National Security: The Korean Crisis

North Korea is a disease on the international system. In recent months, North Korea, under its young ruler Kim Jung-Un has drastically increased the threats and hostility that has defined the Kim regime. North Korea has accelerated the development of its missile program, and refuse to moderate on any aspect of the insidious regime of Kim. North Korea has failed to pursue diplomacy, and any attempt is malicious, as the appalling death of Otto Warmbier demonstrates. There is no sign of hope for North Korea.

Other established tyrannical sates reformed; China after Mao does not act within the same ideological extremism as it did under Mao’s tenure, and the Soviet Union reformed itself after Stalin. North Korea, however, has only become worse. Now on the third Kim, North Korea has progressively pursued a more perfect tyranny. North Korea is the closest society to match George Orwell’s vision put forth in 1984; with each Kim, North Korea has only become more despotic.

It remains the only country that is truly totalitarian. Economic opportunity is non-extent, political rights are inconceivable, and freedom of conscience is prohibited. Should any of these be violated, or should one get caught trying to escape to the democratic South, or to less tyrannical China, a brutal stint in a gulag is to be expected – not just for one’s self, but for one’s family (broadly defined) as well. Should one be lucky enough to escape, the family of the escapee goes to a prison camp nonetheless – where they can expect the most excruciating sentence of labor fathomable. North Korea deserves to be labeled a slave state.

The political culture in the Hermit Kingdom goes so far in the extremes of absurdity that it would almost be comical, had the nature of the Kim regime not be as horrific as it is. The Kim family is worshipped like gods. Every part of life is attributed to the greatness of the Kim’s. From the training of dolphins, which is attributed to the current leader, to the discovery of unicorns, to which Kim Jung Ill took credit, the cult of personality has reached a level that is extreme, even by the Marxist standard introduced in the 20th century.

The current Kim might very well be the most diabolical one. Not for his Machiavellian political skill, but lack thereof. While it is typical for new dictators to initiate a purge of political actors that are deemed a threat early in the respected dictator’s tenure, Kim Jung Un is still sacking high ranking official’s years into his rule. This marks a degree of uncertainty and instability the Kim Jung Un cannot overcome. Kim seems to find the most creative ways of achieving his purge; some reports suggest that he blows the heads of opponents with artillery. There can be a Dostoevskean dilemma of whether to eliminate Kim on the human rights abuses alone. But North Koreans aren’t the only ones threatened by Kim.

As terrorizing North Korea’s population is ostensibly not satisfying enough, Kim insists on keeping the international community in a state of crisis. Following the ceasefire in the Korean War, North Korea has routinely attacked South Korea and the American troops stationed there. The North has repeatedly attack South Korean islands with artillery, North Korean attacks on South Korean and American naval vessels has been an issue of contention, and American troops have been murdered by North Korean troops. North Korea has also kidnapped Japanese citizens and forced them to live in North Korea as language workers.

Now that North Korea is a nuclear power, the Hermit Kingdom has constantly refined their offensive nuclear arsenal. Testing of nuclear weapons is routine, and the testing of firing of missiles in becoming an increasingly common occurrence – which is putting Japan and South Korea on edge. Though they often fall short of goals, North Korea has nonetheless made rapid progress in their goal of obtaining a ICBM capable of hitting the United States mainland (as of now, Japan is at the greatest threat of the missiles.)

North Korea obtained nuclear weapons following the Sunset policy pursued by the U.S. and South Korea during the 90’s. the deal: should North Korea not pursue a nuclear weapons program, it will be rewarded with a loosening of international sanctions and will be welcomed into the community of nations. North Korea jubilantly capitalized on the naiveté of the deal, and continued to work on its nuclear program – with the first successful atomic weapon tested in 2006.

Now the most volatile regime in the world has nuclear weapons, and the Kim regime is repeatedly threatening to use them. As he status quo seems unsustainable, there are two solutions being proposed to deal with North Korea: military action and more coercive diplomacy and sanctions.

