This year has been a headway for North Korea with its nuclear weapons program. With over twenty missiles fired and an intercontinental ballistic missile near completion, the hermit state has become more threatening than ever.
Over the previous years, the world’s reaction to North Korea’s hostile behavior has been relatively easy-going. It has been the usual cycle of Kim Jong Un making threats against the United States to get global attention followed by a talk and financial aid for the destitute country. It is no longer a surprise to South Koreans when they hear of any aggressions from the North.
Things have changed as President Donald Trump turned away from the traditional approach of appeasement. He belligerently responded to the regime’s missile tests on Twitter, warning “Little Rocket Man” of military action if he continues to make any provocations. For a show of American military force, Trump has even ordered an aircraft carrier to the Korean peninsula as well as military drills near the border, bringing the tension closer to a brink of war. The Trump administration may have several valid reasons for a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, ranging from securing alliance and national security to protecting human rights of North Koreans. By numbers, it sounds smarter to overthrow the Kim regime before they master their nuclear weapons program and fire a missile towards a major U.S. city, killing millions of civilians.
However, attacking North Korea may be a worse option for the United States than standing by and observing Kim’s nuclear program grow. One obvious reason is the immediate, all out war against North Korea. Once a missile gets fired at North Korea, it would quickly retaliate with immense amount of firepower, justifying its action as defense against “the white capitalistic pigs.” In this case, it will create a global warfare, leading to instantaneous deaths of people on both sides. There is no need to attack North Korea as soon as possible unless it is for certain that the United States and its allies will be inflicted upon. Though North Korea may make provocations, they won’t cross the line of starting a third world war.
This summer may have been the most heightened point of this tension when North Korea fired a missile over Japan and even threatened to attack Guam, a crucial geographic location for the United States’ military in the Pacific. But North Korea wouldn’t go to the point of actually bringing significant destruction to others because it would simply mean suicide. As much as how ridiculous Kim Jong Un and his top officials may sound when it comes to propaganda against America, they know that extreme provocation will mean the end of their government. Once their missile hits the grounds of another country, other nations will have justification to reciprocate.
Though it seems like he is irrational at some times and doesn’t care about his government, Kim Jong Un cares about his regime. In fact, the entire point of the nuclear weapons program is to sustain his government so that the country will have means of defending itself. Although the United States has warranted its involvement in other governments on the grounds of democracy, it has also assisted overthrowing government with unfavorable foreign policies. Consider Guatemala in 1954 when its president attempted land reforms that put the holdings of an American company, United Fruit Company, in danger. The CIA ended up equipping the Guatemalan rebels and blockading the Guatemalan coast to oust the president.
A more similar case to North Korea is that of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Although Gaddafi agreed to give up his weapons program and even allowed international inspectors for exchange of better foreign relations, his convoy was attacked by airstrikes from the United States and France. Gaddafi himself ended up being beaten and killed by rebel soldiers. Even if Kim Jong Un is taken out, other leaders in the line of North Korean command would take over and resume their activities.
Although a developing weapons programs is alarming, President Donald Trump should consider taking a step back and lessening the United States military activity near the Korean peninsula. Doing so will reduce the need for North Korea to defend itself and increase its ability to focus its budget on actual necessities like infrastructure and agriculture. It is understandable that the entire purpose of the United States military base and drills in South Korea is to defend against any potential attacks from the North. However, it is unlikely such attack will happen even if the United States moves out because the United Nations will come to the South’s aid, just as they did in 1950, and push back the communists.
Besides external influence from military involvement, North Korea is also experiencing internal changes that may deter the nuclear weapons program. Though it is labeled a communist country, black markets of capitalistic ideologies are booming, and their existence is slowly becoming the norm. This adjustment to the North Korean economy means more exposure to outside media and technology which may inform the civilians of their current horrendous state of living and push them towards a revolution. Activists in South Korea are already trying to push for this change by dropping USB cards and floppy disks filled with South Korean TV shows, soap operas and songs. It is just a matter of time before majority of the North Korean population is exposed to the South Korean media.
A lot of current North Korean refugees are already having trouble adjusting to the drastic difference in modern day utilities and social norms, such as internet and freedom of speech. If a war breaks out, North Korean civilians will have an even harder time fitting into society, especially since they are more likely to be brainwashed with North Korean ideologies. It will become more difficult for these people of a war-torn country to rebuild their communities under a new leadership and political doctrine. Rather, it is more efficient to wait for North Koreans to slowly undergo this cultural and political change from within.
President Trump may be trying to display himself as an authoritative figure in this tension with North Korea; however, he should be careful in his approach in dealing with an unpredictable regime in possession of weapons of mass destruction. He should follow Kant’s theory of moral duty and try to assist the country from the inside. Kant would suggest that the United States, as a global power, help out the third world country get back on its feet than to utilize its superior military strength. Rather than easily bringing up military threats, President Trump and his staff should consider methods to change North Korea by employing financial aid and reducing military prominence in the area.
Don’t fight fire with fire, because millions of lives are at stake.