The debacle of North Korea is one that has been a constant scourge amongst global leaders for generations. Year after year, day after day, the communist dictatorship finds itself in the headlines for a plethora of reasons, from their increasingly regular missile tests, to their ‘Dear Leader’ executing his own uncle. Whilst North Korea could once be seen as a laughing stock, another authoritarian regime which seems to think it’s a global superpower despite having an economy as powerful as a decaf coffee, the rogue state has now emerged as a major threat to global security.
Since 2016, North Korea has been responsible for twenty missile tests, with two recent tests forcing Japanese citizens to scramble to safety following the sounding of regional missile alarms. The regime claims that their Hwasong-14 missile has the capability to reach mainland USA, threatening West Coast cities including Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. And whilst the validity of these claims is unknown, the aggressive nature of Kim Jong Un has led to the usual diplomatic condemnation, and, well, President Trump’s ‘condemnation’.
Following one of the tests, Trump threatened to respond to North Korea through ‘fire and fury’. In return, Kim Jong Un threatened to bomb the US territory of Guam, where a major US military base is located. Then Trump called Kim Jong Un ‘rocket man’ in a conversation with South Korean President Moon. Nope, this isn’t an overhead conversation from a school playground, but is what now seems like high level diplomacy.
But in all seriousness, North Korea has arguably become one of the most serious security threats facing 21st century humanity. The regime should have been put down long ago, when it was relatively weak and retaliation would have been futile – not necessarily on the grounds of global aggression, but instead in the form of humanitarian intervention.
The regime has made little effort in hiding the degrading conditions its citizens are forced to live under, from some having to endure life in hard labour camps, to ‘defectors’ being publicly executed. The West should have acted upon their democratic values and liberated North Koreans when it was still possible. But alas, now that time has gone, and the hands of global leaders are tied.
A military response to the numerous missile tests may seem like a response of an appropriate measure. After all, how can a rogue state be allowed to launch missiles over East Asia as and when it pleases? Millions of lives are at stake, with hundreds of thousands already having to be prepared to take shelter.
Of course, any form of military intervention poses numerous questions, let alone in such a politically vibrant part of the world. Let’s not forget that now, following years of successful research and development, North Korea could easily devastate many of their pro-US neighbours, including South Korea and Japan, not only through their potential nuclear stockpile but also conventional weaponry. If the US does decide to strike first - likely strategically targeting North Korean military bases, not civilian areas - we can expect Rocket Man to strongly retaliate against Seoul or Tokyo, if not mainland USA. Of course, he could also sink Guam.
It’s clear that military force is a risky and unlikely option which puts countless lives at stake, but does that mean we must live knowing that North Korea will possess nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future? Should the citizens of Japan and South Korea constantly live in fear of the ‘Supreme Leader’ having the ability to push a button which could obliterate their capitals?
For the sake of future generations, the North Korean question is one which cannot be allowed to continue. Other options must be considered, including even more economic sanctions and persuading China and Russia to step up their action against the regime.
North Korea’s total export value accounts to an excess of $2.8bn, the majority of which is down to China ($2.3bn). But did you know that between themselves, France and Germany bought $11.3m worth of North Korean goods in 2015? Yes, in the world of global trade that isn’t a lot of money, but wouldn’t it send a message to North Korean leadership if there was a unanimous boycott of the regime’s exports, ultimately forcing them to start talking? If they continue being stubborn, it’s inevitable that large sections of North Korean society would start putting pressure on their leadership or, at the least, weapon development would have to be scaled down.
Of course, securing China’s support on this issue is crucial – more than 80% of North Korean trade occurs with their superpower neighbour.
China does indeed table valid concerns regarding regime change in North Korea: it does not want waves of displaced refugees crossing the border into Chinese territory, nor would it want a new government in bed with the US on their doorstep. But, recent Chinese actions have seemed promising, most recently backing the latest wave of UN sanctions against their bittersweet frenemy. Building upon this momentum and forming a unified front against Kim Jong Un would place him in a difficult situation indeed, ultimately forcing him into making concessions.
Some argue that we must start integrating North Korea into the international community, accepting the reality of their nuclear ambitions. But remember, we’re not talking about a democratic state which is willing to cooperate with global counterparts. This is a regime built on establishing a communist superpower to ultimately destroy the USA and what they see as ‘imperialism’. We cannot make the mistake of appeasing a totalitarian dictatorship and letting them do as they please. After all, how did that turn out the last time it was tried?
For the good of future generations and global security, it’s time for our leaders to step up and stop shying away from confronting North Korean aggression. It’s time to put an end to Rocket Man’s dreams and ambitions.