If the choice today is do nothing and watch North Korea arm up with nuclear weapons, or attack and watch the devastation of South Korea in the ensuing war, Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, writing at The American Conservative, offers a third way forward.
Current attempts to eliminate the North’s nuclear program seem doomed to failure. The North has repeatedly said it won’t voluntarily yield its nuclear program. When I visited Pyongyang in June, officials blamed Washington’s “hostile policy” and promised to match America nuke for nuke.
Military action would risk triggering the Second Korean War. The Kim regime is likely to take any attack as a prelude to regime change. Reportedly the lesson learned by the Korean People’s Army from recent U.S. military operations is not to cede the initiative to America. While the U.S. (and Republic of Korea) forces would prevail in any war, the cost could be horrific, especially to South Koreans, whose land would be the primary battlefield, at least initially.
So Washington needs to take a different direction. Business as usual won’t work. What to do?
Drop the “Mutual” Defense Treaty and withdraw U.S. forces from South Korea. The alliance is outmoded.
Encourage South Korea to replace America’s “nuclear umbrella” with its own nuclear deterrent.
Does America forever want to risk Los Angeles and Seattle—and maybe Chicago and New York City as well—to protect Seoul, Tokyo, Canberra, and other cities in the region?
Propose a neutral reunited Korea to increase Chinese pressure on the North.
If the DPRK gains nuclear-tipped missiles capable of targeting cities and bases in the continental U.S., no rational president would consider fighting a war of choice against the North.
Yet present policy appears headed down this path. Only if the Trump administration rethinks conventional wisdom does Washington have a chance of getting out of the policy cul-de-sac in which if finds itself. For once U.S. leaders should put the defense of America before that of assorted allies and friends.
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