How South Korea and America Should Respond to the Next North Korea Crisis

How South Korea and America Should Respond to the Next North Korea Crisis

John Dale Grover

Security, Asia

Washington must continue to combine deterrence and diplomacy while working with its ally Seoul.

The chances for any nuclear or peace deal with North Korea are rapidly dwindling. Kim Jong-un’s end-of-year deadline for a 2019 agreement will likely come and go without any significant progress. Pyongyang has repeatedly announced that its deadline is approaching, insisting that it is up to the United States to break the impasse. However, the question is whether or not North Korea’s rhetoric really means that 2020 will see a return to the norm of inter-Korean tensions accompanied by mutual threats from Pyongyang and Washington.

In a November 14 statement, a DPRK State Affairs Commission spokesman warned that “The US is advised to meditate on what influence the ‘new path’ we could be compelled to take will have on the ‘future of the US’.” Such statements are largely interpreted to mean that without a deal, Pyongyang will become more hostile. This could include either full-fledged tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of hitting America or another nuclear test—if not both. These tensions will directly impact South Korea’s security and will sink President Moon Jae-in’s attempts at building a peace regime on the Korean peninsula.

The entire situation with North Korea is full of bad options. Nuclear weapons are Kim’s insurance against regime change and also a tool to blackmail Seoul and Washington. Pyongyang has little incentive to get rid of its weapons of mass destruction, and has a pattern of saber-rattling followed by some concessions in order to get sanctions relief or international aid. Kim does not want to end up overthrown and dead like Iraq’s Saddam Hussein or Libya’s Muammar al-Gaddafi.

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