North Korean nukes and ICBMs: What, if anything, should America do about it?

North Korea has built a (semi-?)credible nuclear arsenal and is developing ICBM capabilities at a rapid pace. What, if anything, would you like to see the USA do about it?

I suspect that the popular perception of NK is effectively incorrect. I.e., that it’s a Communist Nation.

It’s probably more correct to view North Korea as a criminal gang who has discovered a clever strategy for being able to get away with crime, by masquerading as a country. And, any sufficiently large criminal organization is effectively a business.

Ultimately, there’s too much focus (with them and with Russia) on trying to negotiate, on trying to deal with them militarily, politically, etc. We embargo them in the goal of depriving them of the materials necessary to build weapons. It would be better to fight their criminal deeds and profit streams.

Big business don’t like money loss. All those bigwigs at the top are going to be mighty upset if the choices that the leadership is making is affecting their bottom line. If they can’t build up their arsenal as fast as they’d like, well bummer. But if they can’t afford that mansion in Tibet to go skiing with their Chinese mistresses every winter, then that’s a genuine issue. Something is going to have to change.

It’s very difficult to fight crime, particularly once you’re dealing with a united organization that has billions of dollars in operating budget. But it’s probably possible to prefer one criminal entity over another. If the people are buying cocaine or guns or hackers for hire, you can use various means to make it easier for the customers to find a criminal that isn’t pissing us off too much.

The success of Colonialism was in playing rival gangs against each other, by moving preferential treatment around, not by going in and defeating them outright. A similar strategy, applied to North Korea and Russia is probably going to work a lot better than outright hostility, in the long run. I’m sure that the Albanians would be quite happy to step up control of most illicit activities in the Western world.

Nothing we can do about it. I view it as highly unlikely North Korea ever nukes anyone, for the same reasons the USSR, PRC, Pakistan, et al. have never nuked anyone. I wish we’d been able to stop it decades ago, but we were never willing to pay the price (tens of thousands of dead civilians in Seoul and probably tens of thousands of dead American soldiers) and here’s where we are now.

I’m not thrilled about the situation, but I’m not really as worried as a lot of people are–use of those nuclear weapons entails absolute certainty of national destruction (and personal death for the ruler), so there’s a good reason to expect NK never uses its nukes.

This may sound weird, but I wish I was as confident of this as you sound. It seems that some South Koreans are doubting whether we’d really follow through on support / retaliation if / when North Korea can hold LA or San Francisco at risk of a nuclear strike.

The problem is that North Korea will sell WMD technology and ICBM technology to anyone, and they might nuke someone.

North Korea has helped Syria, Libya, Iran and Myanmar create nuclear technology that got them closer to nuclear weapons.

North Korea has sold chemical weapons to Syria, and possibly sold them the weapons that were used on civilians in the civil war.

The issue is if NK sells nuclear material that is eventually used to create a nuclear bomb that is used by a third country, what can the world do? We can’t invade, because by then NK will have dozens of bombs and ICBMs. The fear isn’t so much NK bombings someone, it is NK selling WMD (chemical, biological, nuclear) as well as missile technology to anyone who wants to buy them, and then one of them using it. That is more what concerns me, because what can we do about it?

Nuclear nonproliferation was always hypocritical to begin with.

The USA, the only country to ever use nuclear weapons in warfare, and an arsenal of thousands of nukes, and having fought in far more wars than North Korea, and having killed a lot more non-Americans than North Korea has killed non-NKers over the past few decades, and a defense budget dwarfing North Korea’s, telling North Korea that it can’t be allowed to have even *one *nuke.
“…Right…”

You know the US isn’t the only nation supporting nuclear non-proliferation, right?

Eh, nuclear non-proliferation is a broad goal that basically every (acknowledged) nuclear power other than India, Pakistan and North Korea have agreed to in principle, and through treaty (Israel hasn’t signed the NPT, and is also widely believed to be a nuclear power.) For that matter even countries like Iran that desire nuclear weapons and have clearly worked towards them, at least publicly pay lip service to nuclear non-proliferation (and Iran is an NPT signatory.)

The major reason so many countries with widely divergent interests have supported nuclear non-proliferation is primarily because of the fear that some countries are less stable than others, and an unstable country with nuclear weapons is a high risk to the entire world because those weapons could “leak” to non-state actors. A nuclear weapon in the hands of a non-state actor is really the “nightmare” scenario because all of the rational self-preservation reasons that prevent any state from using nuclear weapons, are not present for a non-state actor.

FWIW, Wesley Clark is correct North Korea is a particularly bad actor in this regard, and has been known to export weapons technology to shifty states.

That being said, North Korea has been a nuclear power for like ten years now. From the perspective of China, the reason they “don’t care” as much about recent developments is the Chinese have been in range of NK’s nuclear weapons basically for ten years, and in range of their missiles for basically ever. During the Cold War North Korea moved closer to the Soviet sphere of influence, and had an uneasy relationship with the PRC. After the Cold War the PRC has been more aggressive in defending North Korea from America primarily out of an interest in a) not seeing North Korea collapse and b) not seeing unification under South Korean leadership result in American forces in a country that borders PRC. The PRC’s relationship with North Korea is at all time lows, but it’s still not to China’s benefit to see North Korea collapse or become unstable (and a complete economic embargo would at the very least make instability more likely in North Korea.)

