President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have traded increasing bellicose messages strongly suggesting the possible use of force against one another. It is entirely possible that a single misstep by one nation or the other would result in a nuclear engagement that could kill millions of people.
In addition to threatening “fire and fury,” President Donald Trump is seeking enhanced sanctions on North Korea, particularly by China. China has shown little interest in bringing down the North Korean government, and apparently, sanctions have had little effect on the North Korean government, except to harden their positions.
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In my opinion, both of the approaches are basically wrong in that they promote the isolation of North Korea. I believe that we would be better served by enhancing the involvement of North Korea in world’s economic, societal, and political environments.
It is apparent that the county’s desire for nuclear weapons are primarily based on fear — as well as its interest in increasing its position in world affairs. When the U.S. demonstrated the practicality of nuclear weapons, the Russians determined that they had to have such weapons as a deterrent to U.S. use. When the Russians developed such weapons, China determined that it must have such weapons to protect itself.
Similar concerns led to nuclear weapons development in India — and then Pakistan, then Afghanistan, and then Iran. Similar concerns led to weapons development in England and France. Israel, faced with the overwhelming power of its Middle East neighbors — including a possible nuclear-armed Iran — also felt the need for its own weapons. Ironically, these nuclear weapons have helped to maintain a continuing — if fretful — peace between the nations involved. (It might be noted that Crimea and Ukraine had no nuclear weapons.)
Not surprisingly, North Korea had similar concerns about its own security or even existence. In 1950, armed forces of the United States and South Korea invaded the country and would have probably taken over the country if China had not intervened. In addition to the ground invasion, the United States introduced almost indiscriminate carpet bombings that killed thousands of North Korean civilians. (More recently the American president has threatened “a strong – a very strong — military conflict with North Korea.”)
The reality is that no outside threats will convince the leaders of North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons or long-range guided missiles. To them, having such weapons is the key to their survival. The only nation to voluntarily abandon its nuclear weapons program was South Africa, which had no potential enemies with such weapons.
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Since the probability of North Korea giving up its weapons is small at best, the question is what should the United States and, indeed the world, do in the situation. I believe what the world should do is to encourage the country’s increasing involvement with other nations, regional organizations, and international bodies. Such inclusion could minimize concerns about outside interference and promote appropriate policies and actions by North Korean leaders.
The United States’ failure to join the Trans Pacific Trade Agreement has left China as the economic powerhouse of the Far East. Therefore, that country will be the one that can best integrate North Korea into the family of responsible nations.
Ironically, China can best resolve the current dangerous situation — not by punishing North Korea, as recommended by many American leaders, but by integrating it into world affairs.
Vanston, of Austin, is chairman of Technology Futures and a former professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Texas.