Nothing fake about itThe April crisis was not rumor but fact. South Koreans just couldn’t be bothered to take it seriously. After ordering the USS Carl Vinson and USS Nimitz aircraft carriers to the waters of South Korea, President Donald Trump said, “All options are on the table.” Chinese President Xi Jinping talks more than an hour on the phone with Washington to discourage a military clash. In the meantime, Pyongyang continues to flex its muscles with missile launches. But the South Korean foreign ministry claimed there was no crisis. Come on. If the April crisis is really fake news as the ministry claims, the entire U.S. media is unreliable.
The U.S. media seems to assume that Washington’s military action against North Korea is a fact. CNN and Fox News are ringing alarm bells by posting “North Korea” and “Military Action” on their news tickers. Not just the media but Congress also feels that action is needed. Politicians compete to make calls for retaliation against North Korea. On April 13, a 58-minute-long State Department briefing mentioned North Korea 26 times. Only two weeks ago, North Korea was mentioned one or two times at most. Military action against the North appears to have crossed the point of no return. Trump may have blown up the situation by making a series of threats.
Washington’s North Korea policy in the past two decades was a cycle of threats and negotiations. The principle of compromise was working, as Washington started with intimidation but soon pursued negotiation due to the limits of military operations. According to this principle, the following can be expected.
Stage 1: Sanctions and military pressure from the U.S. and China result in elevated tension on the Korean Peninsula. Stage 2: North Korea conducts a nuclear or missile test, or both. Stage 3: The United States deploys tactical nuclear weapons in the Korean Peninsula, and a volatile situation occurs. Stage 4: China mediates to avoid a war, and the United States reluctantly agrees to resolve the crisis through talks. Stage 5: Pyongyang and Washington agree on freezing the North’s nuclear and missiles programs after intense negotiation.
If the ultimate compromise is freezing of the programs based on a loose form of denuclearization, North Korea can maintain the capability to strike Korea and Japan, leaving the continental U.S. out of the range. It is not necessarily bad for China either. Then, Korea would be helpless, living under an approved, constant threat. Will the situation progress according to the five stages? Do we know which stage we are in now?
Military action is no doubt the worst outcome. “War is not an adventure. It is a disease. It is like typhus,” said Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The latest mood reminds us of an epidemic. It is similar to how the justification of removing weapons of mass destruction amplified into strikes on Iraq in 2003 during the Bush administration.
It is outdated optimism to think that America would prioritize the 25 million hostages in the Seoul area. The United States blockaded Cuba, risking the possibility of World War III or a nuclear war. Seoul claims that the Korea-U.S. alliance is more solid than ever. But the United States excluded South Korea from the defense line and tempted the North to invade the South when it faced the direst situation after the Acheson line declaration in January 1950. Uncle Sam also decided to withdraw the USFK without consultation with Seoul in 1970. The United States didn’t really have Korea in mind.
We should assume the worst. A crisis could be avoided with China’s involvement. However, Trump won’t delay the decision for long because he knows that ballistic missiles loaded with plutonium warheads will be completed within the year. It is only a matter of time.
And yet, our five presidential candidates seem to lack a roadmap or even a sense of crisis. It is simply ridiculous that Ahn Cheol-soo thinks that he and Trump are both alumni of the Wharton School and therefore would have a lot in common. In fact, except for Trump’s daughter Ivanka, none of the White House senior staff or cabinet members are affiliated with Wharton, suggesting Trump attaches little significance to the school tie.
All candidates naively say that they would not allow Washington to take unilateral military action. It is pathetic that our voters must choose from these candidates. But we don’t have time to lament. As the government refuses to admit that we are in a crisis, the candidates must seriously consider the idea of sending a joint delegation to Washington and Beijing to represent our position.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 18, Page 34
*The author is the Washington bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.