Weapons of mass destruction tend to be very expensive. Yet despite years of sanctions, North Korea has found the money to build them. Lots of them. And with their deadly nuclear arsenal, the Kim family now has the ability to annihilate millions of civilians from Seoul to Seattle, and kill our men and women in uniform from Okinawa to Oahu.
Understanding how they did it should shape what the U.S. and the UN do next. And it should shame U.S. policymakers – from Bush to Obama – into learning a valuable lesson.
Imagine you make $10,000 a month. If I took away $100 from every paycheck, you’d feel the pinch but you’d manage just fine. But what if I took $5,000? With half of your income gone, I bet you’d be moving back into your parent’s basement. In other words, losing 50 percent of your paycheck would get your attention.
So how much of a bite did global sanctions take out of North Korea’s economy? Unfortunately, the amount is closer to $100 than $5,000. And that failure explains the predictable disaster that we now face.
Press reports tell us that North Korea earns about $3.16 billion a year in foreign revenue and 90 percent of that is from China, mostly from their exploiting of North Korean land for coal and other minerals. UN sanctions haven’t covered this trade.
In other words, North Korea has at least 90 percent of the funds that it needs to develop and launch a nuclear payload. And build a ski resort to boot.
Rather than punish China for their underwriting of North Korea’s nuclear proliferation, Obama and Bush have simply shrugged and settled for a dubious strategy — “strategic patience” in Obama’s case — and busied U.S. civil servants with the task of chasing after the remaining 10 percent of North Korea’s revenue.
The result of our failed policies? Four North Korean nuclear tests since 2006, more nuclear warheads, and North Korean rockets that can reach Los Angeles and beyond. And, just for good measure, they’re building a deep-water submarine capability that represents the second leg of the storied “nuclear triad.” I have no doubt that a long range nuclear bomber is on North Korea’s wish list too, giving them the final third leg. More strategic patience will not stop them.
As Obama and his advisers depart in 2017, they will continue the dark legacy of leaving behind a worsening nuclear nightmare that dumps fewer, more dangerous options onto their successor’s lap. The following is what we’re left with if we’re serious about protecting the American people and making the world safer:
Real Sanctions: The amount of revenue impacted by sanctions has to be dramatically higher than 10 percent, and phased in immediately. These sanctions must also include the Chinese people and companies that profit from all North Korean trade. If the UN cannot act due to a Chinese veto in the Security Council, we must build a coalition to do it.
Blunt Leadership: The president should tell the Chinese in simple terms that if they don’t collaborate in solving the North Korean problem, the U.S. will do so by military power or covert action. We must give the Communists a choice: either instability, or negotiated peace. A nuclear armed, unpredictable mad man is a U.S. red line.
U.S. Military Assets To Asia: Meanwhile, the U.S. should continue to move forward with deploying the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) to the region. Additionally, the U.S. should move Pacific Command assets into the region, and be prepared to use them. These assets should include nuclear-armed submarines and dialogue with Japan on basing nuclear-armed ballistic missiles in a prefecture. We should also plus up the size or strength of the United States Forces Korea in consultation with our South Korean allies.
All told, these efforts must be more than a show of force. They must be a part of a strategy that demonstrates resolve to use our military assets if necessary.
An Asian Peninsula: Amidst our military might and threat of war, we must be prepared to address legitimate concerns, Chinese in particular. We should make clear that we are willing to negotiate the presence of all U.S. forces in South Korea. But any withdrawal – limited or otherwise – would come with a condition: Both Koreas must verifiably renounce and/or destroy nuclear, chemical, and biological weaponry, along with all delivery systems (particularly land and sea-based ballistic missiles, and long range bombers).
As a part of those negotiations, we should also consider allowing the political systems of both Koreas to remain intact as is. Simply put, unification isn’t our greatest national priority, even if it is an important goal. Let us leave that laudable dream to the Koreas for another day, perhaps spearheaded by the Chinese when they are ready to become a global leader instead of a facilitator of global chaos.