Deterrence or engagement: The quest for normalization

By Ubaid Ahmed

Bellicose rhetoric flying back and forth between US and North Korea serves to increase the perception that threat would be carried out thus reinforcing deterrence. Each nation is to build up specific arrangements to meet its security concerns however the aim of cherry-picking a certain policy in Henry Kissinger’s words is to ‘translate power into policy’.

The official position of US government for quite long is that Pyongyang has to give up all its nuclear weapons and same goal was being followed even under Trump’s regime however the goal has utterly been failed allowing North Korea to build nuclear weapons and develop missiles which in theory are capable of hitting East coast of US. Hitherto, by twigging to the policy that no longer reflects reality America is making the risk of war that would kill millions and millions.

US nonetheless need to shift to a different policy. The ‘strategy’ which helped win cold war could be an option and can be adopted. This ‘containment’ would aim to minimize North Korea’s nuclear program. It’s constantly less demanding to lead a totalitarian regime when there is nationalistic cause around which the mass population can be united. So, Pyongyang needs enemy in the face of US. North Korean nuclear program born out of fear and that too the fear of US. Its policies revolve around the threat of war with US and it also sees the development of its nuclear weapons as a deterrent against regime change.

Now the question which arises is, can the world and particularly US live with a nuclear North Korea?

There are three countries that never marked Non Proliferation Treaty but their nuclear programs are only seen as a threat in regional context. Unlike Israel, India and Pakistan, North Korea’s weapons are not solely intended to deter regional rivals rather they seek this capacity to strike US itself. Moreover, it’s already a nuclear armed state but yet its capacity to strike US cities is doubtful. Most importantly North Korea is not a democracy and not in any sense ally of the US hence peculiarly isolated from international systems. US and North Korea could co-exist as nuclear rivals because the hopes to halt, roll back and abandon North Korean nuclear weapons proved illusive

Nevertheless, there is no such evidence that North Korea wants to blow US. It’s really not a suicidal state and its very goal by every piece of evidence is to avoid war at all costs. Though North Korea is a hyper-repressive regime but domestic repression barely translates into suicidal wars. So, it is less likely for North Korea to attack US first.

Numerous illegitimate North Korean ballistic missile and ICBM tests coupled with the most recent pugnacious language from Pyongyang about striking US, heightened pressures to levels not experienced since the Korean War; a part of reason for this is that North Korea sees that US can’t be trusted. Kim has internationalized the lessons he learnt from the ousting and downfall of Saddam Husain (2003) and Qaddafi (2011). However aggressive rhetoric may heighten the prospects for catastrophic miscalculations.

China’s pressure in this regard is one of only a handful couple of levers against Pyongyang however its impact ought not to be over-stated. China basically can’t manage the cost of North Korean regime being cleared away for it can’t bear the cost of the surge of a great many displaced people over its fringe.

Additionally, growing threat from North Korea could likewise prompt critical rearmament in the Korean Peninsula. However, if this be the case then there would be an ineluctable need for US to extend its nuclear umbrella over its Asian allies in the same fashion it did with its European allies within NATO. Conversely, all these aforesaid steps might make North Koreans feels more under threat so there needs to be an additional dimension and that for instance is a clear diplomatic pathway.

North Korean regime is not quite crazy as it seems to be, but a peace deal, economic development and a commitment by US not to seek regime change is a potential currency for diplomatic exchange in the future.

Summing it up, diplomacy, coercion, sanctions and deterrence all have an unequivocal part to play in the Korean Peninsula but the question that persists is whether North Korean regime is prepared genuinely to bargain if it were to receive tangible gain?

Ubaid Ahmed currently works as a Research Affiliate at Strategic Vision Institute in Islamabad, Pakistan 

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Foreign Policy News

Foreign Policy News is a self-financed initiative providing a venue and forum for political analysts and experts to disseminate analysis of major political and business-related events in the world, shed light on particulars of U.S. foreign policy from the perspective of foreign media and present alternative overview on current events affecting the international relations.

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