Crosstalk: What to do about N. Korea?

President Donald Trump is facing what is likely to be his biggest foreign policy crisis a little less than six months after taking office. There are no good options on the table for how to deal with North Korean aggression — thanks to 20 years of appeasement and failed policies by past administrations.

It was ridiculous to see the Washington Post website feature the headline: “Trump has never had a plan for dealing with North Korea” after the rogue nation successfully tested an advanced intercontinental ballistic missile as our Independence Day “gift package.” Seriously? The president has just gotten his bags unpacked in the White House!

North Korea’s missile launch July 4 traveled 600 miles on a “lofted trajectory,” but military analysts believe it would have traveled more than 4,000 miles on a normal trajectory, which puts Alaska well within striking distance.

That’s a game changer.

It has been America’s policy under multiple U.S. presidents that North Korea not be permitted to develop a weapons system that could reach our shores.

It should be abundantly clear now to people who still believe diplomacy (appeasement) can work that economic sanctions have been a dismal failure to stop North Korea from crossing that red line.

U.S. officials said they had never seen the missile launched by North Korea before, which indicated the country has a massive underground weapons complex. That comes as no surprise given that dictator Kim Jong Un and others before him have openly declared the intent to develop a missile armed with nuclear weapons that can reach the U.S.

It is estimated by analysts that North Korea now has 10 to 16 nuclear warheads, and could have more than 100 by 2020, just three years away.

Jong Un is savage and ruthless, totally unpredictable and very likely to carry through on his stated intent of destroying one or more of our cities.

Adding to the worries of Trump and national security advisors is the fact that North Korea and Iran, which has also vowed destruction of the U.S., have a cozy relationship. Whatever technological advances one country makes, the other benefits. With Iran the biggest sponsor of terrorism around the globe, this is a very unholy alliance.

Don’t count on the United Nations Security Council to come up with a workable plan of action for North Korea. That body is corrupt and filled with leaders of countries who have their own political agendas in play.

What makes us all squeamish is the thought of military action, which could result in a high loss of life for both North and South Korea, as well as lost American lives.

The Trump administrtion is pushing for cooperation from China because its leaders have also expressed concern over North Korea having the ability to engage in nuclear warfare.

In the past, China has refused to stop North Korean aggression, in part, because the rogue nation is a buffer against South Korea, an ally of the U.S.

The Chinese could be prompted to act to forestall Japan and South Korea installing a sophisticated anti-missile system that will track down and destroy incoming rockets from North Korea. That would also reduce the power and effectiveness of China’s nuclear arsenal.

Many political analysts believe the key is to use economic incentives or sanctions to get China onboard with a plan to stop North Korean aggression.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin recently announced the U.S. would sanction the Bank of Dandong, a Chinese bank that does business with North Korea, blocking it from access to the U.S. financial system. That is one way to put pressure on China.

The U.S. can also blockade North Korean vessels under the Proliferation Security Initiative, a globally accepted means of stopping the trafficking of weapons or related materials.

There are options for the U.S. but none are going to be achieved easily. The Korea crisis is real and growing. Trump is in a very difficult position, but he must do something.

— RaeLynn Ricarte

There is nothing simple about our relationship with North Korea.

Although China has long been North Korea’s most important ally, biggest trading partner and the main source of food and energy for a country crippled by long-standing international sanctions, China’s recent moves to begin taking a more assertive stance in regards to the reclusive nation have highlighted yet another complication in the international effort to stop North Korea’s nuclear program and aggressive posturing: Even as China pulls back support, Russia, which also shares a border with North Korea, is taking up some of the slack.

Trade between Russia and North Korea increased by 73 percent during the first two months of 2017 compared to the same period the year before, boosted mostly by increased coal deliveries from Russia, according to Russian state-owned news site Sputnik.

Meanwhile China, North Korea's chief political and economic benefactor, said it had curbed coal deliveries to North Korea and taken other steps aimed at persuading North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to halt his nuclear and ballistic missile development programs, according to a report by USA Today.

But then on July 9, following the most recent missile test by North Korea, Russia and China together issued a joint statement reiterating their call for North Korea to stop its missile and nuclear tests in exchange for the U.S. and South Korea holding off on large joint military drills.

Yet within hours of the statement, the U.S. and South Korea announced they had held a new ballistic missile drill to counter “North Korea’s destabilizing and unlawful actions,” according to media reports. The drill tested missile targeting of North Korea's leadership structure.

None of this is new. China and Russia share a border with North Korea. The U.S. and South Korea regularly hold annual military drills which often provoke a fierce response from North Korea.

In a July 6 report, Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshare Fund, an organization working to stop nuclear proliferation, told CNN North Korean officials had previously expressed willingness for two-party talks if U.S. and South Korean exercises were suspended.

Cirincione added, "There is no military option here. Even a limited military strike could escalate to a major war ... (We should) have talks about talks with no preconditions.

“This is what China and Russia and South Korea and Japan are urging us to do," he said.

As always, the United States will have to decide between negotiations and direct “this is not a drill” military action.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaking in Japan, said that “a different approach is required” on North Korea. “Well, I think it’s important to recognize that the diplomatic and other efforts of the past 20 years to bring North Korea to a point of denuclearization have failed.”

And the president himself said, speaking to Reuters, said, “There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely.” And “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will,” he said.

Scary times, and many alternate views!

Yet I oddly take hope in Trump’s own statement back in May, when he said he would be willing to meet with Kim Jong Un "under the right circumstances" to defuse tensions over North Korea's nuclear program. "If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely," Trump told Bloomberg News in an interview.

It was a controversial statement for him to make, just as it was for former President Barack Obama, who said he’d be willing to hold such a meeting as early as the 2008 presidential debates.

“The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this (Bush) administration — is ridiculous,” Obama said.

— Mark Gibson

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