Home Opinion OPINION: We must make peace with North Korea, here’s how

OPINION: We must make peace with North Korea, here’s how

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After listening to a speaker on the topic Tuesday, opinion writer Sam Smith shares his takeaways on peace with North Korea.

Dr. Sung-Yoon Lee of Tufts University spoke at an on-campus forum Tuesday night in an event titled “Containing Kim Jong Un: Five Myths About North Korea.”

Lee is the Kim Koo-Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Studies. He has testified in front of Congress, advised an unspecified President of the United States and contributed to various publications including The New York Times and CNN.

Because of the dangers of a war with North Korea, the only way to deal with its threats are global economic sanctions which result in effective negotiations with the nation.

Somewhat humorously acknowledging his grammatical error, Lee said “uniquely unique” is the best way to describe North Korea. It is the only communist country to have a family dynastic regime. Power has been passed from father to son twice since the country’s birth in 1948. North Korea is the only state that produces meth, heroin and counterfeit American items (like cigarettes and $100 bills) to sell to fund itself.

North Korea’s military is unique as well. Military spending makes up about 22 percent of its total GDP. This is incredible compared to the one percent of GDP that most countries spend. Also, 20 percent of North Korean men from 16-to-50 years of age are in its military. In terms of manpower, it has the fourth largest military in the world.

Oh, North Korea also has nuclear weapons.

Beyond nuclear capabilities, North Korea has missiles of all ranges, some of which are even capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, which has recently become a problem for American diplomacy. With an army of over 1.1 million and extensive artillery capabilities, the North Korean Army poses a large threat to South Korea and Japan. Both are longtime rivals of North Korea but are also allies of the U.S.

Tensions have risen between the United States and North Korea due to the aggressive nationalistic leadership of Kim Jong Un and the unpredictable American diplomacy under President Donald Trump.

Despite this, one thing is for sure: for decades, American policy toward North Korea has been flawed.

Many Americans underestimate North Korea’s ability. “Little Rocket Man,” as Trump called Kim Jong Un, actually has dangerous rockets aimed at major cities in Japan and South Korea (a combined population of over 176 million) at all times. If there were to be any aggression aimed toward North Korea, these two countries would likely be the first to face its wrath. This could result in World War III.

Ohio University Professor of American Public Policy and Administration Dr. Jay Ryu also pointed out the risk of U.S. or South Korean aggression. Ryu, who is South Korean himself, highlighted a highly conservative faction in South Korea that could be inspired to launch an attack due to hawkish rhetoric in America. Even Trump has said that he has weighed a preemptive strike, an attack taken to reduce a potential future threat. A war with North Korea could be costly on all fronts.

Because of this, it is important to be diplomatically adept. In other words, do not follow the example of Vice President Mike Pence at the PyeongChang Olympics, who did not stand upon the entrance of the Unified Korean Team and seemed to ignore Kim Yo Jong, the sister of the North Korean leader. Pence’s behavior condemns North Korea, and for good reason, but he makes America look petty in the process. Kim Yo Jong, on the other hand, makes North Korea look peaceful in the public eye. The Olympics, a display of world peace through sport, are not the time for this protest.

Some remain too optimistic about North Korea. It has attempted to look graceful to the world in the past, like at the 2003 University Games in South Korea when it sent a cheer squad that stunned the world with its beauty. However what the world seemed to ignore, at the time, was that North Korea was developing a nuclear weapon in tandem, which was tested in 2006. Similar deception could be underway in 2018.

North Korea’s diplomacy is not as unpredictable as some believe. Examples of provocation just below the threshold of retaliation are common. In 1969, North Korea shot down an American airplane over international waters, killing 31 Americans. What did America do? Nothing. North Korea knew the U.S. was unlikely to react due its entanglement in Vietnam and its fear of the USSR. North Korea is not stupid.

If provoked, North Korea could do incredible amounts of damage before the U.S. could muster a silencing response, even if American military power is far superior to that of North Korea. Military confrontations must be avoided.

Two possible ways of countering North Korea are furthering sanctions that damage its economy and accepting that it is a real threat.

Imposing sanctions must be a global effort. America must use its economic influence to rally its allies, specifically China, for assistance in imposing said sanctions. This can be done by punishing companies and nations that do not adhere to policies passed by global organizations like the United Nations.

Economic sanctions would hope to force North Korea into negotiations with global authorities. However, appeasement will only perpetuate the status quo.

Lee said that in the past 25 years, North Korea has taken $20 billion in aid from the United States without making any real diplomatic change. If economic sanctions brought North Korea to a true rock bottom, it would either be forced into negotiations or its regime would collapse. Any diplomatic steps would then have to be enforceable and measurable, for example the reduction of artillery units near the South Korean border. Unfortunately, North Korean diplomacy is just not open enough right now to have such discussions.

North Korea’s closed nature may stem from our national inability to take it seriously. We tend to blow it off as the laughing stock of the world, when in reality, the threat it poses is imminent.

The North Korean threat can only be dealt with safely by recognizing its power and avoiding war at all costs. Global efforts with directed sanctions could then facilitate negotiations with achievable outcomes.

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