First ask: 'Should we be worried?'
The presidential candidates have spent very little time this election talking about North Korea and its recent nuclear and rocket tests. In terms of prior political rhetoric, this lack of focus is startling. Yet remaining silent on North Korea is the best possible approach to a country that acts out as a manipulative tool to game the system.
The global community has treated North Korea and the Kim family leadership as a spoiled and potentially problematic child. By doing so, we helped create a country that has no concept of responsibility or acceptable behavior.
North Korea has held the global community’s attention at its beck and call since 1955, and the Kim family has created a dynasty out of what is really nothing more than extortion. For each and every tantrum the country throw—through nuclear tests and reports of nuclear prowress—the leader has demanded concessions from the world powers. In return, the global community seems to have decided that acting out and unacceptable behavior are the norm, and we continue to believe the child-like assertions that a future tantrum won’t happen again.
When the international community tries to impose some level of punishment, we bend over backward to try and not affect the North Korean general population. But the average citizen is suffering daily from lack of food, limited or non-existent basic services, including electricity, and the constant threat of death or imprisonment (for themselves and their families) should their loyalty to the regime be in doubt.
Preventing the few elites from buying Harley Davidsons, snowmobiles worth more than $2,000, or luxury watches does nothing to stop bad behavior.
The real question we should be asking ourselves about North Korea’s nuclear abilities is: should we be worried?
In reality, North Korea does not present a clear and present danger to the safety and security of other countries, nor is its regime suicidal. They cannot overwhelm, with their mediocre military technology, the U.S., China, Russia, Japan or South Korea. And if the regime (any of the Kim regimes) had been suicidal, it would have gone forward with reunification attempts on the Korean Peninsula rather than limiting itself to childish propaganda videos on their YouTube channel.
If the global community—and specifically the major powers such as the U.S., Russia, and China—agrees that North Korea is an immediate, credible threat, they must agree to take immediate concrete steps to stop the threat. Until then, it’s clear that North Korea’s tantrums have taken far up far too much time and effort.
Cliff is a foreign policy and national security expert and a visiting political science professor at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, N.H.
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