Before the U.S. unleashes deadly force against North Korea, it might recall our history with that country and explore options — however slim — that might lead to a diplomatic resolution.
THE macho stance being taken on North Korea by the Trump administration appears to have few critics these days. Finally, after years of restraint, (i.e. weakness) shown by previous administrations, the U.S. will now put North Korea in its place. Watch out, Kim Jong Un, your days of despotic rule are numbered.
However, before rushing to judgment — and to action designed to reduce North Korea’s nuclear facilities to rubble — the administration would be well advised to consider whether all peaceful options have been exhausted.
It might well be too late. To back up the tough talk, US B-1 bombers joined in exercises with South Korea and Japan over the Korean Peninsula. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has spoken repeatedly of the possibility of carrying out a pre-emptive strike. The U.S. anti-missile defense system, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery, meant to intercept and destroy short- and medium-range ballistic missiles from the north, has now been deployed. The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson has moved into striking range and will be joined by the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, where the two will conduct dual-carrier training exercises.
For its part, North Korea, with its hundreds of missiles and artillery, miles of tunnels and well-equipped army of more than a million, has threatened to sink the “nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with a single strike.” North Korea recently launched a new medium long-range surface-to-surface ballistic missile.
So, what are the options?
• The U.S. can simply set in motion military strikes to obliterate the nuclear capability of North Korea.
• The U.S. can offer to reopen diplomatic talks with North Korea, including the possibility of negotiating a treaty that would bring a formal end to the Korean War.
• The U.S. can open up the possibility of trade, including the exchange of educators and students.
The military option is not as simple as it might sound. North Korea is quite capable of annihilating greater Seoul and its 25.6 million inhabitants before the U.S. can complete the first phase of its military operation.
Regarding a formal peace treaty, the U.S. has previously demanded a prior denuclearization by North Korea. But this is precisely what needs to be negotiated.
Despite the Trading with the Enemy Act (TWEA) of 1917, trade with North Korea is possible. And, as Jon Pahl, professor at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, reminds, “The people of countries who trade with each other are less likely to kill each other than people whose countries do not engage in trade (murder being notoriously bad for business).
There is something more that needs to be said. In the early 1950s, responding to the North Korean threat, U.S. B-29s, with little opposition, carried out the saturation bombing of villages and towns across the North. The capital, Pyongyang, was 75 percent destroyed with more than 3 million people killed. Over a three-year period, 20 percent of the population was wiped out.
Then Undersecretary of State, Dean Rusk, said that the U.S. bombed “everything that moved in North Korea, every brick standing on top of another.” With the cities in ruins, attention was then given to the destruction of irrigation and hydroelectric dams and the destruction of crops.
Although little is spoken or written about this side of the war, in North Korea it is remembered as if it happened yesterday. During a visit in 1984, I recall billboards along the main roads that purported to graphically document the destruction and convey the enormity of the human suffering.
Before the U.S. unleashes deadly force against North Korea, it might recall this history and explore options — however slim — that might lead to a diplomatic resolution. Moon Jae-in, the new president of the Republic of Korea, is open to negotiations. Even President Donald Trump has signaled that a meeting with Kim Jong Un might be possible. Do it. Any serious talk should begin by calling North Korea by its proper name, The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.