I’ve been interested in the topic of North Korea for years. In our circles, I could be called a “Pyongyang Watcher.” With the recent escalation in the region, you should be definitely watching Pyongyang.
It all started with Xi coming to Florida to meet with Trump in March. Trump suggested, before Xi arrived, that he was ready to take on North Korea by himself; “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.” It is when Trump actually met with Xi Jinping that people began to seriously view war with North Korea as a reality. On the 6th of April, when Xi Jinping was in a meeting with Trump, 59 Tomahawk missiles were fired at an airbase in Syria. This was designed to send a message to China that America is capable of tackling North Korea individually and to North Korea that they’re at risk. Ever since that meeting, China has been taking a much more hardline stance against North Korea than before. They were rejecting coal shipments in favour of America. There was news that soldiers and equipment was being deployed to the North Korean border. For the first time, it seems like China and America agreed on a common objective in regards to North Korea, and it’s to militarily threaten North Korea. This is different to the past where the United Nations and America would theoretically sanction North Korea, but China would enforce them very loosely.
This cooperation between China and America, in my opinion, makes this situation much more dangerous and different to the other times that there was a chance of war with North Korea.
I’m opposed to going to war with North Korea though. Despite the Kim regime being one of the worst governments in the world, the consequences of a war would overshadow the past and make the regime look like the best regime to have instead of a war where there’s a massive power vacuum and where there’s a possibility for terrorists to make a quick dollar on the black market and to export terrorism into neighbouring countries like China and South Korea.
How many countries do we need to destroy before we realise that regime change and war isn’t going to make the Korean peninsula a safer place or help unify the country easily?
We went to war with Iraq in 2003, yet they’re unable to decide on the type of government they want, so now you have a terrorist organisation, ISIS, fighting in one region of the country, the actual “government” of Iraq itself fighting in other regions, and America fighting and backing whoever they need to, at the time. I don’t see how North Korea would be fundamentally different to Iraq in this regard. When Iraq was invaded in 2003, they had the same population as North Korea as today. Iraq was also ruled under a dictator, albeit a much liberal one compared to the Kim regime. Iraq and North Korea also have trillions in resources. Iraq and North Korea also have neighbours who generally shared the same attitudes as China and South Korea, with China being Saudi Arabia and South Korea being Iran in this case. Iraq definitely has similarities to North Korea, and that’s a problem if war were to happen. I believe we would see the same problems in Iraq, just simply transferred to another country.
If we continue to use Iraq as a comparison to what a war with North Korea would be like, let’s acknowledge the effects it would have in America. The Iraq war, in 2013, was estimated to cost $2 trillion, though it is possible for it to go up to $6 trillion in the following decades due to veteran benefits and interest. If you allocate that budget to a war to North Korea that’s worth $2 trillion, you are at risk of hurting America severely. America’s current debt-to-GDP is about 108%. There’s $20 trillion in debt. Who thinks that adding another 10% of debt towards a war would be a good idea? This would make the debt-to-gdp percentage 118% suddenly, similar to Japan (within a range of 2%). Japan were once considered an economic powerhouse, just like how America is today, now they’re struggling. If America is to learn something from Japan, it’s that debt needs to go down, not up.
Going to war with North Korea would also potentially violate Trump’s campaign promises, though it’s unclear what his position actually is on North Korea. On the campaign trail, Trump said that he wanted to have a burger and talk about North Korea directly to Kim Jong-un. Other times, he said that he’s heard worse things than assassinating Kim Jong-un. If we just use his rhetoric here, we get a confusing message where on one hand he says that he would prefer not to go to war, and instead just work out something with Kim. While on the other hand, he left the door open on regime change there. Why would he contradict himself in this regard? He claimed to be against regime change in Iraq, Libya and he’s even tweeted about regime change in Syria being a stupid idea. He seems to be fairly against the idea of regime change in the Middle East, but in East Asia he takes another, much more hawkish stance on this issue.
War with North Korea would also create a massive refugee problem for both China and South Korea, and potentially Japan. Syria, after 5 years of civil war, has seen their population decrease and the general populace going to other neighbouring countries, though from time-to-time we have seen millions of refugees go to Europe, where they are struggling to handle the influx appropriately due to various reasons like not understanding the different cultures, not being able to get a house, not being able to get a job. If most refugees were to go into South Korea, there would be a variety of issues due to the aggressive way of South Korea.
North Koreans, in comparison to South Koreans are fundamentally different. North Koreans are less educated, more “socialist” thinking, and more domestic thinking than worldwide. You have to also consider the type of jobs North Koreans do contrasted to South Koreans. The way North Koreans farm is by using cow-led wagons or very old tractors, though this is much more rarer. North Koreans would also end up working low-wage jobs in a highly competitive market, and work to export goods, much like Vietnam or China. I don’t think the average westerner could handle the South Korean lifestyle. I think there is less chance for the average North Korean being able to handle it either.
The cost of developing the northern regions in a potentially unified Korean state would be astronomical for South Korea as well. If North Korea were to collapse tomorrow and it were to peacefully merge with South Korea, then it would cost South Korea $500 bil. to develop the North. I can’t see the costs being that low though, especially if a war were to happen. Even if there’s a civil war in North Korea, I think South Korea would be seriously affected by it economically and in terms of people dying, and whether you like it or not, in a North Korean civil war, South Koreans in South Koreans would lose their life, even if Seoul wasn’t nuked. The chance of it spilling over into South Korea is huge.
I think, for those reasons, unification with South Korea would be a disaster, and if unification were to happen, it shouldn’t be an expedited process, but rather a slow one that allows for North Koreans to integrate into the world economy. The best way I believe to do that integration is to allow China to have total control of the country, if Kim were to be overthrown, and for them to control the government of North Korea. This would make North Korea a puppet of China, but would it really be that bad? They would no longer have nukes. North Koreans would be able to enjoy more liberties. There is a chance they’d be converted over to Chinese-style capitalism where people would be able to sufficiently feed themselves, and where people would be able to enjoy much more luxurious lives. While North Korea would be a puppet state of China, theoretically, there would still now be an economic incentive to develop North Korea, not only for the sake of helping North Koreans and South Korea if unification were to happen, but to help physically link China up to South Korea — ending South Korea’s “virtual island” status.
Instead of war with North Korea, what would I do to eradicate their nuclear programme? If I were America, I would tell China that if they’re allowed to take out Kim Jong-un, if they want. I would also strongly encourage to work with them on strong sanctions enforcement as a soft-power way of decreasing the North Korean threat. A hard-power thing I would do is take out facilities like the Yongbyon centre which has been a centrepiece of the North Korean nuke development. This isn’t the first time time such a thing has been suggested, in fact, Bill Clinton, in the 90’s, wanted to do preemptive strikes on Yongbyon power plant, though he decided against it. I believe that is one way of halting the North Korean nuclear programme. I would also target monuments like the palace where Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il lie in state and where their statues are. I would also target the palaces of Kim Jong-un himself. If he then attacks first, I believe in self-defense and we would then be justified to really kill him though I would want to fully cooperate with China if this were to happen, and I would want to honestly pull out as soon as possible as North Korea is China’s problem, not ours.
I believe that this is the best route to go in regards to North Korea. I believe in cooperation with China. I believe in defending South Korea & Japan. I also strongly believe in helping the people of North Korea. What is the best way to actually help them though? Is it to subject them to decades of war or to just let them keep the regime? This is an answer I think that can only be answered with time.