PAC-3 – Patriot Missile Defense System in Action (Photo Credit: Business Insider, 8-23-16)
With so much talk about the threat posed by North Korea to the United States and our allies, like South Korea and Japan, combined with the news that we are currently moving a carrier group led by the Carl Vinson back toward the Korean Peninsula, and seemingly weekly missile launches by North Korea, it certainly seems like this threat needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later. At the same time, I don’t think anyone really has any idea if China is willing to actually put pressure on Kim Jong Un, likely including President Trump himself, even after meeting with the Chinese this past week.
One thing the Syrian missile attack should make all of us nervous about is that it is very possible that this administration will decide at some point to just start lobbing missiles into North Korea as a pre-emptive strike. I don’t have a lot of faith in our “plan” for this region and fear a random attack that is surprising to all, totally ineffective, and because it would likely be unilateral, ultimately leads to even greater instability in that region. If nothing else, the last few decades have shown, “unilateral” is not really a very effective way to go about handling threats to the United States, whether we have the military capability or not. The proposed options presented by the National Security Council do little to alleviate these concerns either with options that reportedly include putting nuclear weapons in South Korea (which seems on the surface would be a violation of probably every nuclear treaty in existence, not to mention putting nuclear weapons that close to North Korea poses the risk, regardless of how minimal, that they could ultimately be captured), assassinating Kim Jong Un (both difficult, if not impossible, and technically illegal under current U.S. law), or an actual pre-emptive attack on North Korea to take out their military capabilities (likely killing hundreds of thousands of people, including many of our own that are stationed within artillery range in South Korea). Notice, all of these options put the burden squarely on the shoulders of the United States as well, both economically and militarily, and they are all based on a unilateral approach. Simply put, any of those actions are scary regardless of how often radio stations play God Bless the U.S.A, and how many people start waving flags.
With all that said, and admitting that I am not a military, nor international relations expert with my educational background being in U.S. government, public policy, U.S. politics and constitutional law, I have observed enough in the world over the years that it seems there are a few things that could be very effective, and not put the United States at further risk in an increasingly unstable world.
I know the first thing most will say is that we have been trying this, there have been severe financial sanctions, there have been threats against North Korean continued nuclear development, and they have had several effects. Without a doubt, the North Koreans have suffered mightily under the weight of the economic and trade sanctions imposed. Their nation is failing economically, although, a significant portion of the responsibility must fall squarely on the shoulders of their own leadership, where they spend approximately 22% of their GDP on defense according to widely published estimates. Their only real trade partner remaining is China, and the pressure on them is mounting to join the rest of the world in reigning in, Kim Jong Un. What I would propose is a different, less direct approach to diplomacy – an opportunity that many experts acknowledge has gone largely ignored for decades. In fact, all the way back in 2001, Senator Robert Kerry of Nebraska wrote for the Council on Foreign Relations that “Southeast Asia deserves more sustained attention from American policymakers than it has received in the recent past”, as part of this independent Task Force report. More recently, with the attempted negotiation and passage of the Trans Pacific Partnership, there is obviously still an interest in pursuing relations with this part of the world, even though that treaty was hugely unpopular and really only focused on trade, including China.
What I have not seen, is something more comprehensive, an approach that is both multi-national in nature, and also combines both economic and trade issues with a common defense mechanism. We have obviously entered into a wide range of bi-lateral agreements, both for trade and defense, but it appears on the surface that it’s possible this is simply the low hanging fruit of diplomacy. Of course, it is always easier and faster to pursue limited agreements with one partner, than to strive more something that has the potential to be world changing in the type of power shift that is can create. Of course, there have been many reasons for not taking this approach in the past, ranging from the economic crisis in the region in the late 90’s. There has been civil unrest in some nations, and there have been the old wounds we needed to heal with Vietnam. With all that in mind, however, it does seem that the time is right to look at the possibility. Also, as a sidebar, due to their continued reluctance to this point to take much of a stand against North Korea, I would suggest pursuing this type of Treaty Agreement exclusive of China, with the idea that it would be easier, as a result of the economic and military strength resulting from the agreement, to bring China in later simply because we would be negotiating from a dominating position of strength, as opposed to thinking of ourselves as equals.
