The United States and North Korea have a long and bitter history of antagonism which was largely a reflection of the Cold War rivalries enveloping the United States and the Soviet Union on a global level. The violent conflict in the Korean Peninsula from 1950 to 1953 resulted in a divided Korea across the 37th parallel. North Korea with Kim Il Sung, its pro-Soviet founder and protege, became a Stalinist state while South Korea adopted pro-US capitalist policies. Oddly enough, even though the Cold War ended nearly three decades ago, the animus between North Korea and South Korea has not abated. North Korea and its leadership thinks that with the help of the United States, South Korea will over-run North Korea and establish its hegemony over it. Suffice it to say that there is a large residue of suspicion and bitterness between both Koreas. Kim Jong-un, the 33 year old impetuous and unpredictable leader of North Korea, has a paranoid fear of being overthrown by a combination of the South Korean leadership in collusion with the United States. This paranoia has prompted the North Korean leadership to progressively develop its nuclear weapons to the extent that it has purportedly now achieved ICBM capability. Kim Jong-un claims that his missiles which are nuclear tipped can reach the US mainland. This may or may not be true but it certainly has resulted in heightening fears in the United States which might have been a clever ploy by the wily Kim. He has succeeded in reducing the long standing enmity between the United States and North Korea to a question of nuclear weapons with the former insisting that Pyongyang should denuclearize.
This appears not to be a viable solution as the horse has already left the barn. North Korea achieved nuclear capability around a decade ago, and given the fraught status of their relations with the United States, would be loath to give it up. I feel that Kim wishes to negotiate with the United States after being acknowledged by the latter as a de facto nuclear power. Eventually if the Korean imbroglio is to be resolved, it has to be done through a return to negotiations between the United States and North Korea. Sabre rattling by either the Kim regime or the fierce response to the launching of North Korean missiles by Washington, will only tend to heat up the rhetoric. There is a chance for miscalculation by either of the two adversaries which could escalate into warfare. The United States as the world’s preeminent super power should not pour oil over the troubled waters by the kind of rhetoric which its Permanent Representative to the UN used in her recent UN Security Council statement that “North Korea was begging for war”. The former Energy Secretary of the United States, Ernest Moniz, whose interview I recently saw on the television, made an important observation that the United States should look at the overall security concerns of North Korea and vice versa instead of only looking at that country through its nuclear lens. Also, a number of observers have opined that sanctions will not sway North Korea to change its nuclear stance. I think there is merit in Moniz’s approach which Washington may wish to examine further. The last thing that the Korean Peninsula needs is a repetition of the war that had engulfed it in the 1950’s. The war which hopefully will not occur this time, but which if it does by accident or design will be many times worse in terms of human and material losses.