How Concerned Should Americans Be About War In The Koreas?
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A North Korean regime defying the wishes of the international community is nothing new.
In the decades since it was officially formed in 1948, the country’s leadership has pursued, in varying degrees, a nuclear program. Lately, the apparent strides in this area have been a cause for concern.
Officials within North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s regime have called for a pre-emptive nuclear strike, while U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence have said military intervention to prevent this is very much on the table.
“It’s a very volatile situation and a threat we ought to take seriously,” Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, said. “We didn’t in 1950 and ended up fighting a war. We’ve been there for a long time for a reason, because we’re confronting a very dangerous regime.”
President Donald Trump and his administration are certainly confronting the problem, but in a more aggressive tone than that of previous presidents. In addition to calling for more sanctions against North Korea, Trump has sent “an armada,” the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group to the region — albeit after a moment of confusion regarding its exact whereabouts.
Trump and his team has called on China, a long-time North Korean ally, to push on Kim Jon Un’s regime more. But even Chinese officials expressed worry that a war could break out at any moment under current conditions.
So how concerned should Americans really be about a potential war with North Korea?
“There is some risk here,” Mark Raymond, the Wick Cary Professor of International Security at the University of Oklahoma, said. “This is one of the most dangerous spots in the globe, there’s no doubt.”
Unknowns all around: Cole and the U.S. Congress received a confidential briefing last week, around the same time the Senate was invited for a similar briefing at the White House. He said a big part of the danger and the risk in this situation is the unpredictability of Kim Jong Un.
The North Korean leader has made surprising moves in the past, such as having his uncle killed. Cole also noted the death of the leader’s brother, Kim Jon Nam, which, according to South Korean intelligence, he also ordered.
“This is a guy who killed his own uncle,” Cole said. “He’s capable of doing some very provocative and very dangerous things.”
It’s the same unpredictable regime that has conventional missiles and weapons pointed at South Korea, with its capital, Seoul, and Japan well within range. For this reason, Cole said a pre-emptive strike by the U.S. should be out of the question.
“I don’t think we’re going to strike North Korea,” he said. “Honestly, we shouldn’t do that because it would trigger an all out war on the peninsula, and while we would win it, it would do great damage to our ally South Korea.”
What the U.S. has done — sending in a carrier strike group, docking a nuclear-powered submarine in the south, deploying a missile defense system, asking China to intervene more and leaving the door open for direct dialogue with North Korea — also comes with its elements of inconsistency, Raymond said.
On the one side, continuing to support and calling for more UN sanctions against North Korea is a positive step, he said. Though their effectiveness is questionable, it is in line with how previous American administrations have handled the situation.
But when the Trump administration announced a carrier strike group was moving to the area around the time North Korea was expected to conduct a missile or nuclear test in mid-April, it turns out the group was actually steaming away, in the opposite direction.
The USS Carl Vinson is off of the Korean Peninsula now, but the inconsistency is the type of error the U.S. can ill-afford to make in a situation like this, Raymond said.
“The problem is when you signal that way and later reveal you could not competently move that carrier group to be apart of that sequence of events, that’s a real problem,” Raymond said. “It undermines American foreign policy and military movements not just with North Korea, but also in a more global effect.”
What comes next?: Experts don’t think North Korea has the capability to strike the the U.S. mainland with a nuclear missile, nor is it believed to have nuclear warheads small enough to fit on a missile. But, Cole said that scenario is “not far away.”
Sanctions haven’t worked, and Raymond said it is important not to overestimate the influence China has over its noisy neighbor. For Cole, looking to the Chinese — as a local economic and nuclear power — is the best option in the immediate future.
“To be fair, I’m not sure there’s much else we can do (on sanctions),” Cole said. “Whether that will work, I don’t think we know. The Chinese president and our president seem to have struck a pretty cordial relationship. That’s all to the good. Their nuclear arsenal isn’t what Russia’s is, but they’re the only global economic power in that area and their military is a global power, as well.”
Raymond said there may be no good option to deal with North Korea. Both a war and a nuclear North Korea are unthinkable.
But Raymond doesn’t see North Korea giving up its nuclear ambitions, regardless of sanctions and Chinese pressure. That pursuit is all about preserving power, he said, and likely now tied to the fact that former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi gave up his nuclear weapons under international pressure only to be deposed and killed.
In addition, however, the U.S. is still in the region acting as a nuclear deterrent. Continuing in this role might be the best way to move forward, Raymond said, instead of holding firm on the demand for North Korea to disarm.
“That is, no matter how desirable, unlikely to happen,” he said. “There needs to be some kind of other arrangement that is mutually acceptable. Something both sides aren’t necessarily happy about but something they can go with. If an adversary is determined to develop nuclear weapons, it’s difficult to prevent them.
“The American public needs to be prepared for a world in which there is a nuclear armed North Korea with technology capable of delivering a strike to the U.S.”
This article is written by Adam Troxtell from The Norman Transcript, Okla. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.