The smallest section of land separating North Korea from its greatest adversary is one called the military demarcation land or the Armistice Line. The use of the word “line,” though, is a misleading one. For starters, “line” implies that the land is a narrow and thin area that scatters the border. In reality, this “line” is far from being small. It is a 154-mile long stretch of land that spans the entirety of the North-South borders. It houses on either side of it the Korean Demilitarized Zone, a sort of buffer between the countries that is constantly guarded, locked, loaded, and booby-trapped. It is not just explosive in its physical properties, but also in its significance in spurring politics, bringing nations to arm, and drawing people to the edge of their seat in the uncertainty of what’s to come for the future of the Koreas and the world.
These mysterious and unknown characteristics of the demilitarized zone are ones shared undoubtedly by one of the countries housing part of the zone - North Korea. In nearly every passing day and every news cycle, North Korea manages to make the headlines and bombard the media with its nuclear strategy. Its ability to captivate Americans in particular while instilling fear about the future closely mimics many of the feelings brought about by the demilitarized zone and the hostility between North and South Korea.
Lately, though, the news has become even more explosive, partially due to the rhetoric employed by the Trump administration. First, let’s examine North Korea’s expanding nuclear standpoint. Political scientists, historians, and humanitarians have long theorized that North Korea has been testing nuclear capabilities. What’s the fear in this? Most prominently concerning is the fact that North Korea withdrew from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, a treaty that aims to limit the spread of nuclear technology for the use of war or harm. North Korea isn’t the only state not involved with the treaty; India, Pakistan, Israel, and South Sudan never signed it to begin with. The immediate fear with North Korea, though, is its ability and likely desire to deploy nuclear bombs on South Korea, Japan, and the United States.
How has the situation changed and worked lately? North Korea has been aggressively testing new military strategies and launching rockets closer the surrounding countries. Most recently, North Korea showed the world that its range of military expertise is bigger than previously expected when it launched a missile across Japan. This launch was not an act of war; it was an allegedly a way for North Korea to test its military strength and, in part, to showcase it to the onlooking world. The launch itself brings up several worries and questions. What if the launch had hit Japan’s coast? What if the rocket struck a local town or village? Likely, the second hypothetical could immediately escalate to a full-blown war decimating villages and killing thousands. The United States would just as quickly jump into the mix, and beyond that the state of the world is unknown.
Complicating matters is the notorious president of the United States, who some love but more seem to despise. Donald Trump’s approach to the matter has probably not deescalated the tension as he attempts to toughen the United States’ stance on North Korea. On August 30, 2017, in one of his infamous tweet sessions, clearly revealed his intentions: “Talking is not the answer!” He went on to say that the United States has been “talking” with North Korea for 25 years, implying the talks have not benefited the States. This tweet contradicts post-statements by James Mattis who reaffirmed diplomatic actions regarding the situation.
North Korea, unlike the United States, clearly has a strategy to deter and frighten the U.S. The country is aiming to maximize its media coverage by launching rockets and admitting to missile programs. That goal seems to be met; the American media is going crazy over North Korea. Moreover, North Korea is playing its game strategically and is purposely planning each detail. The missile that launched over Japan passed over Hokkaido, an island far away from U.S. military bases and with less population density. North Korea knew not to launch a rocket over Tokyo or adjacent to U.S. bases so as to leave the United States in a sort of political limbo. Counter-attacking or threatening North Korea from the United States would be foolish as no act of war or violence has actually instigated that response. Yet, North Korea knew that the launch would result in some of response. The issue posed moving forward revolves around what that response for the United States is.
This piece is supporting drawing a “red line” for North Korea and taking a more activist approach, though not the rash one articulated by the president of the United States. The reason I’m presenting this approach involves a similar yet distinct narrative history has seen: the struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was feared (and confirmed) to have had nuclear capabilities, but, through a series of policies, the United States was able to contain the threat that the Soviet Union posed.
The first and most apparent method would include limiting the flow of cash to North Korea. A suppressed flow of cash, either through decreased trades or heavier sanctions on the country, would lower investments in nuclear technologies.
Second, the United Nations’ attempts to limit North Korea’s growth have largely been impeded by another global competitor - China. As a member of the Security Council, China has the power to veto that council’s resolution simply by being a member of the big five nations (France, Russia, the United Kingdom, China, and the United States). China, historically and presently, has enjoyed pleasant relations with North Korea. In addition, China continues to fund North Korea both directly and indirectly through banking and company investments. Some estimates claim that China sustains at least 80% of North Korea’s trade, which relates to the economic problem articulated before. Likewise, Chinese businesses are known about evading U.S. economic sanctions and creating ongoing transactions and clientele with North Korea.
Third, I’d like to address that a preemptive strike would likely not benefit the United States. The United States would not be able to end North Korea with one fatal blast (nor should it). We still need to seriously keep in mind that North Korea does have the military strength to invade South Korea and, most likely, send devastating rockets towards Japan’s population centers. It also sends a message of rash decision-making and widespread destruction as a means to solving problems.
North Korea’s threat is undeniable. Yet, the media’s coverage of the situation is questionable. The United States should definitely take certain routes on this measure, but the hype and the hoopla that we hear about North Korea might not be as a persistent danger as the media might want us to believe.