From North Korea’s perspective, and it’s basically the correct one, the best way to keep the Kim regime in power is by having nuclear weapons. No country that has nuclear weapons has ever been invaded. Moreover, look to Ukraine–it gave up its nuclear weapons under international pressure, because both Russia and America were deeply concerned the decaying Ukrainian military couldn’t safely control its stockpile of Soviet warheads that were in country. Ukraine gave them up, Russia and the U.S. both signed an agreement saying they would “respect” Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and we see now how that worked out (Russia took Crimea and has invaded parts of East Ukraine.) Other countries like Libya that formally abandoned nuclear programs were later attacked by the United States and Western allies. The simple truth is the best thing Kim Jong Un can do to protect his control of North Korea, is to have a credible nuclear deterrent.

Again, I wish 20 years ago we had been willing to pay (the high price) required to have stopped their nuclear program with force, but we were not. Once they detonated a working nuclear device during the Bush Administration, the reality is we lost any military options. In the world we’re in now we have no moves, realistically speaking.

Now, I do think we can work with China to stop North Korea’s exporting of nuclear and weapons technologies abroad, particularly since China has grown increasingly exasperated by NK. But it’s unlikely China will ever sign up for a complete lock down of the entire country.

I believe Israel would like to have a word with you.

Israel is an outlier because it doesn’t maintain a nuclear deterrent, it has the exact opposite in fact–it publicly will not even admit it has nuclear weapons. This is not at all similar to what Pakistan/India/North Korea etc have–those countries all openly admit they have nuclear weapons and make it known they’re willing to use them.

Since Israel’s national policy is to have a secret nuclear weapons program, it’s just a different situation. Plus, the last time Israel proper was invaded by a foreign power was in 1967, we to this day don’t know (publicly at least–maybe our intelligence services do) when Israel first had a nuclear device. We know they were involved with the French nuclear weapons program in the 50s/60s, and we believe they conducted a test in the late 70s, but at least in terms of publicly available knowledge that’s it. Further, the little dribbles of knowledge we have mostly weren’t widely known until the last 25-30 years or so. When the 1967 war actually occurred it’s unlikely any of the non-Israeli parties involved actually believed Israel had a nuclear weapon.

It’s also possible Israel didn’t have one yet in 1967–we just don’t know.

The Yom Kippur War was in October 1973. Does that not count as an ‘invasion’ in your mind for some reason?

ETA: but your point about their ambiguity is a good one. They’re not touting their assumed nuclear arsenal like most nuclear powers.

ETA2: I just re-read this and saw the “Israel proper”. I assume the difference you see is that the Yom Kippur war was fought on territory Israel occupied in 1967, as opposed to earlier. Fair enough.

Yom Kippur is more of a border skirmish over contested territory–FWIW India and Pakistan have had similar in Kashmir.

Edit: The 1967 war was different from a border skirmish in my mind because it was a powerful alliance clearly intending to actually destroy Israel itself.

Late last year, I felt that the chances of us going to war with North Korea were very small. Today I feel like that possibility has grown significantly. Do any of the rest of you feel similarly, or am I way off base here?

The only thing we can do is what we’ve been doing, IMHO, which is sanctions, international pressure, and trying to get China on board and able to apply their own pressure. Other than that, the only other option is war, and I don’t see that as feasible or desirable. At this stage, it’s all bad options and too many years (decades really) of kicking the can down the road. Hopefully we can do the same and, eventually, the regime will fold without too horrific a loss of life.

I think the possibility has grown significantly but still distant. But the number of missteps needed to start a war has gone down.

We can start doing what we should have done a long time ago. We need a world-wide agreement that if North Korea attacks another country there will be a unified and certain response. We can make this much easier by telling China in such circumstances we will have them take control of North Korea. I don’t believe this will be easy to do, it will take a lot of time and hindrances but there’s no time like the present to get the ball rolling. So I’d say that the problem we face is that it will one day be too late change the situation so that the inevitable number of bad decisions leading to war doesn’t occur first. And we all need to hope it’s not too late already.

Naw, it’s no more than it’s ever been. If you’ve been following along for the last…wow, it’s been decades now…this is from their standard play book. They will ramp up the rhetoric. They will do something seemingly insane to push the buttons of the South, the US and in theory the rest of The World™, who mainly don’t seem to care. In the past that could be shelling a South Korean town, sinking one of their warships or the ever popular sending of commandoes into the South (or Japan) to kill or kidnap people. Then they will broadcast stuff about how they will destroy the South and the US in a war, maybe with very badly done video (by our standards…probably state of the art in North Korea). After a while, they will, hopefully, get some concessions or maybe a bribe in the form of economic relief or maybe agricultural products (which they will change the labels on so that it doesn’t seem to come from the US, South Korea or Japan). Rinse and repeat.

These nukes the North has are fairly small in number, and the rockets are still in development. And, if they use them, it will be only because they are at the end of their rope (just before it snaps their necks). They aren’t really offensive tools or even defensive since it’s highly unlikely the South and US (or anyone else) is going to try and invade.

Lindsay Graham says Trump may have other plans.

Credit: Rick Kitchen in the pit “Trump Clusterfuck” thread.

Trump is a little unpredictable, but at least from what we know so far Trump is all bark about 98% of the time.

Not much that can be done. Not unless we are willing to have Japan and South Korea nuked. This would be bad for the whole world (remember when the Fukushima meltdown threw the world into a mini recession, a nuclear exchange in that region would cause a run on the global financial banking system).

We can use sanctions and we can try to cajole or bribe them but I don’t know that diplomacy is something we do much of any more.