The North Korea Problem: How We Got Here and Where We’re Going

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The history of Korea, compared to much of history, is very complicated in its right. However, the focus of this piece begins in the modern age at the conclusion of World War II.

During World War II, the Empire of Japan (1868-1947) stood as a militaristic and industrial powerhouse. Many Asian countries at the time feared any conflict with Japan, this includes Korea and China, who lacked the power and influence to defend themselves from Japanese influence.

At the conclusion of World War II, power shifted from Japan to the Soviet Union and China, who seized the fervor for independence in many Asian countries, including Korea, which leads to the conflicts between the United States and North Korea.

Much like the division of Europe, the two superpowers to come out of World War II, the United States the Soviet Union, the land of Korea split into North and South. The North chose the Soviets as its ally. The Soviets saw Korea as a foothold near democratic and U.S. backed Japan. Essentially great strife between the North and South Koreans led to U.S. involvement; known as the Korean War (1950-1953). North Koreans call this war the Fatherland Liberation War.

The United States almost expelled the North Koreans, however due to international intervention, the North remains.

This led to brief time of quiet between America and North Korea, but due to recent events many fear that conflict could grow more gruesome.

Enough with the history lesson, let’s look at the speculations of today.

Are we going to die?

In recent months, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, informed the world and specifically the United States, that the North Koreans have excelled in their nuclear program. This nuclear program began in the 1990s, when the North Koreans decided to violate the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This treaty, signed by both Koreas in 1985, would deter any stirring in nuclear arms programs by its signees.

Important to note that the two superpowers of the time, the United States and the Soviet Union, signed an agreement in 1979, known as the SALT-II treaty. SALT talks between the Soviet Union and America were aimed to de-escalate nuclear tensions.

This treaty did not go into effect due to various speculations between the Soviet Union, who felt threatened with the growing relationship between China, a bolstering communist ally, and the United States, the enemy of the Soviets in the Cold War.

North Korea has tested nuclear weapons underwater and in uninhabited areas. In July of 2017, the North launched a missile in the Sea of Japan. This has sparked the fears of Americans, since reports state that the current level of nuclear power can reach Alaska.

Mainland U.S. remains outside the threat range, but many question the threats and rhetoric of North Korea and the White House. Some believe that Kim Jong-un’s threats carry no bite, but others believe that it is time to act.

How will the United States respond to threats from North Korea?

The United States has stationed approximately 40,000 troops in the areas of South Korea, Guam, which is a United States territory with a military base, and Japan. America’s largest naval fleet, the Seventeenth Fleet, sits in Japan, not the United States. 23,468 American troops sit in South Korea. Much more sits in East Asia and Pacific islands.

These numbers outrank the amount of troops in the Middle East, as the United States has adopted a role of supervision, whereas the Asian islands have grown into a hotbed of tension.

Questions remain if the United States will upgrade its military presence, or if they will adopt diplomatic measures to resolve the conflict. From the perspective of the United States, diplomatic measures seem unlikely, as both countries have tossed around rhetoric that emphasizes power and domination. Remember President Trump’s “fire and fury” tweet from August?

Where does China stand?

China has grown into the “America” of Asia. It possesses military, industrial, and economic power to dictate much of what goes on in Asia. China has approached this situation with a diplomatic lens.

China, as has much of the world, threatened North Korea with sanctions, however, these sanctions have not deterred North Korean nuclear development. This means other methods.

Some suggest cutting off oil supply to North Korea. President Jinping of China sees this as the most drastic option. If China cuts oil from North Korea, it solves the problem of a nuclear North Korea and possibly brings down the current regime, who would not be able to recover from such a devastating economic blow, but China would have to respond to its own refugee crisis. China would have to again solve this problem on its own, as many countries would turn down North Korean migrants.

The United States certainly would not welcome North Koreans as the current president is working on a more isolated America in terms of global presence.

In final thought, however the world, especially the United States, chooses to deal with North Korea will result in a significant moment in history. I would ask, is the objective a nuclear free North Korea, or the eradication of North Korea?

Without answering this and many more, we will fail to take the necessary and effective measures in order to resolve the North Korean tensions.

Henri Baxhellari is a contributing writer for The Bradlo. Any views expressed by contributors should not be interpreted as the views of The Bradlo. 

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