The overall design of this would be to essentially put together a formal “NATO style” multi-national organization for South East Asia, that would include the United States, the 11 different sovereign nations of the region defined as Southeast Asia, as well as 9 other interested/geographically situated nations, including Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Japan, Nepal, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and South Korea. It may seem on the surface to be an incoherent group of nations, but I believe several facts support this sort of multi-national, and more importantly, multi-cultural type of alliance, including the obvious common interests in economic development, and strong defense. The region is surrounded by actors such as North Korea, with unpredictable leaders, seemingly bent on dominating their region through force, though having nothing to offer in terms of economic prosperity, and the hotbed of the middle-east, with the random, senseless violence that is tearing nations apart every day.
In addition, from the data below, one can see how this organization would dwarf any other alliance in the world, in terms of population, the diversity of religions, the vast sum of money spent cumulatively on defense, and the combined GDP of these nations. In fact, in rough numbers, this alliance would include 35% of the world’s population, nearly 39% of the world’s GDP, and just over 50% of the world’s defense spending, and unlike other regions of the world, where one religion is generally dominant, with other religions slowly infiltrating the culture, the religious base in this region is both diverse, and relatively stable. Including the United States and all of the nations listed above, this alliance would account for the following percentages of the world’s major religions, and in general, they have all managed to live in relative peace, together, for many years.
Christian 433 million people 18.34% of the world’s total
Islam/Muslim 581 million people 34.69% of the world’s total
Jewish 6.8 million people 45.75% of the world’s total
Buddhist 250 million people 63.42% of the world’s total
Hindu 1.06 billion people 93.53% of the world’s total
Other/None 295 million people 15.37% of the world’s total
The point to all of this, in terms of diversity would be simply that forming a productive, secure alliance around common goals and interests with this significant of a portion of the world’s population would logically speaking go a long way toward ultimately resolving the ongoing “war” between western culture and radical Islam, based simply on the fact that more than one third of the world’s Islamic population would be receiving the benefits in their own lives by aligning with Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Hindu’s. That sort of good will cannot be understated, as it is one thing to open your border and let refugees seek shelter within your borders, provide them humanitarian aid, and even deploy your military to help protect them in places like Syria or Iraq, however, while that all is good, because it does save their lives, it comes at a tremendous cost to the United States and other countries, and ultimately, it really does nothing to improve their lives.
The other factor is that with the overall economic and military strength, there is greater security for all members of the alliance, and instead of continually ramping up budgets for defense spending, the close alliance, and the vast amount of capabilities it possesses can actually work toward a reduced need for as much military spending, and for less time with our soldiers in foreign lands. Ultimately, less money is spent, and fewer people die, both civilians and soldiers, while the additional financial resources made available can be put towards improving the quality of life across the board for citizens of all countries involved.
Now, the final step, would eventually be to integrate China into this scenario, but there would be no rush, and it could be done according to the terms of this group of nations because while China may hold a lot of cards over any one of these countries, including the United States (financially and population), they are truly nothing in comparison to the group as a whole, and as for North Korea, with or without China’s support, we will not have to do anything to bring about the change necessary in that country. Its own citizens will be the ones to lead the charge.
With a proposed diplomatic solution like described above, the obvious detraction is the time it would take to implement, likely years, if not a decade. It is absolutely a long game, and with the rapid increases in North Korean aggression, the diplomatic solution along would likely not be sufficient. It should absolutely be pursued aggressively, but concurrent to that, there does need to be some sort of military intervention with North Korea, if nothing else, to allow the diplomatic solution time to develop and have the impact it most certainly would. At the same time, there is absolutely no reason to get involved in another war. Aside from the sheer cost, both financially and in terms of human life, wars always decrease overall stability, and in the case of North Korea, there is truly nothing to be gained, other than our own protection and safety.
