Choose Diplomacy in Korea

by Phil Anderson

Lee Eun-Ju of South Korea (right) takes a selfie with Hong Un Jong of North Korea at the Rio Olympics in 2016. Dylan Martinez / Reuters
Lee Eun-Ju of South Korea (right) takes a selfie with Hong Un Jong of North Korea at the Rio Olympics in 2016. Dylan Martinez / Reuters

“The nuclear issue has to be solved through negotiations and diplomatic endeavors. This idea of a military solution is unacceptable.”  Kang Kyung-wha, South Korea’s Foreign Minister 

The Trump administration is determined to start a shooting war in Korea. They are using all the usual propaganda tactics to drum up support for military action. The North Korean leadership has been demonized. Claims that we and our allies are in grave danger have been made. Fear mongering about a nuclear strike on U.S. territory is all over the media.  All they need is an “incident” to get the media and the public rallying around the flag.

Enter the “bloody nose” preemptive strike. The idea is that a limited strike big enough to alarm the North Koreans, but not big enough to illicit a military response, will scare the North Koreans into capitulating. Sound like a good plan? Or is this a truly stupid idea sure to launch us into another quagmire? 

There are a number of conservative experts and think tanks that say this is a very bad idea. 
Their analysis of the situation, and opposition to a war with Korea, is so “spot on” that their statements make my case for diplomacy and peace. 
I begin with Rear Admiral Michael Dumont, the vice-director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,

“There are no good military options for North Korea. Invading North Korea could result in a catastrophic loss of lives for U.S. troops and U.S. civilians in South Korea. It could kill millions of South Koreans and put troops and civilians in Guam and Japan at risk.” 

Harry J. Kazianis of the conservative Center for the National Interest has has written an excellent article entitled, “A War of Choice With North Korea is an Immensely Dumb Idea.” It is in the American Conservative magazine, December 15, 2017.  I would recommend reading the complete article online at Here is some of what he says. 

“If there is any common thread between the great U.S. foreign policy mistakes of the last several decades—the Vietnam War, the forever war in Afghanistan, the second Iraq war, and the Libya intervention—it is this: they were all wars of choice. We can intelligently debate the merits of them all, we can examine the ways they were conducted once combat operations began, but they were all started on the passionately articulated positions that they were vital to our national interests.” 
“Hindsight tells us otherwise. We now know the hefty sacrifices in lives, treasure, and national confidence from those wars were historic mistakes that cry out to never be repeated. And yet the siren song of unnecessary conflict has made a carefully crafted comeback, at least if you listen to the rhetoric coming out of the White House these days.”
“...the evidence overwhelmingly points to a disaster of unimagined scale and scope if the Trump administration decides to attack the portly pariah of Pyongyang. To be blunt, we run the risk of opening a Pandora’s box armed with a nuclear fuse.” 
“Sometimes, we must choose between bad options, and a war with North Korea—it must be made crystal clear—is a choice we would regret for generations. Thankfully, it is not a choice we must make.” 

Daniel Larison writing for the American Conservative (January 20, 2018) calls the Trump administration’s “bloody nose” strike “reckless and irresponsible.”  He points out that Trump has not appointed an ambassador to South Korea and a good candidate recently withdrew from consideration because of opposition to a preemptive strike. He says,  

“Trump and his advisers really are seriously contemplating a “bloody nose” attack on North Korea with all of the disastrous consequences that would likely have, and they have no interest in hearing from people with relevant expertise that counsel caution.”
“The ambassador position in Seoul remains vacant because it isn’t a priority for this administration, and anyone who would be acceptable to South Korea isn’t going to sign off on the terrible ideas emanating from the White House.” 

Larison in another article (February 1, 2018) discusses the fact that preemptive strikes are illegal under international law. 

“It is worth repeating that launching an attack on North Korea would be illegal and unjust. If the U.S. carried out such an attack, it would be guilty of waging aggressive war in direct violation of the U.N. Charter. The U.S. would not be acting in defense of itself or any other country, but would be initiating hostilities in the (vain) hope of intimidating another state into acceding to its demands. An attack on North Korea would be a flagrant violation of international law. Preventive war cannot be waged as a last resort, so it is inherently unjust.” 

Doug Bandow, at the Cato Institute and a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, advocates for diplomacy. In the American Conservative, December 14, 2017, he says,

“While squaring the circle between the stated objectives of the U.S. and North Korean governments won’t be easy, the most important immediate goal should be to halt the seeming slide towards war.”

Which means the Trump administration’s highest priority should be to keep the peace. That requires more than not starting a conflict. The president also should reduce the pressure on North Korea to start one as well. He should ratchet down tensions rather than up.”
Diplomacy is needed and this administration is botching it according to Lt. Gen. (USMC, Ret.) Wallace C. Gregson. He is a director at the Center for the National Interest. He cites the Pew Research Center that “less than 20 percent of South Koreans have confidence that President Trump will do the right thing in world affairs.”  According to Gregson the Trump administration personal attacks on the Korean dictator have been counterproductive. 

“He’s [Kim Jong-un] one guy. We’re bigger than that. We don’t deal with tinpot dictators on a personal level.” 

Fortunately, the North and South Koreans are acting on their own to reduce tensions. They are talking with each other and have negotiated an “Olympic Truce.” The best course of action for the U.S. would be to get out of the way. Let the Koreans work out their own solutions. The last thing we need is to muck it up with a military strike.