At the recent emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, said that Kim Jong-un “is begging for war.” “We have kicked the can down the road long enough.” Haley told the council. “There is no more road left.”
Perhaps that’s in some way correct and we are at a crossroads with the chubby tyrant. However, we can’t pretend there haven’t been opportunities to contain the dark regimes arms build-up and advances in offensive war-making technology.
One such opportunity to manage North Korea ambitions came in in 1994.
In June of ‘94 officials in the Clinton Administration were briefing the president on options to defend South Korea against an attack by North Korea. It was thought an attack was imminent and may involve “weapons of mass destruction.”
At this time former President Jimmy Carter was working closely with Kim Jong Il to de-nuclearize the North. In October the parties finally signed off on the Agreed Framework, a US agreement with North Korean officials. The purpose of the Agreed Framework was to reduce North Korea’s ability to refine plutonium.
Within the Framework Kim Jong agreed to stop work at the research facility in Yongbyon. In exchange the US would supply light water reactors to supply the electric grid. Such reactors would reduce the possibility of recovery of plutonium from spent fuel.
Prior to this signing, President Clinton was ready to sign an order for a surprise attack on the Yongbyon nuclear complex north of Pyongyang. It is worth noting in the 1980’s North Korea signed on to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) but did not complete subsequent agreements on inspections with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). They have since violated the NPT on numerous occasions.
Now some twenty-three years later, we’re in a similar place. The war hawks have descended around Trump. As the saying goes, if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. You can expect a lot of pro-war rhetoric from the usual suspects. Entirely to be expected from those ensconced within the military-industrial complex.
How did we get to this point?
It’s complicated, but blame, if that’s the correct word, falls in large measure on George H. Bush. It was the George H. Bush Administration which systematically shredded Carter’s Framework Agreement. The Pentagon had been war-gaming North Korea for decades. To know one’s surprise the ex-CIA head now president brought hawks into foreign policy arena.
Over the decades economic sanctions have not worked in part because China has been a supporter and trading partner of the regime. China has shown little interest in slapping down the belligerence of past and current DPRK dictators.
With the DPRK’s sixth nuclear test, said to be a hydrogen bomb explosion registered as a magnitude 6.3 earthquake by the U.S. Geological Survey, the game-space has abruptly shifted.
In a 2015 report it was estimated the regime possessed 10 to 20 devices—consisting of 6 to 8 plutonium devices and 4-8 from weapons-grade uranium (WGU)—with a yield range of about 10 to 30 kilotons. The 100 kiloton test is a 10 fold increase in yield from what experts have estimated. As tensions mount Kim Jung Un is said to be readying another missile test. Kim may order the launch on Saturday September 9 to mark the anniversary of the Foundation of the North Korean Republic. Such a launch could threaten Guam.
In a nut shell, past diplomatic strategies haven’t erased the risk of war. Economic sanctions may have subsidized nuclear ambitions. The hope embodied by the reunification plan agreed to 20 years ago is now stale.
So here we are, once again at the most useless of international organizations the United Nations. Of course Nikki Halli has to go full outrage and ensure the US position is on record, but the UN is going to do squat. A decade of six UN sanctions has not caused the tiny dictatorship to collapse. The latest, Resolution 2371 will not alter the current path.
Kim Jung Un is ramping up. Short of a surprise attack by the US and allies—which at minimum will be a bloodbath for the people of Seoul—why would he stop now? If the only hard resolution to this threat is messy, deadly, and not guaranteed to work, let’s just kick the can down the road.