The U.S. Should Employ A Non-Combative Strategy In Response To Escalating North Korean Ballistic Missile Capabilities

After weeks of defiant ballistic missile tests, North Korea has begun testing a new anti-aircraft weapons system and has ordered the proliferation of its development across the country, according to North Korea state news last Sunday. The last ballistic missile test was as recent as one week ago, and eight tests have occurred since January 1st this year. North Korea claims the missiles can reach Japan and the U.S. bases situated there.

Mass production of North Korea’s new intermediate range ballistic missile poses obvious threats to the Asia-Pacific community. Countries like Japan, with no independent military force of their own, as well as South Korea, who is most at risk in terms of geographic proximity, are at most threatened by a North Korean missile attack. Citizens of Seoul would have between 0 and 6 minutes after missile launch before being hit. If North Korean missile capabilities continue to develop, other Asia-Pacific countries will face the direct danger of nuclear devastation.

After news of North Korea’s missile launch tests and plans for the mass development of the medium-range ballistic missiles, the head of the U.S. Defence Intelligence Agency said Tuesday “if left unchecked, North Korea is on an inevitable path to obtaining a nuclear-armed missile capable of striking the United States.” The U.S. is poised to act; President Trump said on Monday “something had to be done” in response to North Korea and was supported by Defence Secretary James Mattis who said North Korea “has got to be stopped.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson further states that U.S. military action against North Korea was “on the table.”

Although it is unclear how the U.S. will act; if it is seriously considering preemptive strikes against the DPRK, if it will implement more economic sanctions, or if it will strengthen its military presence and missile capabilities in South Korea; any U.S. decision could have dire consequences for the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region. Following increased North Korean missile tests, the political overhaul of South Korea following the impeachment of its President last month, and the uncertainty of the Trump administration’s proposed response to North Korea, it is vital that peaceful and non-combative strategies be employed to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

Rather than take a hard-line approach in negotiations with North Korea, the U.S. should be looking at peaceful and non-combative approaches to disarming the high tension between the U.S. and North Korea. According to John Delury of Foreign Affairs magazine, the U.S. should “stop looking for ways to stifle North Korea’s economy… and start findings ways to make Pyongyang feel more secure.” Delury argues that this approach will help North Korea “feel more secure” and economically integrated within the Asia-Pacific region, which is the best way to convince a belligerent North Korea to surrender its nuclear program. Although this approach seems counter-intuitive, by dissuading North Korea from being on the defensive, open negotiations concerning nuclear warfare in the Asia-Pacific region will have more room to occur.

Even more than this, peaceful negotiations could help the North Korean people who are suffering extreme poverty and trapped within their own borders. Human Rights Watch and other international human rights bodies have heavily documented the use of political prison camps. Poverty and famine are rampant, and electricity is scarce at worst, unreliable at best.

By avoiding preemptive strikes and harsh economic sanctions, and employing peaceful non-combative approaches, the U.S. and its Asia-Pacific allies can help alleviate the North Korea problem and heighten the chances of a stable and economically integrated North Korea with a future possibility of reunification.

Caitlin Malone