Tensions in and around the Korean peninsula continue to escalate and there appears to be no end in sight as North Korea pursues its stated goal of building missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads to the US mainland.
During a March 17 press conference with South Korea’s foreign minister, Yu Bying–se, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned: “The policy of strategic patience [toward North Korea] has ended. We are exploring a new range of diplomatic, security and economic measures. All options are on the table.”
Tillerson’s comments reflect the frustration of the United States and the international community after decades of pressure and crippling economic sanctions imposed on the North Korean regime by the United Nations. Diplomatic efforts have failed. Kim Jong-un has nuclear weapons and is making rapid progress toward development of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system. Nothing is working to moderate the behavior of the hermit regime.
Frustrated policy makers are mystified, and President Donald Trump and his administration have few reasonable options. The international community has been unable to curb the DPRK’s appetite for upgrading its strategic military capabilities. Tillerson’s language is not new and suggests no new initiatives to reign in the reclusive state.
Within 10 years, the DPRK will likely be able to deliver a nuclear warhead to international targets. For most policymakers this is unthinkable, but no favorable options exist when war is the least desirable choice against a nuclear-armed North Korea.
Conventional thinking and traditional diplomacy aimed at solving the “Korea problem” have been exhausted. It’s time to consider radical approaches. The international community must either abandon or reconsider ideas proposed in the past.
Kim Jong-un is just the third supreme leader of the DPRK and his supremacy is likely to continue for decades. Only war would remove Kim and it appears Beijing and Washington will not initiate offensive military action on the peninsula.
The US and China should consider co-hosting a series of summits in Beijing later this summer bringing together Chinese president Xi Jinping, President Trump, and Kim Jong-un. The UN should consider sending representatives. Some experts will suggest a summit would be a sign of weakness for America and her allies. Others would say it would only elevate Kim’s status, something most international leaders consider unacceptable.
This traditional thinking is the reason there’s been no progress in solving the Korean Peninsula problem. Summits would allow Beijing, Washington and Pyongyang to clearly articulate their grievances, and offer solutions that might satisfy their long-term strategic interests. Doing so would allow Beijing to exert influence in Asia, while the United States could shift its focus toward Europe, Africa or the Middle East.
It’s in Beijing’s economic interest to make the summits a reality and to move away from decades of full support for the isolated regime. If the United States truly believes North Korea is an imminent threat, then it should speak to Pyongyang directly. Would anyone think the US were weak if a summit resulted in concrete steps to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program? I doubt most would care if such a radical option led to tangible results.
If the end game is a more stable North Korea and an international community feeling less nervous at the prospect of war, then the idea should be considered seriously.
The “Korea problem” will continue until Beijing and Washington entertain unconventional solutions. A series of summits would signal that all sides are ready to try an innovative approach that could be the first step in preventing war.