Just days after launching a missile strike on a Syrian airfield, the U.S. Navy sent a strike force to the Korean Peninsula. As President Donald Trump met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, The aircraft carrier U.S.S. Carl Vinson and a cadre of other military ships were rerouted from Singapore to Korea.
The strike force was sent in response to the missile tests North Korea has been conducting over the past few months. Pyongyang will hold a military parade on April 15 to celebrate the one-hundred-fifth birthday of Kim Il Sung, its first president, and current President Kim Jong Un’s grandfather. The parade also marks the eighty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army.
National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster believes the deployment is a prudent action. In an interview with Reuters, he said:
This is a rogue regime that is now a nuclear-capable regime, and President Xi and President Trump agreed that that is unacceptable, that what must happen is the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
McMaster — among others — believes that sending a naval strike force to the region is a necessary show of strength. However, it seems that this move on the part of the U.S. is more than the requisite saber rattling. Reuters also reports:
North Korean officials, including leader Kim Jong Un, have repeatedly indicated an intercontinental ballistic missile test or something similar could be coming, possibly as soon as April 15, the 105th birthday of North Korea’s founding president and celebrated annually as “the Day of the Sun.”
North Korean missile tests are not the only issue. There is also a concern that North Korea may be planning its sixth nuclear test. In an interview with The Washington Post, a spokesman for the Pacific Command, Dave Benham, stated: “The number one threat in the region continues to the North Korea, due to its reckless, irresponsible and destabilizing program of missile tests and pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability.”
Tensions between the U.S. and the North Korean regime continue to escalate. In January, Kim Jong Un announced that North Korea had reached the final stages for a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could potentially hit the United States. In response, President Trump tweeted: “North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!”
North Korea was one of the main topics of discussion during the meeting between President Trump and President Xi Jinping. President Trump had previously made it known that if China would not pressure North Korea to halt its nuclear program, the United States would take action on its own. After the meeting, it appears that both presidents are on the same page regarding North Korea. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently told CBS:
They had a very lengthy exchange on– on the subject yesterday morning. I think it was a very useful and productive exchange. President Xi clearly understands, and– and I think agrees, that the situation has intensified and has reached a certain level of threat that action has to be taken.
Ideally, China will press North Korea to halt their nuclear program. However, the Chinese approach to North Korea thus far indicates that their stance is unlikely to change.
Regardless of China’s intentions, the situation with Pyongyang is a precarious one. For the past two decades, multiple presidential administrations have tried to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. They have tried diplomacy, sanctions, and even bribery – all to no avail. Each administration has attempted to avoid war with the totalitarian state but has failed to make any real progress. Unfortunately, war seems inevitable.
Since it is clear that diplomacy and sanctions will not deter North Korea, there only appear to be two options. The first is to go to war with Pyongyang. Undoubtedly, it would become an enormous undertaking; it would cost many lives and numerous resources. Not only would we have to contend with the North Korean army, but China would very likely defend their ally. South Korea and Japan would possibly become involved as well. War with China is an unattractive option for both sides.
Even if the U.S. were able to remove the current North Korean regime, they would run into an all-too-familiar problem. The U.S. would need to determine what happens next in the region. They would have to engage in the type of nation-building to which many Americans — both on the left and right — are opposed. The rebuilding efforts could cost billions of dollars and military engagement over an extended period of time.
The other option is to allow the North Korean regime to implode. Although the Kim dynasty has managed to retain power for three generations by oppressing its citizenry, there are those who believe that a successful revolt is still possible. If there is no revolt, it is still possible that the government will collapse. Kyle Mizokami, a defense and national-security writer for National Interest, explains this issue:
North Korea has one-quarter the GDP of Ethiopia. Even in the best of times it struggles to feed all of its people. The government is brutal and alienating to the lowest tiers of society. Neighboring a rich South Korea and increasingly prosperous China, North Korean citizens are increasingly aware of the disparity in their standard of living versus their neighbors. This is not a new situation, and a collapse of the Pyongyang regime—or a revolt against it—has been prophesied many times over the past three decades. While it’s smart not to bet on a collapse anytime soon, no government lasts forever, and this particular one has severe structural weaknesses.
This option might seem more attractive to many but it is not likely to happen anytime soon. By the time North Korea falls, the damage could already be done. If North Korea develops intercontinental ballistic missiles, they could launch their own strikes on the U.S. mainland. A North Korea with expanded nuclear capabilities is a problem for the entire world. Finally, if the North Korean regime disintegrates, the potential rush by both the U.S. and China to fill the resulting power vacuum could start a war.
There seems to be no positive solution to the conflict between the U.S. and North Korea. A peaceful settlement would be the ideal but is also unlikely. As stated previously, the U.S. and the rest of the world have attempted to broker resolutions with Pyongyang, but it seems Kim Jong Un is not interested in peace. It is a harsh reality, but a violent confrontation with North Korea seems unavoidable. The real question is whether it will happen now or later.