When Life Gives You Nukes, Make Diplomacy

Samuel Sklarin, Johns Hopkins University

Any day recently, the simple act of opening a newspaper or computer screen could lead to hemorrhagic shock.  Hurricanes, immigration, and North Korea, oh my!  And these are just the surface issues.  The Middle East is as unstable as it has been in recent history, and there are near dictatorships running Venezuela and South Africa, just to name a few examples.  It is a period of great uncertainty in the world to say the least.  It is in times like these that the United States needs to be level-headed.  The U.S. needs to discuss the world’s issues and understand what all sides want so we can figure out how these issues can be resolved.  Instead, President Trump has responded with uncertainty: uncertainty in his stance on issues, uncertainty as to who is in his cabinet and administration, etc.  What the U.S. needs right now is some good old-fashioned diplomacy.

Let’s start off with North Korea because it is the biggest, and probably most urgent, story in the news right now.  Let’s be honest, North Korea is a country that we as Americans do not understand very well.  Their marches look like a comical version of the Rockettes.  And what do they even eat there?  So it’s no surprise we do not know how to deal with them diplomatically.  In fact, using an open dialogue as a solution has not even crossed the mind of President Trump.  As North Korea has continued to test ballistic missiles, the U.S. has gotten more and more impatient.  Trump has threatened sanctions on North Korea and their trading partners, which are beginning to be introduced.  He has also threatened to meet the country with “fire and fury” in an impromptu nationally televised tantrum.

Did these threats help curb North Korea’s nuclear interest?  Not even close.  In fact, since the UN passed its harshest sanctions yet on September 11th, North Korea threatened the U.S. with “the greatest pain it has ever experienced in history” and launched yet another test missile over Japan on September 14th.  These are clear signs that North Korea is not willing to give up their nuclear pursuits.

The most concerning part of all of this is that North Korea might really mean it.  In other words, the philosophy of deterrence between nuclear states may not necessarily reign supreme any longer.  During the Cold War, it was clear to both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. that the use of nuclear weapons would have catastrophic effects for both sides and therefore they should not be deployed.  But Kim Jong-Un might not be a believer in this theory.  No one in America really knows what he is like.  He may be certifiably insane or he may be a rational leader trying to keep North Korea safe.  Either way, the U.S. needs to know what type of actor they are dealing with before they make any further decisions.  Further sanctions could anger the beast and dangerously escalate the situation.  The U.S. has to demonstrate that our intent is not to harm North Korea.  We need to show our nuclear arsenal as a deterrence and not an immediate threat.  Once this is made clear, North Korea might be willing to tell the U.S. more about their intentions.

What would a diplomatic relationship look like for the U.S. and North Korea?  I am honestly not sure.  But the first step for the U.S. needs to be pulling out a seat at the table, and making it easy for North Korea to walk in and sit down.  North Korea is strengthening their nuclear arsenal at an alarming rate.  The time for diplomacy is now.

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