North Korea has an almost entirely state-run economy complete with entitlement and welfare programs, which are hallmarks of socialism.
The country is plagued by national food shortages because of failures in the government’s tightly controlled socialist economic system. Heavy sanctions by world governments have restricted economic growth. Dynastic government rule prevents citizens from becoming self-reliant and military-first politics have imposed a heavy burden on the economy.
North Korea has a total of 9.5 million active, reserve, and paramilitary personnel. Its active duty army of 1.2 million is the fourth largest in the world, after China, the United States<> and India. It also possesses nuclear weapons.
On 12/17/2011, the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-il, died from a heart attack and his son, Kim Jong Un, became the new leader. Under his rule, North Korea has continued to develop its nuclear capability. The North Korean dictator has been aggressively pursuing his goal of putting a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the continental United States.
In a 2017 New Year’s Day speech, Kim Jong Un claimed that his country was in the “final stage” of preparations for its first ICBM test. President Trump responded with a Twitter message saying that the launching would never be permitted to happen. Aides to President Trump have said they are not ruling out military options in dealing with North Korea.
On 04/21/2017, the North Korean military threatened to launch pre-emptive nuclear strikes at American military bases in South Korea, Japan and beyond. China, North Korea’s main ally, warned of “storm clouds gathering” and urged both sides to exercise restraint because they are afraid that the U.S. might use military force to take out the North’s nuclear capability if the Pentagon believes that Kim Jong Un is going to act pre-emptively.
North Korea continued its defiant statements on 04/22/2017. Choe Ryong-hae, a senior official in the ruling Workers’ Party and a key aide to the North Korean leader, said in a speech before the parade, “If they start a nuclear war, we will respond with nuclear strikes”.
Some U.S. politicians hold the view that Kim Jong Un is insane, so there is no point in negotiating with him. Others believe that the North Korean leader has some rational goals. For example, they believe that Kim Jong Un is interested in the political survival of his regime, which explains his desire to defend the sovereignty of his country by having a strong nuclear capability.
Those politicians believe that diplomacy is the way to resolve the issue. That’s a difficult climb because, in order for diplomacy to succeed, they must come up with a viable solution that Kim Jong Un will accept, which begs the question: What can the U.S. possibly offer the North Korean dictator to dissuade him from developing his ICBM technology?
Diplomacy is not a viable solution because the politicians know that the North Korean leader doesn’t want peace, therefore it would be a waste of time meeting with North Korean representatives in order to stop Kim Jong Un’s ballistic missile tests.
Another alternative is for the U.S. government to cut a trade deal with China to persuade them to impose more sanctions upon North Korea. President Trump has had some success using this strategy because in 02/2017, China decided to cut off North Korea’s coal imports to coerce the North’s government into ending its nuclear weapons program.
In 03/2017, a month after the China sanctions were imposed, the North Korean state media announced another missile test, saying that it would allow them to achieve world-class satellite-launch capability, bringing them closer to producing an ICBM.
On 04/16/2017, North Korea flouted China’s sanctions by conducting another missile test. Although the test was a failure, it proves that Kim Jong UN has decided to continue the development of his ICBM technology despite the sanctions.
This has resulted in the humiliation of China’s government, because it’s now clear to every nation that China has lost their former political clout with North Korea.
North Korea launched another ballistic missile on 04/29/2017. Although the test failed, it was launched in defiance of the Chinese sanctions and in spite of the U.S. military buildup in the region.
Again, on 05/14/2017, North Korea conducted another missile test. It flew for 30 minutes before dropping into the sea between North Korea’s east coast and Japan. The U.S. military Pacific Command said that it was not an ICBM, so the threat assessment to the U.S. national security remains unchanged.
On the next day, 05/15/2017, the North Korean’s state news outlet stated that their new ballistic missile could reach the “U.S. mainland and Pacific operations” and that they have developed the technology to create a missile “capable of carrying a large-size heavy nuclear warhead.”
On 05/21/2017, North Korea tested a medium-range ballistic missile which traveled about 300 miles, then fell into the Sea of Japan.
On 05/29/2017, they tested a short-range missile that traveled about 450km before falling into the Sea of Japan.
Then again, on 06/08/2017, North Korea launched several anti-ship missiles into the Sea of Japan to display their “precise targeting capability”.
On 06/23/2017, North Korea tested a rocket engine that the United States believes could be for the smallest stage of an ICBM, said a North Korean government official who desires to remain anonymous.
