea would still maintain a second strike capability, which will escalate the conflict to mutual destruction.

Mattis defined the caveat for a massive response by saying that it would take place to “any threat to the United States or its territories, including Guam, or our allies,” which would rule out a U.S. preemptive strike. North Korea, on the other hand, would not be willing to evaporate from the world map by making such a provocative attack to the U.S. What then is North Korea aiming at? Why does it continue to poke its so-called “adversaries?”

Authoritarian leaders and/or regimes rely on deterrence to endure. Their primary concern is to maintain power. Deterrence becomes their sole instrument to make themselves “recognized” or “respected.” 

This is the epoch of such leaders and their unpredictability, unreliability and “enthusiasm to be different” makes international politics much more dangerous than ever. The international community should aim at containing such regimes through smart strategy. The main target, however, should be to prevent the emergence of similar examples.

When, as with the case of North Korea, such authoritarianism makes use of nuclear power, the game becomes much more dangerous. Iran was considered to be on the same path, and attempts to prevent the emergence of a “second North Korea” are now prudently being implemented. 

To resolve the North Korean problem, the use of power or threat will not yield assured de-escalation. Dialogue and diplomacy are needed to tame North Korea. Sanctions, to the contrary, make determination of the authoritarian regime stronger.

The international community, however, has to be more resolute in the implementation of the Non-proliferation Treaty in order to avoid proliferation of nuclear arms and escalation to a more insecure international environment.