The false dichotomy of ‘peace or war’ with North Korea

President Trump’s goal for the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was “to eliminate [Kim’s] nuclear missile program, not contain it,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on ABC Sunday. “There’s three outcomes here,” the hawkish senator continued. “Peace, where we have a win-win solution; military force where we devastate the North Korean regime and stop their program by force; or to capitulate like we’ve done in the past.” As “Donald Trump is not going to capitulate,” Graham added, “there’s really only two options: peace or war.”

This sort of rhetoric is deeply irresponsible and detrimental to American security. The fact that Graham refuses to countenance is that for North Korea — as for any state, and especially any universally despised regime bent on survival — possession of nuclear weapons does not necessarily entail intent to use them offensively. Cruel and power-mad though he may be, Kim cannot be foolish enough to think he could survive military conflict with the United States. He will not initiate war because his nuclear arsenal, as his government has explicitly stated on many occasions, exists to ensure he will not be deposed à la Moammar Gadhafi or Saddam Hussein.

In that light, the danger in Graham’s dichotomy is evident. Peace as he describes it — in which the United States in extremely short order obtains from Pyongyang complete denuclearization — is not the only alternative to war. Deterrence is an option, particularly when coupled with a gradual improvement of relations and opening of North Korea to the outside world, which the Trump-Kim summit could inaugurate.

War between North Korea and the U.S. (and any of either countries’ allies) would be hellish on a scale few alive today have witnessed. The human cost would be unthinkably high. Contra Graham, war with North Korea cannot be “worth it.”

But the senator’s false binary makes that horrible prospect more likely. Graham has already drafted an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against North Korea, a wildly premature step that speaks volumes to the Kim regime. This sort of maximalism — whether from Graham or other senators across the aisle who have expressed similarly unrealistic demands — is reckless and counterproductive. Preventive war on North Korea would be an unforced error with grim consequences for generations to come.

Fortunately, Graham was not at the negotiating table in Singapore. But his pernicious thinking may well have already affected Trump’s approach. The president’s statement Saturday that he is giving Kim only “a one-time shot” to reach an acceptable denuclearization deal, after which “[Kim] won’t have that opportunity again,” does not bode well.

Rather than heeding Graham’s bad advice, Trump would do well to follow the more sensible approach of the American public.

As new polling data commissioned by RealClearPolitics and the Charles Koch Institute shows, fully 70 percent of Americans support dealing with U.S.-North Korea tensions via diplomacy. Fewer than a third believe complete denuclearization is a realistic goal, but that …read more

Source:: The Week – Politics


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