North Korea is back in the spotlight. The rogue nation, according to International Business Times, recently threatened to turn the U.S. and South Korea into “a pile of ashes.”
The threat comes in the midst of the two nations’ annual joint military exercises. North Korea promised to make good on their threat should either nation show aggression towards their territory.
Such threats are hardly anything new, but they are still a serious matter. A country with nuclear weapons can never be carelessly dismissed. With this in mind, the U.S. must forge a policy that’s tough, but cognoscent of the limitations of providing undue pressure.
A few weeks ago, “North Korea test-fired two ballistic missiles in an apparent response to the scheduled deployment of the THAAD missile defense system in South Korea’s southern county of Seongju.” While one of them exploded right after launch, the other landed into the sea.
It is obvious that North Korean leadership needs to talk tough to project an image of strength. When such missile tests repeatedly fail, officials need to ramp up incendiary remarks. It is the only way that they can hope to appear legitimate.
Their missile capabilities may still be in the developmental stage, but their military is still strong enough to make a move on South Korea if they felt significantly provoked. The U.S. must work to prevent a scenario where they are drawn into a conflict; one that would inevitably involve China as well.
Considering this, the United States must pursue a path that takes a hard-line with North Korea, but not one that backs them into a corner. Recklessly pressing them may be the “strong” route, but it isn’t the smart route.
Making a desperate nation even more desperate is no path to success, but giving them free-reign to do whatever they want is no solution, either.
North Korea still wants to preserve themselves, despite their heated rhetoric. They make provocative threats, but have shown no means or intention of following through when no peril actually exists.
They certainly would retaliate if they truly felt that they were being provoked or endangered. As it stands, however, they seem to be content blaming the West to project legitimacy to their starving people.
To make a breakthrough, the United States must attempt to muster some form of humility. Or at the very least, some illusion of it. History provides examples of this principle in action.
When North Korea seized the USS Pueblo in 1968, the service-members on board didn’t earn their freedom through brash action. Ultimately, they feigned guilt, while defying North Korean leadership on their way out.
Truthfully, it was not a great PR move for the United States to have their troops sign confessions of their “crimes” against North Korea. However, we achieved our ultimate goal of freeing those men.
South Korea may not approve of negotiations, but sometimes a nation must pursue the right course at the expense of their allies’ wishes. The status quo is certainly untenable.
The United States must be willing to come to the table with North Korea, even if it’s on some of their terms. If they feel that they’re being treated as equal partners, even if they’re not in reality, they’ll likely be more inclined to meet.
If they feel that they’re being used, they will never agree to talk. They can weather the storm, because they’re not held responsible for their people’s suffering.
An agreement that lets North Korea proclaim victory, even as they make concessions to the United States, is the only deal that can work. Forcing them to bow to Western demands, where it appears that they get nothing in return, will lead to failure.
Certainly, China will have to be a part of this process. While they have not been willing to cede the barrier between South Korea, a strong U.S. ally, and themselves, they have just as much riding on the outcome.
An unstable North Korea poses a danger to everyone. China must maintain stability as well, especially as slowing growth threatens the ruling party’s legitimacy to rule. If North Korea continues to antagonize their trading partners, China could ultimately be forced into action.
North Korea has been making threats for too long, and U.S. sanctions have supported their rhetoric. If the United States approaches the table with humility, feigned as it might be, the North Koreans might be willing to listen. Otherwise, we can enjoy these incidents occurring perpetually until someone decides to pull the trigger.
Brett Linley is a Young Voices Advocate, and a Hofstra University graduate.