It’s China to the rescue, or, if not, the world could be headed for an eventual nuclear holocaust. Irresponsible very nearly to the point of evil, China has been reluctant to do what’s necessary to get North Korea to end its weaponry madness. Not acting decisively now would amount to a curse on humanity.
What we’ve recently seen, as everyone knows, is North Korean leader Kim Jong Un exploding what seems a thermonuclear device capable of destroying a major city. It was many times as powerful as other bombs the country had previously tested and a worse nightmare than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It comes after North Korea flew a ballistic missile over northern Japan and tells us of reality catching up with frightening braggadocio.
If Kim doesn’t back up, he could very well blast an enemy someday or share technology or even developed weapons with Iran and other beasts in the woods. In response, Japan and South Korea will likely develop nuclear weapons. The world will be in a state worse than the Cold War because predictability will be less certain. And with more and more actors capable of pulling the trigger, proliferation will breed increased likelihood of catastrophe.
Discouragingly, however, it seems close to certain Kim will not back up under almost any circumstances. As experts have explained, he sees his regime disappearing short of becoming a nuclear power and he has already shown his personal determination for unceasing power by murdering family and friends.
A pre-emptive war, then?
That would almost certainly mean millions of South Koreans killed almost immediately, and one thing President Donald Trump should never have done was publicly accuse South Korea of appeasement.
He might be more hesitant about that and his trade threats if millions of Americans faced death, and, in fact, South Korea has lately been engaged in military exercises meant to send a message. It has also said it would agree to defensive missiles China does not want it to have. We need to stick close to both South Korea and Japan, which itself has been unflinching in its fierce reactions.
Then there’s the possibility of sanctions to bring North Korea to some kind of understanding. The probability of that working is both nil and very good.
Sanctions of the usual kind, a billion dollar hurt here and another hurt there, would likely accomplish nothing. Yet, if China ended all trade with North Korea, that could do the job. It’s not that North Korea would change its mind, just that it would no longer be able to sustain its program or maybe even Kim as dictator. China represents 90 percent of all trade with North Korea, and what’s the reclusive country going to accomplish without oil, with no food to feed its people, with no means for anything much?
The story is that China won’t do it because a consequent collapse of the regime could well mean a South Korean takeover and China does not want a Western-allied, democratic nation on its border. It also does not want North Koreans streaming into China by way of escape in the early going.
Here is what the United States could do and Trump has talked of doing: Don’t trade with anyone who trades with North Korea. That would hurt China enormously but would also hurt us as a way of substituting economic shrinkage for economic growth. It could also breed enmity without simple resolution.
The American need is courage along with wisdom and commitment, and we seem to have those in Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. Trump has shown he will listen to them.
We’ve made clear to North Korea that it cannot take its belligerence too far without a flattening military response, and we should stick to that. If China does not cooperate willingly, we have few options but to do our best to get it to.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at email@example.com.