What happens to the can when it runs out of road to be kicked down?
We may be about to find out.
After decades of failed attempts and differing approaches to deter the North Korean regime from obtaining nuclear missiles, it is tantalizingly close. Especially after a July 4th test-firing of a ballistic missile said to be capable of reaching Alaska.
Presidents from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to Barack Obama have tried both carrot and stick, to no avail. We’ve tried both starving it and feeding it. We’ve tried rallying the world to economic sanctions – though clearly, someone is paying for all that rocketry.
We’ve even tried sending in our most skilled diplomat: eccentric and ornately tattooed and perforated former basketball star Dennis Rodman.
President Trump even tried buttering up North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un by saying he’d be honored to meet him.
Trump’s attempt to wine and dine and convince Chinese President Xi Jinping to crack down on his naughty client state also seems to have come to naught.
And while American comics have helped us long laugh off the North Korean leader, it’s no longer a luxury we can afford. The regime is insular, bellicose, belligerent and perhaps quite insane. Not to mention murderous. And it soon may be able to weaponize a nuclear bomb with a missile.
Writing at Vox.com, international security and defense commentator Alex Ward notes that we now have three options to try to head Kim off at the pass: military, diplomatic or economic.
The military option is pretty much unthinkable, as others have observed. So that leaves diplomatic and economic.
The diplomatic one is the most agreeable but maybe the least promising. The world never seems to unite around much, and is happily leaving this problem in the U.S.’s lap. Even a friendly and sympathetic British official said last week that North Korea isn’t just a U.S. problem – which is indicative of the prevailing world view that it is.
Should diplomacy fail – and, at this point, there’s no reason to believe it won’t – then the last peaceful option may be economic.
But again, we’ve tried that. At least directly.
The indirect option is applying economic pressure on China – the only country with enough influence in North Korea to put an end to this deadly brinksmanship.
Does that mean U.S. government pressure? Maybe. Then again, Washington can’t even get sanctuary cities to cooperate with it.
Or it may ultimately mean the U.S. consumer. We don’t ordinarily endorse economic pressure to achieve political ends. But if it means the difference between war and peace? Between preventing or abiding a nuclear North Korea?
Every option short of military action must be explored – though a last-resort military option cannot be taken off the table either.
Come on, China. This isn’t a “U.S. problem.” It’s the world’s.
And the world is running out of time and choices.