Is Peace Possible With North Korea?


“I wish for world peace” is a common thing to hear when you ask people what they wish for this world. But how far do we have to go, and could go, to ensure it? Would it be acceptable to use force against someone that threatens peace? Although being the one trying to keep the peace and being the one that threatens the peace should have a clear division, the truth is that there are blurred lines between both categories.

Trying to keep things peaceful can be quite difficult, especially when trying to maintain peace with someone that does not care for peace. Trying to do so is like trying to get a child to stop bullying another child: you could either take physical action, like spank them, or take the nonviolent route. Using physical force would just be hypocritical: how can you use violence to tell somebody else that violence is not okay?

Today, the United States faces a similar dilemma with North Korea. North Korea, which is building its nuclear weapons program, is the child bully, and the U.S., who is trying to disarm North Korea of its nuclear weapons, is the adult figure trying to keep the child in line. Since 1985, the U.S. has tried to get North Korea to comply with the Nonproliferation Treaty, “which requires non-nuclear weapon states to forswear the development and acquisition of nuclear weapons.” Throughout all those years, North Korea did not pose a real threat to the U.S. since they did not have a missile that was able to strike North America. But now that has all changed. Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, successfully tested a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on July 4 that is capable of reaching Alaska and Hawaii. This test led experts to believe that Pyongyang could develop an ICBM as early as next year.

Because of this incoming threat, disarming North Korea of its nuclear weapons has become a top priority. To the U.S., trying to disarm North Korea is like negotiating with the child mentioned earlier. After so many years of failed negotiations, many more citizens are pushing for the use of military force against North Korea. But instead of using military force, we should look back at past negotiations and agreements and see what mistakes we should avoid in the future.

Past presidents, from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama, have all tried to negotiate and impose sanctions on North Korea. Bill Clinton negotiated an agreement, called the Agreed Framework, that gave North Korea light-water reactors in exchange for stopping their nuclear program. George W. Bush stated that North Korea was in the “Axis of Evil” and tried to place fuel oil sanctions on them for violating the terms of the Agreed Framework. This resulted in the end of the agreement and Pyongyang resuming its nuclear program, with Bush unsuccessfully trying to renegotiate. Barack Obama had a policy of “strategic patience” and the Leap Day Agreement that failed only three weeks.

Even though there have been many failed agreements between the United States and North Korea, the failed agreements, negotiations and sanctions of the past three presidents should be taken as lessons for President Donald Trump.

Despite the failure of Obama’s Leap Day Agreement, it had two features that should be used again in future negotiations. It called for a “[freeze] on long-range missile launches, nuclear tests and nuclear activities at Yongbyon, including uranium enrichment activities” and offered food aid as a bargaining chip.

Using a broad term like “nuclear activities” and specifying the barring of “uranium enrichment activities” prevents Pyongyang from finding loopholes in the negotiation (plutonium is the main material in nuclear weapons, so North Korea started to experiment with enriched uranium). In addition, offering food aid was the “only ‘payment’ to Pyongyang that was any longer politically acceptable in Washington” and did not provide more resources for nuclear production, like the reactors Clinton offered in his agreement.

The fatal flaw of the Leap Day Agreement was that despite the use of the broad term “nuclear activities,” it failed to mention space launches. North Korea took advantage of this and launched a weather satellite with banned missile technology, claiming that they did not violate the agreement since it did not specify the restriction of space launches. When coming up with a new agreement or negotiation, the U.S. has to consider ALL types of activities that they want banned, and consider the possible loopholes in the agreement.

Conjuring up a plan to disarm North Korea will be difficult, especially since President Trump’s only option seems to be negotiations. The only other option that President Trump could pursue is military force.

Military force should be a last resort for an obvious reason: the amount of casualties that would result from it. If military action were to be taken, North Korea could retaliate by attacking South Korea, an ally of the United States. South Korea’s capital, Seoul, is 30 miles from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and one-third of Seoul is in range from artillery along the DMZ. A study concluded that if North Korea did attack Seoul, about 64,000 people would die in the first day.

If there are that many deaths in the first day, imagine how many lives would be lost in the duration of a war with North Korea. The war could be short or last as long as the War on Terrorism, which has been going on for sixteen years and counting. Regardless of the length of the war, many lives are at stake. Are the deaths of that many people, mainly innocent civilians, worth ensuring that the United States does not have the potential threat of being attacked by Kim Jong-un’s ICBMs?

Another way that North Korea could retaliate is by attacking the U.S. with its ICBMs that are capable of reaching Alaska and Hawai’i. Here in Hawai’i, the federal government is not doing much to protect us, and the state government had to prepare its own preparedness plan in the case of a nuclear attack from North Korea. Hawai’i has a bunker that is being considered for “key government officials to have a safe place to operate,” but not as a shelter. Hawai’i residents, especially those in the neighbor islands, have no safe place to protect them from the initial explosion and nuclear fallout. Losing nearly an entire state is not worth the satisfaction that the White House will feel when North Korea gets disarmed.

Using military force is tempting, especially since the United States has a greater chance of defeating North Korea (the U.S. spends the most on its military, which includes about 1,066,600 soldiers and 8,000 nuclear warheads in reserve). For the sake of the innocent civilians that would be put at risk in war, President Trump should overlook his desire to use military action to disarm North Korea of their nuclear weapons. We can only hope that he takes the diplomatic route and negotiates. All he has to do is look back into the past and try to make sure that history does not repeat itself.




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