A second U.S. official also confirmed the test but did not provide any additional information.
North Korea’s state media, which is normally quick to broadcast successful missile tests, did not report on the engine test.
Kim Dong-yub of the Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul told Reuters that the North has not achieved the re-entry technology needed for an ICBM, therefore their missile technology is still insufficient to hit the United States.
On 07/04/2017, North Korea test-launched an ICBM that experts say could have reached Alaska.
Finally, on 07/ 28/2017, North Korea tested another ICBM that experts claim has the range to hit major US cities.
David Wright, a missile expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, has concluded that the missile potentially has the range to hit major US cities such as Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, New York and Boston.
The next step for the North Koreans is to mount the ICBM with a nuclear warhead. Currently, its strongest warhead is similar in strength to the bomb dropped on Nagasaki.
John Schilling, a North Korea expert and aerospace engineer said, “Every nation with North Korea’s level of demonstrated expertise in nuclear weapons development has at least been able to fit their low-yield nuclear warheads into missiles.”
“If the North Koreans felt compelled to put one of their warheads on one of their missiles and fire it tomorrow, odds are it would work.”
US experts believe North Korea will be able to launch a reliable, nuclear ICBM capable of hitting the continental U.S. as early as 2018.
On 07/25/2017, Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that North Korea has threatened a nuclear attack on “the heart of the US” if it attempts to remove Kim Jong Un as Supreme Leader.
The threat was in response to CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who commented last week that the Trump administration needed to find a way to separate Kim from his growing nuclear stockpile.
Scott Bray, national intelligence manager for East Asia at the Office for the Directorate of National Intelligence (ODNI), said that the recent ICBM tests “highlight the threat that North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs pose to the United States, to our allies in the region, and to the whole world…The intelligence community is closely monitoring the expanding threat from North Korea.”
President Donald Trump, during his visit to Poland, unequivocally stated that Pyongyang must stop its missile advances.
President Trump has sought help from China, but grown frustrated—tweeting on 06/20/2017 that Beijing’s efforts “have not worked out”.
The North Korean missile launches have been a direct snub against China, a nation seen by the Trump administration as a potential US ally in efforts to stamp out Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
Because the China sanctions have not deterred Kim Jong Un from continued missile tests, in April of 2017, the United States sent an aircraft carrier strike group to the region to show the dictator that the U.S. government is prepared to use military force if necessary to destroy their nuclear capability.
Choe Ryong Hae, who is presumed to be the second-most powerful official in North Korea, said on 04/29/2017 that the Trump administration was “creating a war situation” in the Korean Peninsula by dispatching military assets to the region.
The Global Times newspaper said that China should respond by cutting off the vast majority of the North’s oil imports. Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University of China, said that the Chinese government is afraid to do that because it would threaten the fuel supplies that keep the North Korean military running, which would cause Kim Jong Un to retaliate.
The only remaining non-military alternative is to oust Kim Jong Un from power through a regime change. Although the Chinese government might have the desire to do that—Beijing has little sympathy for Kim Jong Un because he cleansed his regime of its China sympathizers after coming to power five years ago—they will not increase sanctions any further because they support the existence of North Korea as an independent state.
This is because if the North’s economy were to collapse, millions of South Koreans would migrate north, creating a unified Korea, filling the power vacuum created by North Korea’s demise.
Seoul, the capital of South Korea, would become the capital of the new country. With U.S. support, the new Korea would become a dominant economic and military power in the region and that is not in China’s interest because the new country would be a democracy, a direct threat to the communist Chinese regime.
Since China will not use harsher sanctions to bring down North Korea, the U.S. could step in and attempt to end both the Kim regime and North Korea itself by causing an economic collapse.
In order to achieve that outcome, the U.S. would need to cut off all North Korean access to U.S. dollars by convincing the Chinese banks and all the other companies doing business with the North to cease all economic activity.
Any attempt to take down North Korea’s economy by the U.S. will fail however, because China’s banks won’t participate in the boycott of North Korean businesses because the Chinese government doesn’t want the North Korean economy to collapse.
To make matters worse, when dealing with a power-mad dictator like Kim Jong Un, there is no line he will not cross in order to maintain power. An internal coup is not likely because he has killed off all of his potential successors.
President Trump said in his tweets Saturday night, 07/29/2017, that China has been taking advantage of the US. “Our foolish past leaders have allowed them (China) to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade” while allowing North Korea’s missile program to become a direct threat to the US mainland, he wrote.
