North Korea’s unbridled move to develop nuclear weapons capable of striking the US and its allies in the region is pushing the Korean peninsula towards its most severe crisis in years.
According to an estimate North Korean regime possesses between 10 and 25 nuclear weapons and launch vehicles together with ballistic missiles that could strike South Korea and Japan, where US troops are stationed. Its troops and artillery are scattered across the country, hidden in caves and massed along the border with South Korea. That’s on top of substantial chemical weapons stockpile, a biological weapons research program and an active cyberwarfare capability, as well as elite special operations forces that could pose significant challenge to South Korean forces.
North Korea regime’s survival is hinged on its proximity with South Korea, a US ally, and unpredictability of Kim Jong un regime. Seoul and its 10 million residents are well within North Korea’s artillery range. Nobody knows much about the hermit kingdom. It is difficult to make well-reasoned judgments about what’s going on inside North Korea.
North Korea’s unpredictability has only increased under Kim Jong
Un, who has had family members and top military aides killed for real or perceived slights.
Apart from Trump’s assertion that North Korea will be taken care of, US appears to have no clear objective for North Korea. On the one hand, US officials said Washington is not seeking the collapse of the North Korean regime. On the other hand, Vice President Mike Pence said all options are on the table. The US has to prepare a roadmap about how to get rid of Kim regime or at least prevent it from getting nuclear weapons. Even a smaller US strike might generate a response that’s far from proportional. Any eruption of hostilities could have devastating human and economic costs. Although the US is piling the pressure on Beijing to use its clout with North Korea to rein in its nuclear and missile programs, Beijing has its own predicament and grievances. So while China opposes actions that might topple Kim’s regime and possibly send a wave of refugees across the Chinese border, Beijing has agreed to successive rounds of sanctions since 2006. But the US wants Beijing to do more, possibly including cutting off fuel supplies.
Pyongyang has ignored Beijing’s calls for a suspension of nuclear programs and its requests for high-level bilateral talks. Also, the deployment of US missile system, known as THAAD, in South Korea has irked China which has further complicated the situation. The Trump rhetoric has also put China in a bind. US president said Washington would act alone against North Korea if Beijing fails to solve the problem.
What can be inferred from the prevailing situation is that any military escalation will have global fallout. It is the responsibility of the international community to defuse the tension and work together to push for North Korea to abide by its international obligations. The North Korean leader must be made to re-engage with the international community. And if this happens, the aim should be to achieve a denuclearized Korean peninsula.