The military component as I see it would need to be executed in two parts. I know there are likely thousands of people out there with experience, education and true knowledge of this subject that would be far better than me when it comes to the details of a solution, however, I am looking at it through the eyes of an educated American citizen who simply wants to see this resolved, sooner, rather than later, and after hearing at least the three solutions proposed within our current administration, I am confident that I cannot do much worse than those ideas, so I’m taking my shot, and if someone out there reads this and has the necessary expertise, or are in a position to act on some of these ideas, please do so, or tell me why this would not work.
Military Step 1
Attempt to communicate, either directly with North Korean leadership, or through China if need be, but get the message to them that we will NOT attack, we will NOT do anything militarily to enter their country, and will leave them alone to run their country and live their lives however they chose. The reason we will NOT do any of that is simply because it serves no purpose, and we are not interested. We are only interested in our own safety. In the end, Kim Jong Un, while he may be crazy, is pretty obviously acting out of fear right now, according to every expert I have listed to or read. He is posturing to thwart an attack from the West. The difference with him, admittedly, is that I am not sure he actually knows that posturing is only good up until you fire the first shot, because once you do, you may do a lot of damage and kill a lot of people needlessly, but you have also sealed your own fate in an unwinnable war (from North Korea’s perspective). Now, maybe he does have visions of grandeur, and he thinks it is winnable, but for Step 1, let us assume that if he doesn’t feel threatened, he will likely back off the aggression a little bit.
Military Step 2
As a part of the communication in Step 1, we also need to make certain that North Korea is acutely aware that we will, under no circumstance, allow them to inflict damage on us, or ANY other country in the world, whether we have an alliance with that country or not, so part of the plan that we would openly share with him is that we WILL be deploying our military resources to International waters around the Korean peninsula, as well as additional resources as necessary on land in South Korea, and we will wait. We will have effectively blockades North Korea and isolated them with a physical presence while not encroaching one bit on their sovereignty or their way of life.
Once we are positioned, based on track record, it is just a matter of time before North Korea will attempt to flex their muscle again and provide another “test” of a missile, nuclear or otherwise, and it is that behavior that we will use our own muscle to turn into a demonstration of our far superior power. We currently have three different systems available to us, THAAD, a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system; the PAC-3, Patriot Advanced Capability system; and finally, the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System. In this plan, I would suggest deploying the three systems into the region (if they are not already there), and simply put, every single time North Korea fires another rocket engine, or test missile into the sea, the moment it hits International airspace, we shoot it down. We focus on destroying every single attempted launch they make. We do it over open water, and we make sure that no human being is injured or killed. It is simply a process of our missiles destroying their missiles. Even for the most deranged lunatic leader, the lesson will be learned quite quickly, that all of the money you have spent on building up your capabilities will never be used, not on our watch. As for the rest of the world, including China, any negative reaction to those “unilateral” actions would be unimaginable.
For more information on the multiple layers of missile defense capabilities we currently possess, please see the article from Business Insider by clicking the link below:
As I have mentioned several times in this article, I do not claim to be an expert in these fields, but at the same time, this does appear to be a very common sense two part approach to resolving one of the biggest issues, if not the biggest, we face with regard to our safety and national security. Unlike, many of the actions I have seen take over the years of my life, we rarely have pursued such a dramatic and aggressive diplomatic solution to a problem, while simultaneously deploying our military in a way that does not actually destroy a country, kill thousands of people, and put global political stability at further risk, while still getting to flex our muscles and demonstrate the amazing capabilities and skill of our military personnel and equipment. The world would thank us, it would put us in a much stronger position as we continue to deal with ISIS, terrorism, and other extremists, and best of all, it comes at such little risk to the United States, both in terms of human lives and financial resources that it seems literally ludicrous to not at least have this be part of the discussion being had amongst our leaders.