My last post on North Korea warned against “mission creep” requiring Trump to solve more than the North Korean nuclear weapons program. Bret Stephens hopes for an ambitious alternative. His column, “A ‘New Approach’ to North Korea,” (Wall Street Journal, March 28, 2017) presents the ultimate ambitious program: Regime Change. In fact the alternatives that he presents includes the destruction of the borders that define North Korea as a separate state.
Now, he begins the piece with the acknowledgment that Secretary Tillerson was spot on when he said that the two decade effort to stop North Korean nuclear weapons program “have failed.”
He describes the efforts that the U.S. has taken to block North Korea in three broad categories: Inducements, Sanctions, and Wait for the regime to change or collapse on its own. The loudest note in the piece sound on the third of the series: We cannot wait much longer. North Korea’s “ability to marry a nuclear warhead to an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland is no longer a theoretical risk.”
So OK. Something has to be done. What does he suggest?
“It’s time to make regime change in North Korea the explicit aim of U.S. policy. . .”
My reaction? Wow.
Well, he goes on to offer two general frameworks: The first would be “pro-China.” It would feature a Chinese directed coup, and a replacement authoritarian pro-Chinese regime, which would keep the Korean borders as they are. We do not have a lot of detail on the project but essentially economic pressures would, or could, suffice.
If the Chinese balk, the second option; “anti-China” should be utilized. This would really be dramatic. He not only calls for the end of the regime; He calls for the end of North Korea. Again, economics might suffice, but if not, force must be applied. Putting antiballistic missile systems in South Korea is an initial possibility.
But it could get more dramatic. Really dramatic.
“As another inducement, Donald Trump could return to his suggestion last year that the South should have an independent nuclear deterrent.”
Now, people who have spent time with my ideas could guess my objection to this.
Long term you are making a bad problem worse. Saying that the South should have nuclear weapons is not equivalent to saying “Let’s let South Korea have a menu of nuclear products.”
Actually, it is saying, Korea should be encouraged to build a new profession. A profession that could be called “let’s kill everybody profession.” The decisive characteristic of this profession is engineering talent. Once that profession is in place, it does not evaporate. Because this profession is basically IQ talent, the profession gets better. Which is to say – more lethal.
What does Japan think of this? What does China think? Would Chinese engineers react a certain way?
Now, something has to be done or the North American continent really will be vulnerable. Stephens is right here.
“The North is now preparing its sixth nuclear test. . . A state-of-the-art- uranium-enrichment plant gives it the ability to produce as many as eight bombs a year. Some of those bombs could be shared with or sold to Iran or other malign actors.”
To adopt my perspective, the real problem isn’t that bombs or other material might be moved to America’s enemies.
The real problem is that highly intelligent North Koreans nuclear engineers might travel to America’s enemies.