Is aggression the best way to deal with North Korea?

In the simplest of terms, No…Aggression is not the way to get what you want from North Korea. North Korea has been actively pursuing and developing their nuclear weapons capability for at least the last 15 years. The whole reason for this is to make the US come to the bargaining table and deal with North Korea unilaterally, put an end to the sanctions that cripple their economy and possibly work out a new peace treaty/modify the armistice that has existed since 1953. Leader after leader has tried to figure out how best to deal with North Korea and thus far no one has been able to develop an effective strategy. From the failed agreed framework to the failed sunshine policy, presidents from both the US and South Korea have yet to find the best way to deal with the elusive and mercurial leaders of North Korea. One thing is for certain though; aggression is one of the least effective strategies we can pursue against North Korea. North Koreans, more so than any other Asian nation, must be allowed to save face both at home and on the international levels. This cultural need to save face publicly is at the very core of their being, for Kim it’s even more so given the cult of personality that exists around him in his country. By being the aggressor and not leaving any room for Kim to save face we leave him no choice but to respond in kind. If Kim doesn’t’ respond to the aggression with more aggression and threats of violence then he will lose face and  be subject to public embarrassment, something that he will undoubtedly be unwilling to do. This sort of brinksmanship can only end badly. In a normal country the leader typically has constituents to listen to and worry about for re-elections or approval ratings, but in North Korea there is no such concern. Kim is free to do as he chooses without fear of any sort of political reprisals at home. North Korea’s iron grip on the media also assures that no matter what course of action Kim chooses it will be displayed as the right choice and that the evil imperialistic Americans forced him to do whatever was necessary to prevent an attack.

North Korea has a simple philosophy called Juche, which means self-reliance. This self-reliance extends to all aspects of North Korean life and expresses itself in the form of fierce nationalism. Juche is another factor to consider when trying to influence North Korea through aggression. This also complicates matters when it comes to using China as the third party to deal with North Korea. In a country whose very identity revolves around being independent and self-reliant in the face of supposed overwhelming US oppression, how successful will China be at reining in North Korea from their weapons development programs? If China attempts to flex their muscle and also be the aggressor then the results will probably be the same as if the US had attempted to do so, albeit with much less outright aggression since both nations will want to avoid any sort of conflict publicly and leave an option for both of them to save face should the negotiations break down.

I don’t know what the right answer is when it comes to dealing with North Korea. Many people have tried and failed to develop an effective strategy for dealing with North Korea. I do know that aggression is not that answer and that threats, veiled or not will only provoke an even more extreme response. North Korea has to be given an out that allows them to not be embarrassed and save face on the international level. There must be some option for them to retain some respect and not be seen as simply bowing down to the US’s demands. This is a very dangerous situation that will hopefully be resolved in a peaceful manner, but the prospects of that happening seem to be getting dimmer with each passing day. From carrier groups being sent to the region and the North continuing to try and test missiles and possibly more nuclear weapons, the tensions seem to be escalating in an international game of chicken. Given the personality traits of both the US’s and North Korea’s respective leaders I don’t see too many positive outcomes for this situation. Here is hoping I’m wrong because the amount of casualties that would be caused during a conflict with the North is horrifying to think about.

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