The Time to Stop North Korea Is Now
On July 4th, North Korea tested its first long range ICBM, which it claims can reach “anywhere in the world”. The KN-14 missile reached a height of over 1500 miles, well into outer space, and flew around 1000 miles before landing somewhere in the Sea of Japan. The missile test was largely considered to be a success, although there are doubts that the missile successfully re-entered Earth’s atmosphere.
The KN-14 is intended to have a range of around 5000 miles, which means that it can reach Alaska or Hawaii. North Korea has tested 17 missiles within the first half of 2017, far more than previous years. The Kim dynasty believes that if nuclear weapons can be mounted on these missiles, the United States would not dare attempt regime change, fearing the threat of nuclear retaliation. Gaddafi and Hussein were both non-nuclear dictators who were eventually overthrown by the United States, and Kim Jong Un wishes to avoid a similar fate.
North Korea has been largely enabled by China, its most important ally and largest supplier of food and energy. China is North Korea’s only significant trading partner, and without China, North Korea would essentially collapse. North Korea would have no food to feed its people, no oil to fuel its military, and would be severely impoverished, more so than it already is. China, however, needs North Korea to remain intact. North Korea serves as a buffer between China and the US-backed South Korea. Furthermore, if the North collapses, hundreds of thousands of refugees would flood into China, severely disrupting Northern parts of China.
No amount of negotiations will persuade North Korea to give up nuclear weapons. After witnessing the destruction of both Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein at the hands of NATO, North Korea would never give up its only deterrent against regime change. Additionally, after the 2005 agreement was violated, the United States has no real reason to trust North Korea with any negotiations.
The route to a non-nuclear North Korea runs through China. Essentially, what the United States needs to do is pressure China into placing an embargo on North Korea, and “squeezing” North Korea until it gives up nuclear weapons under Chinese and American supervision. The United States has a number of options in this regard. This includes enforcing UN sanctions on North Korea (thereby forcing China to slash trade with North Korea), cutting Chinese banks that support the North off from the US banking system, and sanctioning Chinese companies that aid the North.
Potentially, the greatest threat and pressure to both North Korea and China would be placing nuclear weapons in Japan. While it is unlikely that Japan itself will build nuclear weapons, the US placing nukes in Japan would put immense pressure on China and North Korea. This should only be a measure of last resort, however. Nuclear weapons in Japan could result in a trade war between the US and China, as well as a nuclear arms race across Asia.
What is clear is that North Korea cannot be allowed to proceed in its current manner for much longer. At where exactly is the point where North Korea has gone too far? Is it when North Korea has missiles that can hit Los Angeles? New York? Or, is it when artillery shells and nuclear missiles are slamming into Seoul, Busan, and Tokyo, and millions die? The longer the US sits idly, the more time North Korea has to build bigger and more powerful nuclear weapons and missiles. North Korea has to be stopped, and the best way to do that is pressuring China into an embargo.