Let’s deal first with the misconception that permeates a lot of Western thinking. North Korea can not be negotiated with over its nuclear weapons. It just isn’t happening.
North Korea has a military-first Songun policy. The people are tools of the military and nothing more. Their entire country is devoted to the advancement of the military. Everything else is secondary.
The West also needs to understand that North Korea also has a thousand-plus years of culture behind them which places great value on honour. Taking a soldier’s weapon away is the ultimate dishonour and North Korea is not going to accept that.
Their nuclear weapons programme is non-negotiable. Believe them when they say that.
That leaves the West with two, equally unacceptable choices:
- Accept North Korea as a nuclear State.
- Destroy North Korea.
Option 1 is not viable.
Some may argue, and rightly so, that it isn’t moral for nuclear nations like the United States to dictate who may or may not have nuclear weapons. It’s okay for Israel to have them but not Iran. Russia yes, Cuba no. But most war is not about morality but rather survival? And North Korea certainly has a claim for self-defence when it comes to their nuclear programme. After all, their enemy the United States has a nuclear weapon or two themselves, and has made it clear they are not above using them if they deemed it necessary.
The great fear is what North Korea will do with their nuclear weapons once they get them. Will the country just sit back and rest when they have their own nuclear deterrent? What part of history are you relying on to come to that kind of conclusion?
North Korea has not been shy about making threatening demands on the world, extorting food or money or supplies. Any slight is met with the threat of destruction. What happens when they have the power to back up their threats?
If North Korea gets nuclear weapons, what would prevent a Charleston scenario? (In the 1980’s there was a made-for-television movie called Special Bulletin with the premise of nuclear terrorism.) Could North Korea threaten to destroy San Francisco if the United States does not meet their newest demands?
Ah, that brings us to the next misunderstanding the West has about North Korea. The argument is that no sane person wants nuclear war, and that North Korea understands that any nuclear attack would bring about the swift destruction of their country.
That is a very legitimate argument. The problem is, it doesn’t work with North Korea.
No, North Korea is not insane. Far from it.
The problem is, the West constantly imposes Western values on non-Western cultures. Because the West isn’t willing to die in a nuclear holocaust doesn’t mean that North Korea isn’t.
The mullahs in Iran are not willing to die for their beliefs. They’re willing for others to die for them, but not themselves. This isn’t true for North Korea. Kim Jong Un is very willing to see his country, his city, and himself engulfed in flames if it means not surrendering to the enemy. He doesn’t want to, but he is willing to. And the West better get that into their collective heads if they want to have any chance of negotiations with North Korea. You can’t negotiate with someone you don’t understand, and that has been the weakness of the West’s approach to North Korea so far. Even South Korea seems to have trouble with this, but they have been Westernized to an extent. North Korea, isolated as it is, have no such outside influence.
If North Korea is unwilling to give up its nuclear weapons, and the West is unwilling to accept a nuclear North Korea, the only choice left is to force North Korea to give them up.
Sanctions have not worked. North Korea is surprisingly resilient, and as we have seen over the last couple decades is very willing to let their people starve to keep the military going. The United Nations have recently passed a new round of sanctions which is supposed to cut the North Korea economy by a billion dollars or more. It is to be seen if that does anything, but so far North Korea is defiant. Again, their nuclear weapons are not negotiable.
So what would happen if the West attacks North Korea to destroy their weapon’s programme?
Certainly, without a change of leadership, North Korea would simply pick up where they left off once all the shooting stopped. Not to mention all the money they would have from China for reconstruction that would be used for military programmes instead.
Don’t let’s forget the loss of Seoul. That city would be overrun, bombed, or potentially nuked.
The United States also is in North Korea’s crosshairs. Even an inaccurate missile is a bad thing if it lands on your territory, let alone goes off.
Much is made of the United States’ defence capability. Much of it untested in real combat. Could it stop an incoming missile to the Continental United States? Alaska? Hawaii? Now Guam also? Are you sure?
How many Americans would die in Korean combat? Could a ship be sunk? Or three?
The Gulf War did war a disservice in that it made war look easy, quick. Now, this isn’t 1950, and the North Koreans can’t hide in trees anymore. In a war, the United States is going to roll over North Korea. But North Korea isn’t going to roll over, and South Korea is there, just across from the DNZ, waiting to take it.
So the West is faced with two bad choices. Accept a nuclear armed North Korea or engage in a terrible, costly war that may not achieve its objective anyway.
What choice is there, really?
Thomas Lonely Wolf is the Director of The DEFCON Warning System, a private intelligence organization that has analysed the nuclear threat against the United States for over three decades.