First a disclaimer: As to what will happen in the North Korea crisis, predicting the future is a fool’s game that everyone plays. We have only educated guesses which will not be entirely correct, and may be wrong.
Here is the reality: North Korea has fired its second long-range ballistic missile in a month, again over Japan. The regime has conducted six nuclear tests.
At this point it is undeniable that the North Korean leadership intends is to develop, test and deploy an intercontinental ballistic missile which can carry a nuclear warhead to America.
Sanctions have not worked. There is insufficient international unity, outright dissembling and lack of cooperation by Russia and China, money to be made from unlawful trade – all of which hollow out those sanctions.
Our choices may soon be:
• To live with a reality that North Korea can send nuclear missiles against US cities just as we lived with a nuclear-armed USSR for forty years. The problem here is that Kim Jong Un’s acquisition of nuclear missiles will be even more dangerous than Nikita Khrushchev’s and will probably set off a modern arms race.
• To remove the North Korean nuclear missile capacity by force.
Time is running out and we hope that a third option is developing now through secret diplomatic channels.
We hope that at the highest levels, the Trump administration has opened a succinct and private conversation with China making these points:
• If North Korea shoots a missile that hits America or its allies, we will hold China responsible because they have the ability to cut off nearly all North Korea’s imports which could destroy the regime or at least force Kim to rethink his goals.
• If China does not do this, we will take decisive military action. We will devastate North Korea with a military attack. But that could escalate into a wider war and could cause millions of North Korean refugees into China. We don’t want war but we will act if we think it necessary.
• If China does stop North Korea, it will be praised and, not incidentally, will receive economic benefits, greater security and status.
This is an exceedingly dangerous time. In terms of recent history, much of the American blame for where we are must go to Jimmy Carter, a popular and decent man who meddled egregiously and arrogantly in this situation in the 1990s forestalling the possibility of effective American-led action when the risks were far less than they are in 2017. Now, it falls to President Trump, an unpopular president in a time of domestic political uproar. Let’s hope for the best.