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A new president, a new North Korea strategy

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As Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton hit the campaign trail voters can expect to hear about topics such as ISIS and China, but one glaring country will be omitted, North Korea. North Korea, for the most part, has generally been ignored by the United States. Unfortunately, U.S. foreign policy toward North Korea the last 16 years has not succeeded, leaving North Korea with ever growing nuclear weapon capabilities. No longer can the President of the United States sit on the sideline, or depend on China to end the nuclearization and hostility on the Korean peninsula.  The next President will have to address this ever-growing threat directly, with some key issues to keep in mind when dealing with North Korea.

Under the Obama administration, North Korea has been labeled a “Chinese problem”. However, a focus on China is not the answer to this dilemma. As North Korea’s only ally, China makes up 90.2% of North Korean imports and ensures that the North Korean economy does not collapse. In return, North Korea offers a buffer zone between the United States’ backed ally, South Korea, and China. In the past the U.S. has shamed China for not fully enforcing U.N. sanctions, Secretary of State John Kerry went as far as saying “In my conversation with the Chinese I made it very clear that has not worked and we cannot continue business as usual.” While the U.S. holds out hope that China will take a nuclear North Korea very seriously, it is not plausible to think that China will change their policy anytime soon. China currently holds all the leverage in East Asia, on issues ranging from the South China Sea to North Korean nuclearization. It would not be in China’s best interest to force North Korea to denuclearize. Even if China were to start enforcing sanctions, Supreme Leader Kim Jung-un could threaten to start flooding China with refugees. The next president’s strategy should exclude China, and focus on tangible solutions the U.S. could enact independent of outside help.

{mosads}Absent of reliance on China, the United States will be encouraged to take part in direct negotiations with North Korea.  Negotiations in the past have relied on ultimatums; North Korea having to completely denuclearize before the United States will start to talk about recognizing North Korea as a country or offer any form of aid. However, the U.S. would be better off taking a piece-meal approach towards negotiating denuclearization. If the United States is serious about denuclearization everything should be on the table. A sign of good faith would be for the United States to lift the luxury goods embargo, which China consistently violates.

Finally, the United States has to shift how they view North Korea. President Obama’s policy in East Asia strongly resembles President Clinton’s policy in the Middle East. President Clinton’s dual containment policy of Iran and Iraq was strongly criticized by foreign policy experts. President Obama’s dual containment of North Korea and China has led China to become more powerful within the region. The next President should approach North Korea and China similarly to how President Nixon approached the USSR and China. Instead of trying to deal with issues relating to China and North Korea simultaneously, the next President should balance China and North Korea, which could be called triangular diplomacy 2.0. If this approach is taken then it is possible for  the United States to improve relations with North Korea,  thus deescalating tensions on the peninsula, and also leading to closer relations with China.

Regardless, the next President will have to deal with the fact that North Korea is a nuclear power, whose missile technology will only continue to improve. If the next President fails to engage with North Korea, there could be a potential showdown between the United States and North Korea that could result in nuclear war.


Shawn McFall is a rising junior at Claremont McKenna College

Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton John Kerry

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