Written by Cecilia Godoy
In recent months, a cornerstone of President Trump’s foreign policy has been to curb North Korean efforts to develop weapons of Mass Destruction. This was in response to North Korean officials claiming they had successfully detonated a hydrogen bomb, also known as a thermonuclear weapon, which could be fitted atop a long range missile capable of striking the US.” According to the seismological data, “the weapon was the most powerful ever detonated.” The nuclear weapon would serve as the ultimate survival mechanism for Kim Jong Un’s antiquated, dictatorial regime and would help him realize the international dominance he has been trying to establish for years on the world stage.
Currently, most of the American policies in place to halt North Korea's nuclear objectives are economic in nature. Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the United States, “urged her colleagues to adopt the strongest sanctions possible to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear program” Other countries, such as China, believe that sanctions alone will not be enough to deter the aggressive measures being pursued by North Korea. The Chinese government additionally advocated for the suspension of all US and South Korea military drills in an attempt to lower the rising tensions in the region. Additionally, the United States has been pressuring Southeast Asian countries to do more to address the North Korean threat. China – North Korea’s economic lifeline – “has long been hesitant to completely cut off the crude oil supply to North Korea, worried that economic instability could bring a flood of refugees to the Chinese border." The options available to the United States boils down to sanctions or negotiations, the latter looking increasingly unlikely.
The current tension with North Korea is somewhat reminiscent of old Cold War dynamics between Soviet Union and the United States, however the strategies implemented then are not suitable to curb the current North Korean crisis. During the Cold War, the United States practiced a policy of containment, which “relie[s] on each nation’s interest in self-preservation to prevent either from launching strike”. As effective as that policy was during the duration of the Cold war, it is unlikely that a policy of containment, would work as well in this situation, mainly because such a policy was not designed to rollback the aggression of rogue nations. Despite the high level of hostility between the two superpowers then, it was always understood that both the United States and the Soviet Union were rational players in the global international order. The same cannot be said for North Korea, therefore creating difficulties in how to handle the North Korean nuclear proliferation issue from a American foreign policy perspective.
North Korea seems to not only be doubting the ability of super powers to stop its militaristic endeavors, but is also seriously questioning the major tenets on which the United Nations was founded upon. It is important to acknowledge that in this case, perhaps the United Nations and its reliance on soft power may not be enough to deter threats from rogue nations such as North Korea. Similarly, since North Korea has spent the last 50 years being self-reliant, it is unlikely that economic sanctions will hinder its nuclear ambitions or domestic political legitimacy. The United States should also be cautious of pursuing an overly militaristic foreign policy in fear of being seen as a willingness to engage in an outright conflict. It appears therefore, that American foreign policy as it relates to North Korea demands a careful balancing act in which offensive measures also exercise some degree of strategic restraint to prevent a full blown war.
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Hunt, Katie. "What Happens If Kim Attacks? 5 Things to Know about North Korea." CNN. Cable News Network, 05 Sept. 2017. Web.
Gearan, Anne, and Emily Rauhala. "Trump Renews Threat of Force against North Korea over Nuclear Weapons." The Washington Post. WP Company, 07 Sept. 2017. Web.