Guy W. Farmer: North Korea: What next?
While mainstream media were obsessing over President Trump’s first 100 days in office, something far more serious was transpiring in Northeast Asia, where North Korean boy dictator Kim Jong Un is attempting to develop a long range missile that can deliver nuclear weapons to neighboring countries and beyond, which means Alaska, Hawaii and mainland USA.
It’s easy to make fun of Kim as a crazy little fat kid who likes to play with dangerous toys (no Legos for him), but the truth is far more ominous as he represents an imminent national security threat to many nations, including the U.S. The Trump administration is well aware of this threat and is taking measures to defuse an international powder keg.
Although I give President Trump a “C” for his first 100 days, I give him a better grade on foreign policy, where he has demonstrated the strong leadership ex-President Obama failed to exert with his weak “strategic patience” policy in the face of international crises in the Middle East and elsewhere. Trump and his foreign policy/national security team have made it clear to Kim and the rest of the world we won’t tolerate a nuclear North Korea that can obliterate its neighbors, starting with South Korea, where nearly 30,000 American troops are stationed.
Late last month Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Intelligence Director Dan Coats issued a joint statement declaring “North Korea jeopardizes stability in Northeast Asia and poses a growing threat to our allies and the U.S. homeland.” President Trump immediately undercut that strong message by tweeting he would be “honored” to meet with North Korea’s brutal and unstable dictator “under the right circumstances.” Help! Will someone — anyone — please disable our president’s Twitter account.
Tillerson urged the U.N. Security Council to impose new and tougher sanctions against North Korea to stop its nuclear threat and warned the U.S. will impose sanctions against countries that support Kim’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
The key player in this story is China, which supplies oil and military assistance to North Korea. The U.S. could start calling out Chinese companies involved in North Korea’s weapons programs, and U.S. intelligence officials could expose companies that help North Korea produce lithium-6, a substance crucial for the development of nuclear weapons.
Trump allegedly developed a friendly, productive relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida last month, and we’ll soon know whether golf diplomacy accomplished anything because China has the power to cripple North Korea’s economy and stop its nuclear weapons program.
My favorite political columnist, Charles Krauthammer, recently wrote “Americans have a powerful hand to play” against North Korea. “We simply cannot concede to Kim Jong Un the capacity to annihilate American cities,” he wrote, adding the Chinese have several reasons to cooperate with us on this volatile issue including their fear of a massive influx of North Korean refugees and the “nightmare” (for China) possibility South Korea and/or Japan could go nuclear. Trump should play that powerful hand with President Xi right now.
Michael Haas, a retired Air Force colonel who served in Korea, has urged U.S. policymakers to convince China to cooperate to stop the North Korean nuclear program, “even going so far as to backtrack on sanctions against Chinese companies,” if necessary, while emphasizing we will never accept “the existential threat of North Korean ICBMs.”
But will angry young Kim Jong Un understand these carrots and sticks, or will he push the nuclear button? The fate of millions of innocent people hangs in the balance.
Guy W. Farmer, a retired diplomat, is the Appeal’s senior political columnist.