It has become a truism in the continuing North Korean crisis to say that there is no good military option, but in fact there is.
It is perfectly understandable that the U.S. administration would publicly acquiesce in this conventional wisdom. It warns Kim that there will be repercussions to his provocations, in order to build the record of having put him on notice without rattling his demented overconfidence of his invulnerability.
The reaction to Tuesday’s North Korean missile-firing directly over Japan has elicited the response of official indications that further weapons will be shot down by anti-missile defense systems the United States has deployed in Japan and South Korea. Both veteran Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and new South Korean president Moon Jae-in, who was elected on a platform of reconciliation with North Korea, are now in grateful lockstep with the United States in purposeful response.
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President Donald Trump told Chinese president Xi Jinping in Palm Beach in April that if China did not join the U.S. in deterring and containing the North Korean regime, the U.S. would do so itself. Following Tuesday’s new provocation, the Pentagon intimated that it was pre-positioning increased military-strike capabilities to the Far East, and the South Koreans engaged in live bombing exercises very close to the 38th Parallel, which divides the Korean Peninsula.
The fact is that if a carefully planned swarm attack of low-flying cruise missiles was launched against the North Korean artillery massed across the frontier, just 35 miles from the immense South Korean capital city, Seoul, as well as at all North Korean missile launchers, and research and missile storage facilities, it would denuclearize the North and eliminate its power of intimidation against the South.
It is not inconceivable that a few artillery rounds would hit the metropolis of Seoul, but if a general air alert were ordered at the same time as the attacks, casualties would be minimal and physical damage would not be 5 percent of what London and other British cities endured during World War II — not to mention enemy cities such as Berlin and Tokyo, whose centers were razed to rubble and ashes by the Allied air forces.
As the attacks occurred, the U.S. could warn North Korea, directly and via China, that if any attack were launched against any American or allied sites, the North Korean regime would be obliterated, but that if there were no military response, the United States and its allies would not seek regime change in the North or the reunification of Korea.
It is inconceivable that, in these circumstances, the Chinese would not sternly counsel Pyongyang to stand down. China does not want a nuclear North Korea, or a reunited Korea, which would shortly become a second Japan in industrial and strategic terms, immediately adjacent to it.
While it is entirely appropriate that the American administration never refers to such a possibility of this option, for the reason stated above, it is indicative of the ineptitude of the national media and the defeatism and anti-Americanism (or at least anti-Trumpism) of the European and Canadian media, that such a possibility is never mentioned.
It is in this respect reminiscent of the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-1981, when ‘America Held Hostage’ became a popular nightly newscast, and the Western media generally expressed universal pessimism about the possibility of resolving the crisis. Someday we will know exactly what the incoming Reagan administration privately said to Iran that caused its government to release the hostages as Reagan was being inaugurated in Washington.
All the tired palaver about negotiating patiently with China about constraining North Korea is practically beside the point. It won’t unmake North Korea as a nuclear military power. And it won’t deter Iran from becoming one, now at the end of the 10-year life of the shabby agreement President Obama sponsored with that terrorism-supporting country.
Iran and North Korea have exposed the fraudulence of the non-proliferation regime, in which the existing nuclear powers made the spurious promise to pursue joint self-disarmament. The best that can be salvaged is a nuclear club from which psychopathically governed countries such as North Korea and Iran are excluded.
President Trump said on Tuesday that “All options are on the table.” There is only one that will work, and it should be very seriously considered.
Conrad Black was the chairman of the London Daily Telegraph and many other newspapers for 15 years, is a financier, historian and biographer of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Richard Nixon, and comments widely. He is a member of the British House of Lords.
(photo credit, homepage images: Gilad Rom / iStock; photo credit, article image: Henrik Ishihara / iStock)