Past administrations have refrained from making the necessary tough decisions regarding North Korea and Iran, choosing instead to pass the buck to future commanders in chief. Unfortunately, that future is today.
President Clinton’s policies erroneously sought to dissuade Pyongyang from developing nuclear weapons through food aide. President Obama’s policies ended sanctions and delivered mammoth amounts of cash to Tehran before receiving any guarantees of Iran’s cessation of belligerence, which continues through its banned missile tests. The world now faces the horrifying prospect of a North Korean regime on the verge of being able to launch nuclear missiles to any target on the planet. Iran is North Korea’s partner in the development of atomic weapons and advance missiles.
The latest Hwasong-14 missile launch from North Korea confirms that the Pyongyang regime has successfully attained the capability to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMS.) Experts believe that the rocket used in the launch could reach Alaska, Hawaii, and the states of the Pacific northwest as well as American bases in Guam, South Korea and Japan. North Korea’s reach may currently extend to the continental U.S. itself, as its recent submarine-launched missile (SLBM) tests may indicate.
America’s ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, has labelled the test “not only dangerous but reckless and irresponsible…It showed that North Korea does not want to be part of a peaceful world. They have cast a dark shadow of conflict on all nations that strive for peace…[the] act came from the same vicious dictator who sent a young college student back home…in a coma … If North Korea will treat an innocent young student the way it treated Otto Warmbier, we should not be surprised if it acts barbarically on a larger scale.”
Ambassador Haley singled out the issue of nations trading with North Korea, a direct response to China’s continued trade with the Pyongyang regime. According to Haley, “Much of the burden of enforcing U.N. sanctions rests with China…We will work with China, we will work with any and every country that believes in peace. But we will not repeat the inadequate approaches of the past that have brought us to this dark day.” President Trump has stated that “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.” In a twitter post, he stated: “Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40 pct in the first quarter. So much for China working with us – but we had to give it a try!”
The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) notes that “China is North Korea’s most important ally, biggest trading partner, and main source of food and energy. It has helped sustain Kim Jong-un’s regime, and has historically opposed harsh international sanctions on North Korea… China’s purchases from its neighbor include minerals, seafood, and manufactured garments. In the first quarter of 2017, China–North Korea trade was up 37.4 percent from the same period in 2016. ‘China is currently North Korea’s only economic backer of any importance,’ writes Nicholas Eberstadt, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute… China, Japan, South Korea, and the United States have provided more than 75 percent of food aid to North Korea since 1995, but donations from all countries except for China have shrunk significantly since the collapse of the Six Party Talks in 2009.”
A Reuters analysis of data released in April by Beijing showed “China’s trade with North Korea grew 37.4 percent in the first quarter this year from the same period in 2016, according to reports in the New York Times and Financial Times. Chinese exports surged 54.5 percent and imports increased 18.4 percent, according to the reports citing China’s General Administration of Customs.
ABC reports that “Chinese purchases of North Korean iron ore, a key export for the mineral-rich North, rose 34 percent over a year earlier…Chinese oil sales to the North rose 18 percent in the first five months of the year to $35 million…”
The reality is there is very little chance that any action before the international body will be successful, or accomplish anything more than pious statements. Despite their rhetoric, Russia continues to supply advanced arms to Iran, and China continues to prop up the Pyongyang regime.
With no diplomatic solution in sight, and the exceptional and indeed existential danger potentially imminent, military options are being discussed. Those options, however, come at a time when the United States military is at its weakest point in decades due to the Obama-era disinvestment, and when its main adversaries Russia and China are reaping the benefits of massive increases in funding for their armed forces.
According to 38 North, a site specializing in North Korean information, “We had thought that we would have until perhaps early 2020 to prepare for a North Korean ICBM capability, but it turns out they were working on a different timetable. That has serious strategic, diplomatic and political implications for the very near future…US military commanders cannot be 100 percent certain that a war on the Korean peninsula won’t stretch at least as far as Hawaii or Alaska. Soon, US allies will wonder if this is going to affect US commitments to defense and stability in the region. And the US political leadership is going to have to figure out what to do about that.”
The same concern will soon extend to Iranian activities.