Want to Take on North Korea? Engage Its People.

    Doug Bandow

    Security, Asia

    Washington should play the long game, instead of seeing military action as the easy answer.

    For someone so determined to present a macho image of dominance, President Donald Trump exhibits a nervous fixation with North Korea. That worry, even fear was evident in his State of the Union speech.

    The president made Pyongyang a focus of his address. He highlighted the threat supposedly posed by Kim regime as well as its crimes against humanity. Yet the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is a small, impoverished and isolated state. Its nuclear ambitions are disturbing, but it trails China, Russia, Pakistan, India, and Israel in nuclear arsenals. An American carrier group or two probably have the equivalent firepower of the entire North Korean conventional military.

    Then there is South Korea, which alone possesses roughly forty-five times the GDP and twice the population of the DPRK. Seoul could create a much more powerful military than the North. Japan too. Absent a showing that Kim Jong-un is irrational, even suicidal, it is evident that the North is more interested in deterring than attacking America.

    The president also reminded us that Pyongyang hosts a brutal regime. True, but he is no tender-hearted squish when it comes to human rights. His self-proclaimed buddies include Xi Jinping, Mohammad bin Salman al-Saud, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Vladimir Putin. Getting the bad side of any of these dictators is likely to land you in prison, perhaps for a very long time; some critics end up penniless, in exile or dead. Forget quaint notions of democracy. President Trump is not known to have ever even mentioned the word in their presence.

    But the president appears to view the North Korea danger to be so great that he is prepared to start the Second Korean War by attacking the DPRK. It would be a wild gamble. He expects the regime—which he claims is murderous, irrational, dangerous and undeterrable—to supinely accept American military strikes which would eliminate the North’s best weapons and/or decapitate its leadership. That a family dynasty which has resolutely defended its independence from Moscow and Beijing would peacefully genuflect to Washington. What could possibly go wrong with this strategy?

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