North Korea is going nuclear whether we like it or not.
It is time to face an inconvenient truth: despite all our efforts, North Korea will soon possess a fully functioning nuclear weapon system. 20 years of diplomacy that came with a mixture of conservative coercion and liberal persuasion have failed to resolve the issue. While today’s politicians claim that they have brilliant solutions to resolve this international crisis, the fact of the matter is that we are too late. North Korea is at the scientific brink of perfecting its dangerous project.
There are 3 steps to becoming a fully functioning nuclear weapon state. 1) Manufacture 2) Miniaturize 3) Delivery. Almost all experts agree that North Korea has perfected the first stage of manufacturing a weaponized nuclear device (the country’s six nuclear tests provide glaring evidence). While there are still lingering questions on the miniaturization capabilities of North Korea, more recent reports seem to argue that the country has progressed significantly. Recently leaked documents from the US Defense Intelligence Agency, suggest that the US government have concluded that North Korea has finalized the miniaturization stage. The US is not alone; another report from the Japanese Ministry of Defense, also confirmed that the hermit kingdom has perfected its second stage of nuclearization. The last stage, that of delivering the nuclear weapon by means of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) is yet incomplete. Recent missile tests have yielded poor results, and it is generally accepted that North Korean missiles cannot yet reach the US mainland. However, this should be no cause for calm. Even at the North’s current research stage, the rogue nation can still strike any nation between it and Hawaii.
Then if a nuclear North Korea is inevitable, what have politicians, specifically from the US and South Korea done to combat this threat?
The United States, led by its impulsive president, seems to be juggling the idea of a preemptive strike on North Korea. From a strategic perspective a preemptive strike has some merit: it essentially eliminates the danger before it becomes a reality. A similar first-strike plan on the table in 1994 when President Bill Clinton considered preemptively attacking North Korean nuclear facilities in an effort to kill off the North’s program while it was still in its infancy; the plan would have utilized cruise missiles and F-117 stealth fighters to destroy the nuclear facility in Yongbyon. While, President Clinton received assurances from his advisors that the strike plan would succeed, the ultimate reason he chose to abort the mission was because he feared the possibility of immense collateral damage. William Perry, the Defense Secretary in 1994, advised President Clinton that the almost certain consequence would be a devastating military calamity in the Korean peninsula that would incur the deaths of over a million South Korean civilians. This horror is just as true today as it was 23 years ago. As much as bombing a couple of North Korean nuclear sites with a B-1 bomber may sound simple, the President Trump should not forget that by doing so, he would be gambling with the lives of 50 million South Koreans and 25 million North Koreans.
South Korea, the country with perhaps the most to lose in the event of a nuclear North, has demonstrated various political reactions to its nuclear neighbor. South Korea’s liberal party led the newly elected President Moon, still asserts that diplomacy can avert a nuclear North. President Moon recently invited North Korean athletes to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea as one of his moves to try and soothe the North into changing its reckless path. While the plan seems to have pure intentions, it is still highly unlikely that such strategies would have much effect on the defiant North (especially as it has continued its nuclear/missile tests even in President Moon’s regime). The conservative faction on the other hand, has had a drastic shift in policy in recent years. While they continue to maintain their party stance of crippling North Korea through repeated sanctions, recent nuclear tests have pushed for a new initiative: South Korean nuclear armament. The current head of the conservative party has openly supported the mutually assured destruction by stating that South Korea should develop its own nuclear weapons. And yet such plans are even less likely to come to fruition. Apart from the immense cost and technology needed to build a nuclear weapon program, it is highly doubtful that the conservative party would risk a policy move that could permanently cripple the US-Korea military alliance.
It is a certainly hard truth to swallow. A country that has on repeated occasions sworn to destroy the United States will soon have the capability to obliterate major US cities. What steps we take from that point are still uncertain. However, today’s politicians must understand that neither outright denial, drastic escalation, nor disregard for the deaths of millions of civilians will solve this issue.