There is no military threat against the United States that looms larger than North Korea. Its dictator, Kim Jong-un, has said that his goal is to separate South Korea from the U.S., thereby exposing the south to a coerced confederation or unification on the north’s terms. This is precisely why Kim’s nuclear weapons are ultimately offensive in nature. Experts on the subject tell me that the North Korean dictator is indeed not insane, but rather very insecure.
If North Korea were to continue to develop its nuclear capability and provoked a nuclear conflict with the United States, the consequences would be catastrophic. Millions of people on the Korean peninsula would die, and Americans from Guam to the mainland would be potential nuclear targets. That’s why everything possible should be done to prevent this potential holocaust from happening.
President Trump has drawn a red line against North Korea’s nuclear threat, but the devil, as they say, is in the details of effectively deterring that threat. The U.S. is fortunate to have the combined experience of seasoned military advisers and an equally strong diplomatic team working to defuse the crisis.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly are all former generals with extensive combat experience and a keen awareness of the horrors of war. Having led troops in battle, they are ideally suited to convey to the North Koreans the deadly price of a war with the U.S. Mattis, in particular, put it perfectly when he warned the North Koreans that “any threat to the United States or its territories, including Guam, or our allies will be met with a massive military response, a response both effective and overwhelming.”
So, unless the North Korean regime is suicidal, it would be well advised to de-escalate this conflict. That’s why a strong international effort, led by the U.S., is so crucial. It is time to fully enforce United Nations sanctions and continue to push for new ones should the situation continue to escalate. We should immediately implement, in full, the secondary sanctions that Trump announced at the U.N. General Assembly last month. While we have sanctioned small banks here and some individuals there, we have not yet gone after the major mainland-Chinese entities and banks that keep North Korea in business. Why not? Let’s do it. Do it now, and be severe about it. Be thorough.
Other countries must also be pressed to assist in this effort. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and our ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, have been actively recruiting international support. Mexico, Kuwait, the European Union, and more than 20 other nations recently expelled North Korean diplomats and/or curtailed their business with Pyongyang. Even Russia recently imposed restrictions on North Korea.
Malaysia halted all North Korean imports and banned its citizens from visiting the country, while the Philippines cut off all trade with Pyongyang. Let’s now hope that other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, like Singapore and Indonesia, will follow suit. And China — North Korea’s most powerful supporter — should be pushed to curtail its trade with Kim and cut off his oil supply.
Other strong steps would help. Countries using North Korean slave laborers could send them home, which would deliver a powerful signal of worldwide revulsion over the country’s actions, and would deny Kim’s regime hard currency. Cracking down on Pyongyang’s diplomatic corps is also key, because its embassies function as an overseas office network for the multinational criminal enterprise that is North Korea.
Peaceful regime change should be the goal of U.S. military and diplomatic policy. By keeping up the international pressure on Kim, along with continued deterrence, the world might be able to contain his aggressive impulses, eventually displace his horrible regime, and prevent a war the world can ill afford.
Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.