WASHINGTON: As the Japanese reacted vigorously today to North Korea’s firing of a missile over the northern island of Hokkaido, the head of the Air Force’s Air Command and Staff College argued in an article that the possession of nuclear weapons is actually helping to restrain Kim Jong-un’ s actions.
In his article, James Forsyth, dean of the Air Force college at Maxwell AFB, argues that, “the socialization effects of nuclear weapons were on display between North Korea and the United States, and despite the rhetoric from both sides, each took steps to clarify positions and prevent war. The United States’ willingness to seek help from its rival China only underscores how far states are willing to go to avoid a nuclear confrontation.” He seems to be referring to Kim’s decision not to launch missiles near Guam. This appears to be what Trump was alluding to when he said a week ago: “But Kim Jong-un, I respect the fact that he is beginning to respect us.”
The Forsyth article, in the Air Force’s Strategic Studies Quarterly, offers this description of how what we might call nuclear socialization occurs:
“In short, nuclear weapons deter and dissuade statesmen from behaving recklessly,” Forsyth writes. “In the game of international politics, few things create more tension among states than the fear of annihilation. Because nuclear weapons produce this fear faster than anything else on the planet does, they ‘motivate and shape’ state behavior or draw members of a group into conformity with ‘the tensions their interactions produce.’ In this sense, nuclear weapons restrain the behavior of nuclear leaders, making them cautious, regardless of which states we are talking about or how many weapons they might possess.”
Meanwhile, the latest North Korean missile launch prompted Japanese Prime Minister Abe to call the launch an “unprecedented and grave threat” to his country. He spoke with President Trump for 40 minutes and they decided to call for yet another emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.
Last week, I spoke with Dean Cheng, the Heritage Foundation’s highly capable expert on China and the Koreas about what could be done to achieve the stated international goal of stripping North Korea of nuclear weapons. He pointed to the highly symbolic act of China inviting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford to visit the command that deals with North Korea. during his recent trip to the Peoples Republic of China. We don’t know if Dunforth actually went to the border, but the idea of him peering through powerful military binoculars across the Yalu River, surrounded by senior Chinese commanders, is certainly an evocative one.
After the missile flew over Hokkaido today, President Trump announced “all options are on the table,” a usefully vague but threatening claim. Whether North Korea pays much attention after Trump’s claim after his “fire and fury” comments awaits Kim’s actions.
When I asked Cheng what specific actions the United States could take to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons he offered a few. First, impose sanctions against Chinese and Russian companies that engage in nuclear- and missile-related business with Pyongyang.
Perhaps most intriguing, he suggested cutting the cables that connect North Korea to the Internet. “Why haven’t we pressured the Chinese to stop allowing North Korea to access the Internet,” he asked. But Cheng also said Russia has much to answer for, something we have heard little about when North Korea is discussed.
“There is a fifth player in all of this, the Russians. And everybody forgets the Russians. They are back to their habits of playing spoiler,” Cheng said. “If you’re Russian you’ve got to love this. You give a small amount of food aid to North Korea and you pry them away a bit from China and that ticks off the U.S. and Japan.”
Meanwhile, the depressing truth is that the people of North Korea — whether from fear, love of country or hopelessness — have shown no inclination to abandon the Kim family business known as North Korea. Even during the terrible famine of the late 1990s, which claimed at least half-million lives out of a population of 22 million, few North Koreans sought sanctuary either in China or in South Korea. Instead, they stayed home and died or starved, as Cheng noted. That leaves us a pudgy 30-something leader who has successfully ramped up both his nuclear weapons and his ICBM program, read our red lines and made a mockery of them.
Will South Korea and Japan, historic enemies, agree to work more closely and prod China to act lest they begin to counterbalance China’s influence in the region? Does the international community continue to go its separate ways, agreeing that a nuclear North Korea with ICBMs is a major worry but not take actions that change Kim’s behavior? Will nuclear weapons “socialize” North Korea in the face of existential doom? The view of the North Korea intelligence office for the Director of National Intelligence remains authoritative. Markus Garlauskas, the North Korea officer for the Director of National Intelligence, said in late July that Kim wouldn’t give up his nukes “at any price.”