Korean peninsula was divided based on Cold War, it’s after effects are still lingering today. Even if Germany was sub divided into East and West, it perhaps had a Gorbachev luckily to somehow catalyze unification. North Korea is made up of a different cloth and is prevailing under the extremity of domestic totalitarianism and immense international pressure.
Relations between America and North Korea have blown hot and cold since the Korean War but consistently have been hostile. North Korea currently is developing its own nuclear program. It also is bent upon carrying long range missile tests and has postured dramatically to America with regular intervals of time. The American strategic interests in this region are concerned with threats from the North Korean regime to its allies like Japan and South Korea who harbor American military bases. People’s Republic of China is the only country to enjoy diplomatic or consular access to Pyongyang and this is the other side of American strategic concerns in the region.
In 2002, at the backdrop of 9/11, President Bush had categorized North Korea as a part of an axis of evil along with Iran and Iraq. Bush presidency had opposed ‘Agreed framework’, an agreement which emphasized halting North Korea’s nuclear program and making it non-proliferative. It also had an objective of normalizing relations between the countries. Some key elements of this deal were applied but overall it was a tedious process which finally led to its end in 2003. North Koreans were not consistent enough and they took advantage with certain loopholes from the same. This followed up with more punitive steps from the North Korean side in form of withdrawing from NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty) and declaring itself as a nuclear power with subsequent tests in 2006. Six nation (US, Russia, China, Japan, South and North Korea) talks however were encouraged which pushed for a demilitarized Korean peninsula.
With the advent of Obama administration, a certain bit of pacifism was displayed in the quest to ensure abandonment of North Korea’s nuclear program. With the policy of ‘strategic patience’ and a certain hawkish purview of Secretary Clinton, Obama presidency with respect to Pyongyang was defined by upholding international support in sanctioning the dictatorial regime. But in their trademark style of intermittently embroiling itself into hostility, rocket launches and a nuclear test in 2009 displayed their war mongering tactics.
President Obama ordered the Pentagon to increase its cyber strikes on North Korea three years ago in the hopes of detonating any missile launches within seconds. (The recent missile failure may be attributed to this) But Obama presidency was soft overall in any approach to foreign policy matter.
Obama’s successor was going to change all that. President Trump winning in 2016 raised several eye brows especially owing to his opposition to Iranian nuclear deal. The provocative attire of North Korean regime was expected to continue. The American side filled by a new administration was aggressively vying for a better foreign policy. Kim Jong-Un’s rise to power and occupation of throne after his father’s death in 2011 was not going to change the attitude of the authoritarian nation either. However, Obama was sober but Trump seemed to be a tough sheriff.
When asked about working with China to reduce the nuclear threat from North Korea, President Donald Trump said, “Well, if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you.” He followed it up now by saying both Clinton and Obama were out played by the regime.
Perhaps any approach to North Korea will be more complicated than other hostile nations such as Iraq and Iran. But recently the standoff between America and North Korea has heated tensions and resulted into more war of words. As US navy aircraft carrier strike group moved closer to Korean peninsula, Kim Jong Un was reviewing a parade of his military might with a display of missiles, scuds and army. A ballistic missile launch was done which seemed to have failed to take off successfully.
This turn of events were further escalated into war of words. Vice President Pence spoke about throwing ‘strategic patience’ out of the window and embracing tough pre-emptive steps which seemingly sparked war fears. North Korean side expectantly retaliated saying they will respond to any military aggression with their own way.
This has pushed America -North Korea relations to a new low.
The recent Syrian air strikes ordered by the Trump administration has left many wondering if this will be replicated in Korea. As a matter of fact, if diplomacy in the form of six nation talks and tough economic sanctions are not enough, then what other options are available to resolve this crisis?
The military option seems lucrative after decades of patiently handling Pyongyang seems to have failed. This was considered by previous Presidents including Clinton, but the proximity of Seoul in North Korean range of fire may be dangerous. South Korea will be open to the hostilities of the North in form of artilleries and otherwise. A surgical strike on its nuclear installations like the way Israelis had conducted against Iraq may be a possibility. But the reactors in Iraq were located far away and in case of Korea they are embedded inside the civilian compound. Perhaps an assassination option of its leader could help but the ramifications of its fall out remain unknown and are a matter of grave concern. This can be kept in mind when regime changes in Iraq and Libya were particularly disastrous for those countries. (ISIS and lawlessness respectively)
A military option is not easy. On the contrary it may plunge the region into another proxy war as we are witnessing in Syria.
But is there a peaceful solution to this crisis?
Prof John Delury, of Yonsei University, in Seoul, says: “The smart play for Mr. Trump would be to return to those five wise words he said about Mr. Kim on the campaign trail, ‘I would speak to him.’
Attempts can be made to broker a peace deal which freezes North Korea’s nuclear arsenal in exchange for money and improvement of their economy. It can be a better form of ‘agreed framework’ agreement that was made in the past but with more stringent clauses and less leveraging points.
All said and done, President Trump also is unpredictable. After being in favor of breaking nuclear deal with Iran and an unprecedented adventure in Syria, chances of creative diplomacy seems bleak.
North Korea stands out as the toughest adversary in the famous axis of evil retort by President Bush in 2002. The implications of invasion in Iraq are seen today. A confrontation with Iran may be looming somewhere in horizon, but tackling a Kim Jong Un will be the most tedious challenge.