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On North Korea, a Return to Fire and Fury Isn't Worth the Risks

May 6, 2019 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

A couple of years ago the Trump administration seemingly brought
the Korean Peninsula to the brink of war. The president matched
North Korea’s Supreme Leader insult for insult, sent what he
called the “armada” off of the North’s coast, and
threatened “fire and fury.” The consequences of a
conflict most likely would have been catastrophic, especially for
America’s ally, the Republic of Korea.

Happily, negotiation rather than shooting occurred. Contra
claims that Washington was played or fleeced, the North ended
missile and nuclear testing and Kim Jong-un began acting like a
normal statesman. Kim started meeting foreign leaders, and
Pyongyang put its Yongbyon nuclear facility up for closure. Before
the Hanoi summit, between Kim and Trump, Pyongyang reportedly had
agreed to a peace declaration and opening of liaison offices. These
steps toward normalization would have benefited America and the ROK
as well as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Moreover, Pyongyang agreed to further repatriation of the remains
of Americans killed during the Korea War.

Here’s how Washington and
Pyongyang can make some progress towards peace and maybe
denuclearization too.

Still, the ultimate destination of the Kim-Trump
“friendship” admittedly was uncertain. The
president’s certitude that the latest in the Kim family line
to rule the DPRK was prepared to fully disarm almost certainly was
misplaced. Indeed, the behavior of President Trump and his
predecessors made denuclearization an ever more distant
possibility.

Internationally, nuclear weapons give the North status;
militarily, nukes enhance Pyongyang’s destructive power;
domestically, the program cements military loyalty to the regime.
Moreover, possession of nuclear weapons offers the only sure
deterrent against overwhelming American military power for a small,
isolated, impoverished country with no sure friends. Only nuclear
bombs and missiles redress a balance of power which has steadily
shifted against North Korea since the Korean War ended.

The DPRK’s search for deterrence took on greater
significance as the U.S. tagged Pyongyang as “evil,”
attacked several nuclear-free regimes, and abandoned earlier
foreign commitments (most the Iran Deal). Now add to that the
president’s appointment of a national security adviser who
advocated war against North Korea. Only a naive leader would disarm
unilaterally, completely, and speedily as demanded by the Trump
administration. And Kim, who brutally consolidated power after
succeeding his father at age 28, is not naive.

Nevertheless, last year at the Singapore summit between Trump
and Kim, Pyongyang offered a plausible road map. Kim wants to
improve bilateral relations and create a regional peace regime;
then denuclearization would follow. There is reason to doubt even
then that the DPRK would ever yield all its nuclear weapons.
However, complete verifiable irreversible denuclearization, while
desirable, is not a prerequisite for American security. Washington
has deterred far …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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