Tillerson Rules Out a Containment Strategy for North Korea

“Many people have asked the question, ‘Well, why can’t you live with a containment strategy? You lived with it with Russia. You lived with it with China,’” Mr. Tillerson said. “The difference is that with the past behavior of North Korea, it is clear to us that they would not just use the possession of nuclear weapons as a deterrent. This would become a commercial activity for them.”

Be Strategic, Not Impulsive, on North Korea

Donald Trump and the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un — neither of whom has any aides who can stand up to them — are trading fire and brimstone threats with their fingers cocked on nuclear weapons. What could possibly keep a person up at night? Surely Tillerson jests or is high on Ambien.

.. A serious president wouldn’t be leveling unscripted threats at North Korea — uncoordinated with his secretaries of state and defense and unconnected to any larger strategy

  • sanction a few no-account Chinese entities,
  • desperately seek negotiations on terms sure to fail and
  • threaten a war that would be catastrophic
    • politically,
    • militarily and
    • morally.

A serious president would follow the rough outline laid out by one of America’s most seasoned Asia-China hands, Jeffrey Bader, which is summarized in a smart paper on Brookings.edu titled “Why Deterring and Containing North Korea Is Our Least Bad Option.

.. begins by asking the best question any American strategist could ask when thinking about how to deter a nuclear-armed foe: What would George Kennan do?

  • Kennan was the architect of America’s successful containment of the Soviet Union, which had tens of thousands of nuclear missiles aimed at us for roughly half a century.
  • Kennan, argues Bader, would grasp that “while some situations may be unacceptable, they do not lend themselves to short-term fixes. The North Korean challenge is one of them.”

.. the only rational approach is patient “containment, deterrence and pressure.” That is especially true when you recognize that America is vastly stronger than North Korea and the winds of history are all on our side.

.. Is anyone comfortable with the fact that North Korea is building nuclear-tipped missiles that can hit the United States? Of course not. But the point is: We’ve lived with such threats before, and there is simply no reason to believe that the deterrent capabilities we’ve had in place to prevent North Korea from attacking South Korea and American forces there since the end of the Korean War will not continue to work.

North Korea’s ruling Kim family is homicidal, but it has not survived for three generations by being suicidal. And firing a nuclear missile at us would be suicide.

.. We should also bombard North Korea’s people with information on how poor they are compared with the rest of the world

.. The best place to start is by putting on the table a clear, formal peace proposal so the world — especially South Korea and China — see that America is not the problem. The more the whole world sees us as the solution and not as a country led by someone just as crazy, irrational and unstable as North Korea, the more leverage we will have.

.. in return for their complete denuclearization and dismantling of their missile program, we would

  • establish full diplomatic relations;
  • end the economic embargo and sanctions; and
  • provide economic assistance, investment and a peace treaty to replace the 64-year-old armistice agreement.

.. It is most unlikely that North Korea would accept such a proposal. Its leader is obsessed, at least for now, with protecting his regime with nuclear missiles. But this overture, Bader notes, would “demonstrate to the South Korean government, and to its president, Moon Jae-in, that Washington is prepared to put an attractive offer on the table, since Moon is seeking avenues for reconciliation with the North.

.. The more we freak out about North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, the more leverage it has. Instead we should be telling Kim Jong-un: “Hey, pal, not impressed with your nuclear toys, been there, done that with the Soviet Union. Time is on our side