Last weekend, North Korea test fired 4 ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan. Over recent months, North Korea has fired several missiles in a provocative display of force. In the past, Kim Jung-un has warned the United States that he is striving to create a nuclear ICBM capable of reaching California. But the time to strike North Korea with preventative or preemptive strikes has passed, as Kim Jung-un’s regime already posses nuclear weapons. So, the dilemma in North Korea represents a situation that should be managed rather than a problem to be solved with conventional force. To confront this growing threat, countries in north east Asia and the United States must pursue a strategy of coercive diplomacy, deterrence, and propaganda against Kim Jung-un’s regime to prevent a nuclear disaster.
Both President Putin and President Trump have expressed their concerns regarding North Korean nuclear activities. Since 2006, Russia has adopted and supported several UNSC resolutions to penalize and prevent North Korea’s march towards a nuclear ICBM.
Now that North Korea has nuclear weapons, countries in the region must change their strategy from prevention to de-escalation by trying to cap, roll back, or compartmentalize North Korea’s nuclear missile capabilities. But to bring Kim Jun-un to the negotiating table in good faith will be no small feat.
To change Kim Jung-un’s threat perception and cost/benefit analysis of his nuclear program China, Russia, South Korea and the US must work together to increase the pressure inside the Kim regime.
According to a recent article by Stratfor’s Rodger Baker, the Kim family has remained in power by meticulously maintaining a balance of power within their own regime. The Kim family has worked endlessly to balance competing organizational structures that seek power and economic growth against one another while encouraging spying and instigating a culture of fear. Baker argues that it is only because the Kim family has sought sovereignty and security above all else that it has allowed the family to remain in power.
Following Baker’s rationale, when the West threatens Kim Jun-un, it only serves to strengthen his grip on power and consolidate those organizational structures around him; thereby working in a counterproductive manner against the West.
Soon Russia, the United States, China, and South Korea may have an opportunity to work together on North Korea. If a deal is not reached, careless brinkmanship by inexperienced leaders may plunge the world into an irreversible nuclear disaster. However, any deal in the future will require a blend of coercive and conventional diplomacy, propaganda, and deterrence.
Deterrence can be used by holding back-channel talks with Beijing and Moscow to make it clear that should North Korea fire a missile at an American ally, let alone a nuclear tipped missile, the United States will respond with overwhelming and devastating force.
Coercive diplomacy can be used by way of anti-missile systems such as the THAAD system currently being deployed in South Korea. A coercive strategy can also be used as a bargaining chip with Moscow and Beijing. By deploying the system, the United States upsets the security balance in north east Asia by protecting its allies from conventional missile attacks. To reverse the deployment of these weapons systems, China and Russia may feel more compelled to negotiate with the United States in exchange for their successful cooperation. Furthermore, the United States can work with regional partners like Russia and China to target individuals with sanctions to increase the inter-organizational pressure on key members of North Korea’s regime.
Propaganda can be used to target North Korean officials to influence their decision making process and create instability among party leaders, with the effect being increased pressure inside the Kim regime and possible infighting.
Russia has several incentives for pursing a deal. President Putin can act upon his eagerness to display his strength and influence abroad by negotiating as an equal with President Trump. And to increase the likelihood of Russian and Chinese participation, the United States can create important titles for these countries to give the illusion of leadership and power in the negotiations. Russia can also pursue business deals in North Korea and increase their access to warm water ports for those living in Far Eastern Federal District of Russia.
What should be avoided, at all costs is a strategy that has already failed, i.e. increased sanctions and unsubstantiated political rhetoric, because the time for talking is over and the time for action is now.