Maximum pressure means peace
The false alert in Hawaii about a missile attack on Jan. 13 shows how Americans feel a substantial threat from North Korea’s nuclear weapons. The Trump administration cannot last if it cannot ward off North Korea, a terrorism-sponsoring state, which threatens to attack the continental United States and bring it to ruin. But such a task is beyond President Donald Trump and the Republican Party. The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review of the United States, published on Feb. 2, discusses customized strategies to shut down North Korea’s nuclear program and end the Kim Jong-un regime.
For the past 25 years, governments in South Korea, the United States and China have been “passing the bomb.” As the end is near, however, the bomb cannot be tossed to another country anymore. As North Korea is close to completing nuclear missiles that can attack the continental United States, Washington cannot rule out a military option. Moreover, the United States may be disappointed that South Korea let down its guard as an ally.
The relationship between China and North Korea, often said to be as close as lips and teeth, is also shaky. As the confrontation between America and China escalates worldwide, the United States is pressuring China, demanding cooperation on the North Korean nuclear issue. As North Korea’s nuclear possession could lead to the nuclear armaments of South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, China cannot condone North Korea’s nuclear program. So the Xi Jinping government might also hope to replace the Kim Jong-un regime.
What will happen after the PyeongChang Winter Olympics’ peaceful mood ends? The United States will likely soon announce its strongest and most aggressive economic sanctions. At the foreign ministers’ meeting attended by 20 countries in January, a sea blockade was discussed. As the United States stated, strong sanctions could be announced, the temporarily postponed Korea-U.S. joint military exercises would begin, and sea interdiction, if not a blockade, could be imposed. North Korea will protest. It will prepare a test launch of inter-continental ballistic missiles, and the United States will immediately detect it.
Then the United States would worry that the missile would be a violation of UN resolutions and warn that it will destroy North Korea with a precision strike unless the launch preparation is stopped. Military tension on the Korean Peninsula would escalate, and while the anti-war, anti-American sentiments spread, the economy would be affected. It would be fortunate if North Korea backs off, but if it does not, the United States would launch a missile loaded with a blast-fragmentation warhead. The United States would argue that it was a justifiable intervention that fulfills UN resolutions. If North Korea responds with a long-range artillery strike, the United States will make targeted strikes again.
The United States’ North Korea policy is “maximum pressure and intervention.” It is not one or the other. Maximum pressure of economic sanctions and military pressure is made for maximum intervention and the peaceful abandonment of its nuclear program. North Korea’s will for nuclear possession is clear. Nevertheless, maximum pressure would force North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. Pressure is not, in fact, an actual attack. Rather, it is a tactic used to deter attacks. A surgical attack is a part of maximum pressure in this wider concept of the term.
Victor Cha’s designation as U.S. Ambassador to Korea was withdrawn not just because he opposed a “bloody nose” operation. Washington must have cancelled the nomination because they thought Cha could not fulfill the position representing U.S. interests. Regardless of the plausibility of actual attacks, maximum pressure would not work if the U.S. Ambassador to Korea and the Korean president say a war could not happen. Then the United States would be left with the actual means of attack, not pressure.
South Korea cannot live with a nuclear presence in the North. Peace will come when you are resolved for war. Maximum pressure on North Korea means peace.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 15, Page 25
*The author, a former ambassador to Belarus, is a professor at Catholic Kwandong University.