North Korea: Where are we heading?

Where  are we heading in relations with NK as basically the escalation seems to be a new normal in the relations with North Korea after tests, sanctions, tweet storms, (non)declaration of war…? Read few comments.

Walter Ladwig, Lecturer in International Relations, King’s College London

I think we are going to see the kind of instability you describe continue in the short term.  That being said, you are already seeing a number of senior U.S. officials like Mattis and Tillerson make statements that suggest acceptance of the fact that a nuclear armed North Korea with long-range or even ICBM capability will be a permanent reality.  If reversing or rolling back their nuclear program is no longer the focus of American efforts, attention can turn to deterrence instead, which should, in theory, presage a much more stable relationship.

Of course, much depends on North Korea’s plans for its weapons.  If they are simply seeking a tool to prevent a U.S. intervention or gain their country status and prestige for their technical accomplishment (although it was facilitated by China and possibly Russia), mutual deterrence can be stabilizing for the political relationship.  Pyongyang’s pursuit of full spectrum deterrence capacity seems to suggest that these are the goals behind their nuclear weapons program.  On the other hand, if the North Koreans envisage their nuclear weapons as a means to continue to coerce aid, food, money, etc. from the US, Japan, South Korea, and even China on an on-going basis, then we will be in for a rough ride.

Jeffrey Kingston, Professor, Director of Asian Studies, Temple University

It is hard to predict where the current standoffs heading. Some experts predict a 50-50 chance of conventional conflict…a nightmare scenario…and 10% for a nuclear war–a tragedy for humanity. I think that much of this rhetorical jousting is driven by domestic politics in DPRK and US and that there is no intention to go to war, but the chances of a miscalculation are high. Seoul is frustrated at Trumps counterproductive stoking of tensions and saber rattling. Abe is with Trump and is happy with his hardline although the Japan public has misgivings about this failure to pursue diplomatic options. Abe is calling snap elections mostly to avoid embarrassing grilling in the Diet about cronyism allegation but maintains that he wants to get a public mandate for his approach to N Korea. There is frustration in Tokyo that Moscow has been more than unhelpful in pressing Pyongyang to modify its behavior despite be meeting Putin more than any other leader. Recently Deputy PM Taro Aso suggested it might be necessary to shoot refugees fleeing NK as they arrive in Japan. Everyday in  media there is blanket coverage of NK missile program and this has helped boost Abe in polls as there is a rally around the flag tendency. all of this is helping the US arms industry.

Charles Armstrong, The Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Studies in the Social Sciences, Department of History, Columbia University

Although the rhetoric on both the North Korean and US said is very heated and provocative, neither side wants war and both have mentioned the possibility of negotiation to resolve this crisis. I doubt sanctions will be effectively enforced to really change North Korea’s behavior in the short term. Unless a war breaks out through miscalculation, which is still possible, we will likely move toward diplomatic dialogue but that will be a long and difficult process.

Narushige MichishitaProfessor, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) Director, Security and International Studies Program (SISP)

Both sides will keep taking measures to pressure each other, with North Korea conducting more nuclear and missile tests and heightening the tension on the Korean Peninsula while the United States and others putting more sanctions on North Korea and taking necessary defense measures. After a while, it will become clear which side time is on. Then, the countries involved start thinking about dialogue to control the escalation.

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