There are two obstacles to a military strike on North Korea: The North’s nuclear deterrent and the threat of conventional weapons. Though in theory, a military strike on the North would destroy their nuclear arsenal, the risk of human error exists, and though small, the possibility of a nuclear attack on American forces in the region, or on civilian centers in South Korea and Japan remains a possibility. Even with the nuclear threat eliminated, the second Korean War will be catastrophic. As Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis recently stated, “it will be a war more serious than anything we have seen since 1953” (1953 is when the Korean War ended.)

North Korea has thousands of artillery pieces stationed at its border in view of Seoul, the South Korean capital. Seoul is densely populated as a metropolitan population of around 10 million. Strategic analysts expect Seoul to be attacked should hostilities begin, and thousands of lives in Seoul are expected to be lost. These are just the opening acts of the war: what follows, the unforeseen problems associated with conflict, are unknown. As Kim, obviously does not care about the wellbeing of his population, he will have no problem sacrificing the North Korean population for Kim to keep his throne. It will not be much of a moral dilemma for King Pudge.

When the United States prevails over North Korea, which is undoubtable, a geo-strategic challenge arises; North Korea serves as a buffer state between China and the American allies South Korea and Japan, both of which host a significant amount of U.S. troops. By sponsoring the survival of the North Korean regime, China can keep competition at a distance while it pursues its own geo-strategic goals. The loss of North Korea as a buffer state will put a nation allied with the U.S. on its border, which will pose a strategic threat to the People’s Republic. Recall that the threat of an American presence on the Chinese border is what led to the escalation of the Korean War.

As American and allied forces pushed deeper into North Korean territory, China intervened to counter the perceived threat the Chinese intervention caused the war to be significantly longer and bloodier than what it was going to be, as the North Korean forces were rolled back after America suffered an initial setback.

The typical reaction to a regime’s bad behavior in the international stage is sanctions. Multiple states, including Iran, Russia, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, as well as North Korea have some sort of American or international sanction. Surprisingly though, despite North Korea’s decades-long behavior of deplorable behavior, any notion that North Korea is under the maximum scrutiny of American and international sanctions must be dispelled. North Korea does not have the same intense sanctions that Iran endured when it was brought to the negotiating table. The biggest problem with sanctions is China. As China views North Korea not as a human rights issue, which the Chinese government could not care less about, nor does North Korea routinely threaten to annihilate China, as North Korea does with the United States, China sees no reason to scrutinize North Korea. China steel imports products such as coal from North Korea, which is money utilized to promote the missile program.  

Attempts to leverage North Korea into forfeiting its nuclear program is futile. Nuclear weapons are the one check that the Kim regime has on the United States. Without that check, North Korea will be at the mercy of a significantly more powerful United States military. Even if a more saner man were in charge, as the death of Gaddafi and the fall of his regime in Libya demonstrate, which happened after agreeing to discontinue working on a WMD program an American behest, the removal of nuclear programs does not mean American protection – if anything, it is the opposite.

The latest round of UN sanctions is a sign of progress in terms of dealing with the Kim regime. The UN Security Council voted unanimously to apply more international sanctions to North Korea, with Russia, and most importantly of all, China, being states that voted in favor of sanctions. The sanctions include the elimination of importing products such as coal from North Korea. It is yet to be known if China will implement the program, as it has made similar noises in the past but failed to follow through. Should China fulfill the promise to the UN, North Korea will be virtually cut off from China’s economy.

The Kim regime responded in its typical volatile way. The Pentagon holds North Korea to be the greatest strategic challenge America faces. The unpredictable and ruthless behavior of the Kim regime and their continuing advancement of their nuclear arsenal makes Kim an increasingly unacceptable threat to the U.S. and its allies. Had North Korea be without nuclear weapons, the threat would not be as severe. But North Korea is the culmination of one of America’s great foreign policy failures – the failure to prevent the most psychotic regime in the world obtain the deadliest weapon in history.

North Korea represents what happens when there is a failure of the magnitude on the global stage. Philosophical and ideology conflicts over social security and healthcare almost seem insignificant when a delusional tyrant is holding the Pacific in a constant state of crisis. When America pursues future deals, policymakers should reflect upon the consequences of the potential failures. In domestic politics, a failure might lead to the loss of an election. In global politics, a failure might lead to the loss of a civilization.