With the North Korean launch of an ICBM with the capability to reach the US, the specter of war has crept into the news media. Of course, much discussion revolves around President Trump and the fear that he invokes in a large segment of the left. What history teaches us however is that the direction Trump is taking us is one in which the potential for war should be reduced. I will add one caveat, what history has taught was based on interactions between rational actors, Kim Jong-Un may not fit that profile.
Much has been written about the ideals of continuing diplomatic avenues or increasing sanctions against North Korea, these have been the responses since the Clinton administration, and have resulted in various degrees of failure. I have read that there are no real options other than containment and sanctions. Many analysts insist that there is no viable military option because that will lead to a war where millions are killed. Kim Jong-Un, they say, is only developing nuclear weapons to protect his regime and will not use them since he must know it is suicide.
I must respectfully disagree with many of these analyst, the North Korean military exist, in the mind of the leadership, for one reason and one reason only, to reunite the Korean peninsula under Pyongyang. This has been true since the beginning under Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-un’s grandfather. In the third generation of the Kim dynasty the desire is strong to fulfill that pledge. North Korea does not however have a leader with a world view and whose only true military experience has come from an obsession with playing video games. In other words, he does not see using his military or nuclear weapons as a problem. It is a means to an end and will bring him glory and victory.
Ending the existence of nuclear weapons, or at least restricting the number of countries that possess them has been the desire of most of the world since 1945. This desire has failed and resulted in several countries joining the nuclear club. In no case has any country that desired a nuclear weapon been stopped from achieving that aim through diplomacy. What has been effective was stopping the use of these weapons through a concept known as Mutually Assured Destruction or MAD. Once a nuclear exchange was initiated the response would be immediate and total. What made this effective was not the possibility of a destructive response but its assurance.
In recent history, especially in the last eight years, this assurance has been missing and it is causing the Trump administration to face the facts that not just the threat of war but military action is likely to be needed with North Korea. The world is facing the return of a peace through strength doctrine. When President Obama took the military option off the table or severely limited its use it sent a message to the world that anti-American actions would not always be followed by military actions and that diplomatic punishment was of little consequence.
In the last 5 months Trump has responded to a Syrian Chemical attack with a missile attack on the airfield that launched it, shot down a Syrian plan that had attacked our allies, run freedom of navigation drills through the south china sea and moved more military equipment to South Korea. The question remains if these and other activity are sufficient to convince the other side that US doctrine has changed. North Korea will never be convinced since their leadership lives in a bubble, assured of their invincibility. The countries that must be convinced are South Korea and Japan who will face the most devastation in the event of war, and China and Russia who have the most to lose in the event of North Korea being defeated and absorbed into a single Korea under Seoul.
This can be done given enough time and support from the American people and the international community. The center of this new doctrine comes not from old political thinking but from the infusion of business and nontraditional thinkers. This is not the first-time new ways of addressing old problems has come from nontraditional sources. Returning to the concept of MAD it was best explained in mid 1960s works by Dr. Thomas Schelling, an economics professor from Harvard and Yale. In his book Arms and Influence Dr. Schelling showed that in the realm of international diplomacy there is always a military component, unlike traditional belief that the use of military was diplomacy by other means we now learned that there is a coercive part. This last was referred to as the diplomacy if violence. The existence of a strong military by itself was sufficient to bring a just resolution to a problem. The only drawback to this is that the other side must have no doubt you will in fact use your military if needed. This is the part that has been a blockage to effective diplomacy for the US in recent years, there was a lot of doubt and in some cases absolute belief that no military action would take place.
President Trump is now caught in a period of changing doctrine and getting the world to accept and understand there is a change. In the case of North Korea, we don’t know how much time we have where the threat of military force to coerce a decision will be effective, or will we get to a point that we must compel an end. If forced to use the military many will die, Seoul will be devastated as will Tokyo, and China will be forced to move to stop a unified Korea to avoid a democratic western nation on its border.
The world is a dangerous place, made more dangerous when indecisive ideologs are running foreign policy. With a President who is less experienced in diplomacy and more in standing up for principles we have a chance of making the world safer by making war a probable outcome of the bullying tactics that have unfortunately been successful in the recent past.