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Terry H. Schwadron

Aug. 8, 2017

The most recent round of danger seemed to start with the President saying that economic sanctions voted by the United Nations last week are not getting enough attention. For its part, North Korea has vowed to retaliate “a thousand-fold” against the United States over the sanctions. That, in turn, prompted Mr. Trump to vow “fire and fury like the world has never seen” for North Koreans, which last night resulted in North Korea announcing on its official news agency that the country’s military was taking aim at Guam, an American territory with large numbers of U.S. military members.

Other world leaders and some key senators were quick to suggest that Mr. Trump’s language was incendiary, and called for cooler heads. In Trumpland, the rhetoric simply matches that of the North Korean Great Leader Kim Jung-Un.

The question, of course is whether any of this is real, since these boys are playing with real weapons. Indeed, U.S. intelligence updated its assessments yesterday and said that North Korea has already achieved the ability to miniaturize a nuclear weapon to arm ballistic missiles that it now has showed it can fire at a widening arc reaching the mid-West of the United States.

There is no question that none of the belligerent talk is effective. Rather, everyone on the American side of the tug rope recognizes that the UN sanctions just voted are up to China and possibly Russia, itself a target of unwanted sanctions, to enforce any banned sales.

All the saber rattling is quickly changing the question of whether anything we do or say can prompt North Korea to halt its efforts on developing nuclear weapons to something more akin to are these people — on both sides — serious? One little mistake here results in war.

Guam is American territory, and home to a naval base, air force base, coast guard base and our strategic bombers, including two who flew over North Korea just a week ago. We would perceive an act by the North Koreans an act of war, and off we’d go. The time for decision-making one a missile has been launched is under 10 minutes, whether the decision is made by a sensible, far-thinking individual or by someone who is reacting on a hair trigger set of emotions.

For openers, someone in the vaunted legion of generals advising the President ought to tell him to cool his words. A lunatic like Kim Jung-Un just might be taking his bluster literally.

Just a half-second ago, we were talking sanctions, and offering to talk — about something — if only the North Koreans would lay down their plans for nuclear weapons. Now, per The Washington Post, U.S. intelligence believes that North Korea has perhaps 60 nukes ready to launch. And the Great Leader in North Korea is pissed at us for organizing the sanctions.

While the experts say that banning an estimated $1 billion in exports of coal, iron, iron ore, lead ore and seafood, the measures skip oil, which would seem to be critical, overseas labor practices for North Koreans and banks. But then, we’re told that almost all commerce from North Korea is with China, which does not really want to lean too hard on North Korea because it does not want instability on the Korean peninsula.

As a policy, then, we threaten military action, but rely on using promises of diplomatic talk towards some undesignated end. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attended a meeting of Asian diplomats, but did not even go to the dinner where North Korea was present. Tillerson later added that we will be happy to talk to North Korea as soon as they junk their nuclear ambitions. That, of course, would be the main subject for talk.

And, just to be helpful, John Bolton, the former U.N. ambassador, told Fox News that we should simply set aside talk for a full-frontal attack on North Korea. Bolton called for China to “eliminate” North Korea’s nuclear program by forcibly merging the nation with South Korea. “Our options are very limited,” Bolton said. “After 25 years, in my view, of pursuing the wrong policy with North Korea, of trying diplomacy and sanctions to affect their behavior, it was never going to work, it didn’t work through three successive administrations, it won’t work if we try it in year 26.”

Meanwhile, over objections from his own national security team, the president is making noises about forgoing signing the next 90-day compliance order assuring that Iran is living within its promises to set aside its development of nuclear weapons. So, single-handedly, President Trump seems to be bringing about a two-front nuclear weapons standoff.

North Korea remains the thorniest problem because of its missiles. It has vowed never to give up its nuclear arsenal and called the penalties a panicky response by an American bully.

After listening to different experts on all this, the conclusion seems to be that it is unclear, at best, as to whether the economic measures will hinder in any demonstrable way North Korean nuclear ambitions. There has been little change in North Korea’s foreign outlook in the 11 years of some kind of U.N. sanctions.

North Korean Foreign Minister, Ri Yong-ho, denouncing the sanctions on Monday in that Manila conference that Tillerson was attending. “We will, under no circumstances, put the nukes and ballistic rockets on the negotiating table,” Mr. Ri said.

Among all the reports, I’ve seen nothing that does what logic would suggest — identifying all sources of the materials that North Korea needs for its nuclear program and stopping the supply lines. Instead, we circulate the same notions that somehow U.S. cyber efforts can throw monkey wrenches into the North Korean machinery or that some kind of military threat will force a change. None of that seems to be happening.

As for the banned activity, most North Korean trade involves China. China already has rules in place to stop importing North Korean coal. The other substantial portions of banned trade involve iron ore, which is said to be dwindling, and seafood, which is increasing but a smaller chunk of North Korean income. In addition, the U.S. Treasuring is said to be considering further economic sanctions involving Chinese banks and corporations that do businesses with North Korea.

Untouched were oil and the practice of allowing 60,000–80,000 North Korean laborers to work overseas, sending money home.

It is not clear how these varied efforts add up to an end to nuclear weapons development. What is clear is that the situation is a lot more complicated than reflected in President Trump’s overly inciting remarks.

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