North Korea is like the mouse that roared. I forget how the movie turned out, but there are three ways to deal with the situation — defense, deterrence and détente.
Two ways not to deal with this mouse are attack and sanctions. Military attack on North Korea would likely result in a retaliatory attack that would kill hundreds of thousands of South Koreans and Americans. Seoul, with a population of 20 million, is only 35 miles from massive amounts of North Korean artillery. Over 28,000 American troops are based near Seoul and an estimated 100,000 American civilians work there.
Cutting off finances, oil and food to North Korea via sanctions will not work. To begin with, it's not possible. Over 80 percent of North Korea's trade is with China and China is not going to cut that off, even if we start a trade war with them. Furthermore, China is our largest trading partner and a trade war with them would damage our economy severely.
Other major countries that trade with North Korea are Germany, Mexico and Brazil, all of whom are major trading partners of the U.S.
Even if we could shut off trade to North Korea there is no reason to believe they would stop building nuclear weapons. As Vladimir Putin said, "They would rather eat grass than give up their nuclear program." The whole sanctions plan just convinces the North Koreans of our hostile intent and reinforces their desire for a nuclear deterrent.
All we can realistically do is rely on defense, deterrence and détente. Defense would involve greatly increasing our number of THAAD anti-ballistic missiles stationed near North Korea. The last five tests of the THAAD system were all successes. We just need more of them.
Deterrence relies on the promise that if they attack us or our allies we will annihilate them. I don't think they have much doubt about that, but we might want to reiterate that promise now and then just to be sure.
Détente is a long-term strategy and involves slowly building up a web of relationships — economic, diplomatic and cultural — with North Korea, a web that is increasingly valuable and is seen by them as something worth preserving. Obviously, a sanctions regime cannot be part of such a web.
These strategies let us survive the Cold War and they will let us survive the mouse that roared, too.
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