The next 4 steps we should take with North Korea

An image made from video of a news bulletin aired by North Korea's KRT in May.
An image made from video of a news bulletin aired by North Korea's KRT in May. AP

President Trump, in bellicose fashion, has threatened to unleash “fire and fury” against North Korea , as tensions with the emerging nuclear-missile-armed state escalate. Improbably, in between the anniversaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he has unwittingly invoked the specter of a nuclear exchange in Asia.

For the purpose of deterring Pyongyang from attacking Americans, this White House like its predecessors has made it clear that a pre-emptive military strike, while a last resort, is among the military options on the table. But to use power “the likes of which this world has never seen before”? Maybe POTUS has not seen the mushroom cloud photos from 1945?

Given America's “strategic triad” of land and sea-based missiles and intercontinental bombers, was the president’s abnormal over-the-top rhetoric really necessary? I agree with Sen. John McCain(R-AZ) , the chairman of the Armed Services Committee: “All it’s going to do is bring us closer to some kind of serious confrontation.”


Yet, national security adviser H.R. McMaster has warned that the president is “not going to tolerate North Korea being able to threaten the United States.” But, alas, that is already happening. It is late in the game to pursue the de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Has the DPRK, in fact, mastered the miniaturization of nuclear warheads and, in fact, tested an intercontinental missile that can reach the continental United States after successfully re-entering the atmosphere? Intelligence reports conclude that the North has yet to master all the technologies.

We have time. What is to be done?

1. Calm down the rhetoric on our side lest the North commits what they regard as a preemptive military act that will give our country no choice but to retaliate with “conventional” arms and, ultimately, tactical nuclear weapons.

2. Pressure the Chinese to cut off coal imports from the North that help to fund missile development. They know that, in case of an actual military confrontation, Korean refugees would stream over their common border.

3. Invite Kim Jong-un to New York – or Geneva or Beijing – for a discussion of grievances with regional powers. In other words, grant him the status he clearly desires. Secretary of State Tillerson has kept the door open for talks.

4. Finally – and this is the tough one – respond to North Korea’s call for normalizing relations by stressing two points to Pyongyang:

First, that their provocations are suicidal: If they launched a nuclear strike on the United States or its allies, South Korea and Japan, they would be annihilated. Second, if they stop the provocations, Washington will formally end the Korean War with a peace treaty and normalize relations — even if the North remains a nuclear power.

To my ear and sight, the President’s message (and public threats on television) cannot be considered rational, within the context of who and what confronts us.

We must not stumble into a war that will have a logic of its own, 64 years after we lost approximately as many men and women as were sacrificed in Vietnam.

Jackson, a Davidson resident, was chief legislative assistant to the Senate Democratic Whip from 1974-77 and served as Executive Director of the General Advisory Committee on Arms Control, 1978-80.