As I write this, America is obsessed with two crises: hurricanes and North Korea. Of the two, the costliest to the American people will be the hurricanes. That is, unless the reckless saber rattling of President Donald Trump’s administration doesn’t get out of hand.
During the Cuban missile crisis, the cool rational thinking of President John F. Kennedy overcame the pressure from our military leaders who beat the drums of war.
Today, it is our military that is using cool, rational thinking while the president is ramping up his rhetorical threats. History proved Kennedy correct. Trump should pay attention to history.
The president is frustrated that China isn’t doing more to force Kim Jung-un into stopping its nuclear arms program. China is unlikely to increase pressure on Kim because it is not in China’s national interest. China fears losing its buffer on the Korean peninsula; the result being the presence of two powerful militaries on its border.
It fears a demographic crisis that could lead to a secession movement if a flood of massive Korean refugees enters a province already filled with a sizable Korean population. Furthermore, China already has a serious dilemma with millions of disgruntled poor people living in its borders. Millions more would ignite a flame.
Trump is pushing for increased sanction against North Korea if the United Nations doesn’t issue sanctions — and it won’t since Russia has veto power and doesn’t agree with increased sanctions — then Trump has warned we will demand nations stop trading with Kim.
That will economically damage our economy. Besides, sanctions very rarely work. One of the few times they did was against Qaddafi, and Kim saw how that turned out for the Arab despot. North Korea’s economy is smaller than that of Ethiopia. Kim is spending billions of dollars on a nuclear program that has already impoverished his people; he doesn’t care if they suffer more. In fact, authoritarian rulers have always used outside pressure against them to rally citizen support.
Trump warns that if Kim continues his arms race or his threats he will not rule out an invasion. But Kim’s threats are nothing new; they are not even increasing. We must keep in mind that North Korea is the international equivalent of the boy who cried wolf.
Korean threats against America have been a constant since the Korean War truce. Kim is weird; Kim is a despot, but Kim is not suicidal. His only concern is to maintain his regime. He knows he cannot beat America, and he knows full well that a Korean attack on the U.S. or its allies means not only the end of his rule but the utter annihilation of his country.
His threats merely serve two purposes: to build support among his people and to be able to negotiate from an appearance of great strength. Otherwise, his threats are meaningless to the American people unless we ramp up our threats to the point we create a sense of inevitable doom for him, in which case he may very well act.
A preemptive strike by Trump would result in millions of dead South Koreans, several thousands of Americans stationed there and an economic crisis at home.
Inevitably the fate of an authoritarian North Korea will be the same as each one in history. It will fall, most likely by its own people. In the meantime, a negotiated settlement wherein a peace treaty replaces the truce with a formal American agreement that we will not seek regime change, for Kim’s ending his nuclear buildup is the world’s best bet. It may not succeed but it is a better option than what Trump has sought.
Michael Adkins is the former chair of the Hancock County Democratic Party. He lives in Greenfield.