For decades, North Korea has menaced our allies and threatened our interests throughout East Asia with its recklessness and disregard for human life. From the sinking of South Korean warship ROKS Cheonan by a North Korean torpedo in March 2010 which cost the lives of 46 sailors and injured 56 more, to the launch of potentially nuclear-equipped missiles over allies like Japan, North Korea’s belligerence is well documented. In November 2017, the world witnessed a missile test which, when coupled with North Korea’s illicit nuclear weapons program, illustrated its capability of hitting our homeland with potentially devastating consequences.
The question is how the United States should approach such a delicate situation. Many experts believe the rogue nation’s conventional military could quickly overrun metropolitan Seoul and its nearly 25 million inhabitants, roughly half of South Korea’s population, through an overwhelming artillery barrage and following invasion. If the invasion of a major ally and trading partner were not enough to warrant concern, the lives of nearly 24,000 U.S. service members stationed across South Korea most certainly should be.
However, after the many foreign policy failures which have led us to this increasingly volatile situation and North Korea’s deft ability to stall and buy time for its development of nuclear and missile technology, options appear to be scarce. A military strike against North Korea would inevitably cost the lives of millions, destabilize the entire region, and risk military confrontation between the U.S. and China, making it a last resort. Diplomacy is the only remaining option, which is why I supported enhanced sanctions passed by Congress last year against North Korea which effectively cut its economy by half and created an opening for President Trump to engage them.
The summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un is remarkable for opening a direct line of communication between heads of state as a basis for future dialogue. To be clear, North Korea has not changed overnight. It remains a dangerously unpredictable totalitarian regime whose penchant for deception and delay tactics should not be underestimated. Even still, President Trump’s decision to pause training exercises with South Korea is a meaningful gesture of goodwill which can be easily reversed should North Korea return to its belligerent ways.
The threat posed by North Korea to the United States and our allies is far from eliminated and we should not let down our guard against such a dangerous foe, but there is cause for optimism. President Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong Un is a vital and positive step forward. The path ahead will not be easy, but I believe President Trump and his national security team are fully capable of recognizing real progress as opposed to hollow promises.