Is President Trump considering the option to cut off all trade with China in order to force them to bring down North Korea?
The biggest impact of this strategy would be a global economic meltdown. The loss of trade with the U.S. would send the value of China’s currency into freefall. This would force China to sell off its massive amount of dollar-denominated U.S. Treasury securities. As a result, yields on U.S. government debt would spike.
A massive dollar shortage in China would restrict China’s ability to import oil, which is traded in dollars, and increase pressure to move away from the dollar as the international currency standard.
If that happened, U.S. Treasury yields and interest rates would spike, causing drastic increases in interest rates on everything from mortgages to auto loans.
This would force many American consumers into bankruptcy, because they could no longer afford the interest payments on their credit cards, auto loans and home mortgages.
The U.S. government’s interest payments on the $19.8 trillion in national debt would rise dramatically, creating the possibility of a default on their loan payments, which would cause massive worldwide economic disruption and the collapse of the U.S. dollar.
There would be widespread shortages of the vast array of consumer goods made in China. WalMart’s shelves would be mostly empty, causing the retail sector to be hit hard with massive business closures and job losses.
China would presumably cut off trade with the U.S. in retaliation, or simply because they wouldn’t have any dollars to buy U.S. products.
China is also America’s third largest export market. U.S. exports to China were $113 billion last year. All U.S. companies reliant on China exports would be forced to either lay off most of their employees or go into bankruptcy.
All of these negative consequences would cause a deep U.S. recession, if not a depression. This would have a huge negative impact on the value of the U.S. dollar, causing hyper-inflation.
Because of the huge, world-wide economic meltdown that would ensue by cutting off trade with China, this is not a viable option for the U.S. in bringing down North Korea.
The only remaining option is to take out North Korea’s nuclear capability through the use of military force.
For the U.S. to use this option, they must provide South Korea with a strong enough missile defense shield to protect them from North Korean missile strikes when the North retaliates.
South Korea currently has a missile strike system that detects signs of an impending nuclear missile launch and preemptively launches cruise missiles at North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile bases.
The South’s missile defense system is not perfect however, because it cannot take down submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The North proved in 2016 that they have that capability.
In order to strengthen South Korea’s missile defenses, the U.S. government has deployed their military’s anti-ballistic missile system, named Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD). South Korea’s defense ministry has claimed that it is close to operational.
Because Kim Jong Un has vowed to strike the continental United States with a nuclear weapon, when U.S. intelligence agencies and the Pentagon determine that Kim Jong Un is close to acquiring a nuclear ICBM, the Trump administration will be forced to use the military option and eliminate North Korea’s nuclear capability.
In response, Kim Jong Un would deploy his huge army, march on Seoul and kill as many South Koreans as possible using conventional weapons.
The dictator could also launch short-range missiles at the capital city, which has a population of approximately 10 million people.
Even if most of those missiles never reach Seoul because of THAAD and South Korea’s missile defense shield, there is still the possibility that at least several would make it through and kill many South Koreans.
“North Korea could potentially cause massive damage to Seoul and its surrounding areas” in a conflict, Dr. Bruce Bennett, a senior defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, previously told the DCNF.
“If North Korea restrains itself and only employs conventional weapons in an assault on South Korea, it is unlikely to overwhelm South Korea’s defenses. But if it uses weapons of mass destruction and other asymmetric approaches, the North may be able to overcome South Korean defenses—there are always large uncertainties in any war.”
The prospect of an eventual North Korean nuclear retaliation against South Korea might have been the reason behind President Trump’s suggestion last year to provide nuclear weapons to the South and to Japan.
That would not be a viable deterrent, because if the South nuked Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, it still would not stop the mad North Korean dictator from continuing his nuclear ICBM program.
The facts presented in this article lead to the inescapable conclusion that Kim Jong Un’s threats are real and that there are no diplomatic solutions, no amount of sanctions and no viable plan for regime change that can stop him from eventually acquiring a nuclear ICBM.
This puts the Trump administration in a dilemma, because if they use the military option and destroy the North’s nuclear capability, Kim Jong Un will retaliate against the South and kill millions of innocent South Korean civilians.
The clock is ticking however, and if the U.S. government doesn’t take military action soon, Kim Jong Un will be in a position to launch a nuclear strike against the continental United States, which he has vowed to do, and destroy any large American city within range of his ICBM, killing millions of U.S. civilians.
Robert Steven Ingebo, is president of FRI CorporationCommenting Policy
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