We Need To Talk About Kim

A nuclear threat and the need for rational leadership

By Roger Childs

President John Kennedy

Back in 1962 the world came close to nuclear war. Fortunately at the time the United States had one of its more intelligent and pragmatic leaders.

President Kennedy didn’t rush into a decision or make off-the-cuff threats. His administration gathered the evidence against the Soviet Union and Cuba, and used the United Nations to help defuse the crisis.

55 years on, there is the possibility of a nuclear war breaking out over North Korea. Back in 1953 the Korean War “ended” with a divided peninsula and a cease fire. That is still the situation.

Since then, the United States has remained South Korea’s chief ally, but through diplomacy and selective sanctions has generally prevented the relations with Communist North Korea reaching danger point.

Unfortunately in 2017, President Trump is not a man with the intelligence and skill to handle growing tensions on the Korean peninsula which he has exacerbated.

Belligerent and out of his depth

His bluster creates a generalised anxiety such that the President of the United States can appear to be scarcely more reliable than any of the world’s autocrats. David Remnick, The New Yorker

Kim Jong-un rules his reclusive Communist state with a rod of iron. Tragically, massive resources are being used to build the nuclear capacity of the country while most of the population lives in poverty.

Regarded as a pariah by much of the world, North Korea survives because of trade and support from neighbouring Communist China. (The Chinese were the fledgling country’s key ally in the Korean War.)

Over the decades since 1953 American administrations have endeavoured to prevent conflict breaking out in the peninsula. However, there has been regular condemnation about the nuclear arm build up in the North, usually supported by the United Nations.

But Donald Trump does not take kindly to the leader of a small country threatening the United States, and has taken his usual shoot from the tweet approach in responding to Kim Jong-un pronouncements and actions.

Are there wiser counsels?

North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen … President Trump, late August 2017

There are obvious concerns over Kim developing warheads that could potentially strike the American mainland, and over missiles being fired across Japan. However, by his unwise and arrogant escalation of the tensions, Trump has encouraged Kim’s ambitions.

Never before has the possibility of nearby Guam – American sovereign territory – being threatened by North Korea been made.

Fortunately, much of Trump’s foreign affairs bluster has been just that, and wiser heads like Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, and Defence Secretary, James Mattis, have urged caution and diplomatic solutions.

It is believed that there is a backdoor dialogue going on between Washington and Pyongyang, nevertheless if Trump’s rhetoric pushed Kim into direct aggression against the US, the superpower, would respond in kind.

The whole situation is further complicated by the fact that the Korean Peninsula has three neighbours who are major powers: China, Japan and Russia, They are not disinterested parties.

Reality: North Korea is a nuclear “power”

It could be argued that accommodating the North Korean regime could be the best approach.

There is a touch of arrogance in the attitude of the members of the “nuclear cub” – America, Britain, France, Russia, Israel, India, Pakistan – that it OK for us to have nuclear weapons, but not Iran or North Korea or anyone else.

Kim’s regime is not going to cease being a nuclear-capable country simple because the Americans and the United Nations want it to be that way. Furthermore rattling sabres is not the way to go.

No easy solutions

A solution to the escalating Korean Peninsula crisis will not be easy to find. The major players in the region itself – China, Japan, Russia and South Korea – need to have a role.

Kim’s obsession with building and testing nuclear weapons is appalling. The first duty of political leaders is to meet the needs of their citizens. The gap between the prosperity of South Korea and the poverty of the North is huge.

But increasing sanctions on the North and isolating it, is only going to make life worse for the long suffering people. Probably only neighbor and “ally” China can encourage any significant change in North Korea. It won’t happen quickly.