North Korea will never give up its WMDs — here’s what Trump should do about it

North Korea will never give up its WMDs — here’s what Trump should do about it
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It’s a question that has baffled every U.S. president since Harry Truman: What do we do about North Korea?

Nowadays, the question is even more complex, thanks to reports that Pyongyang could have as many as 65 nuclear warheads, over 1,000 missiles and large stockpiles of chemical and likely biological weapons that easily could kill millions of people.

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That makes the North Korea challenge more complex than ever — and creates a dangerous dilemma. The Trump administration must be asking whether it has any way of convincing Kim Jong Un to give up any of his weapons of mass destruction, especially the nuclear weapons.

 

The answer is obvious: No.

And why would the Kim regime give up what amounts to the ultimate security guarantee? Nuclear weapons are an insurance policy, essentially underwritten in blood. The Trump administration, while fantasizing about bloody nose strikes or ridding the world of Kim’s nukes by force, knows that if it can’t militarily destroy every single nuclear weapon in a first strike, Kim’s counterattack would result in the death of millions. In fact, what Pyongyang craves, more than anything else, is nuclear acceptance, not nuclear disarmament.

While such scenarios are terrifying, they create the conditions in which the Trump team can craft smart policy options, and that means working to aggressively contain North Korea’s ability to harm its neighbors or export its deadly destruction. None of that means accepting Kim’s nuclear or other weapons programs, but it does base America’s actions on the reality that, short of an invasion that would likely kill millions, America must create a North Korea policy that recognizes Kim will have nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future.

Such a containment policy would have several components. First, America, along with Japan and South Korea, must begin to base larger amounts of offensive weapons and missile defense platforms in Northeast Asia. This is important since Kim may feel he can leverage his nuclear arsenal to extract concessions, act proactively, as his regime has done in the past, or even fulfill his family’s long-sought goal: reuniting the peninsula under North Korea’s control.

Washington and its allies need to expand dramatically missile defense platforms in the area, adding additional Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) batteries throughout the region, especially in Japan. U.S. forces with the best offensive capabilities — nuclear attack and ballistic missile submarines armed with cruise missiles, along with more stealth F-35s and F-22s — should be rotated in on an expanded schedule to deter Kim from making any aggressive moves. And, of course, President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch To ward off recession, Trump should keep his mouth and smartphone shut Trump: 'Who is our bigger enemy,' Fed chief or Chinese leader? MORE should restart all joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises immediately.

Next, there must be a strong focus on making sure Kim fails to sell any of his advanced nuclear, chemical, biological or missile technology to any rogue state or terror group for cash, something about which our intelligence agencies are concerned. We know his regime has done this before, helping Syria build a nuclear reactor and selling missile technology to Iran and other nations.

With Kim developing long-range missile technology that can send a nuclear payload thousands of miles away, you can bet countless buyers stand ready to pony up hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars for such technology. There must be a concerted effort by the Trump administration to make sure such weapons do not fall into the hands of Iran or any other state or terror group that would seek to do Washington harm.

Finally, we should work to ensure that the North Korean people know the truth about their regime — that America is not the enemy. Here is where Trump’s containment plan could develop into a more menacing play, even taking on the elements of a rollback strategy. Washington could help nongovernmental organizations and other private groups that are trying to spread information inside North Korea about the outside world and how repressed North Koreans’ lives have become.

The Kim regime’s hold on power is based on a toxic mix of isolation and fear; taking away one of those two controlling pillars could prove fatal — or, at the very least, make Kim understand that America and its allies have tools at their disposal to weaken his grip on power.

But all of this can’t be done without political will and, most importantly, allies who will work with us to ensure that if we can’t remove North Korea’s nukes, we can contain North Korea’s worst impulses. With rumors that Japan could try to buy off North Korea with large sums of cash to gain the return of kidnapped citizens, or South Korea offering greater economic cooperation — all of that would send the wrong signal.

Pyongyang must know the price of its atomic insurance policy is isolation and containment. Anything else guarantees we will deal with many more states trying to emulate North Korea’s nuclear playbook in the future.

Harry J. Kazianis (@grecianformula), is director of Defense Studies at the Center for the National Interest, founded in 1994 by President Richard M. Nixon, and executive editor of its publishing arm, The National Interest. He previously worked on the foreign policy team of the 2016 Ted Cruz presidential campaign, working on policy options to contain an aggressive Russia. He was also a member of the John Hay Initiative’s Russia working group.