U.S. Response to North Korea's Threats

A North Korean political poster in inter-Korean military demarcation area. The poster says there is only one country on the Korean Peninsula. (Photo: Linqong,

"If the U.S. doesn't want to engage, that pushes North Korea even further to provoke," Kim Dong-sik, a researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy in Seoul, said recently. "I don't know how that scenario ends."

Not peacefully, it seems, with the Obama administration showing no interest in talking with North Korea. The silence is deafening as North Korea keeps hammering the drums of war into the void, ratcheting up nuclear tensions on the peninsular and throughout the Asia-Pacific region. South Korea wants greater nuclear development. Getting U.S. concessions on nuclear South Korea was a key campaign pledge in South Korean President Park Geun-hye's December election. Indeed, the U.S. alliance with South Korea appears to be upping the ante. The current U.S.-South Korea association could be increasing drives for greater state defense rather than curbing nuclear proliferation and curtailing North Korean negotiations. Both of which would undermine geopolitical efforts towards systematic defense regulation—the means to gauge and ensure ongoing stability.

Experts caution that allowing the South greater nuclear development invalidates Washington's efforts to dissuade North Korea and Iran from their nuclear programs. Be that as it may, rising Korean tensions afford the United States a heavy military presence in the Pacific and a geostrategic counterbalance to China.

Flying U.S. nuclear bombers over the Korean Peninsula isn't diffusing the situation between North and South Korea. The South Korean analysts are now concerned with how either can step back from a confrontation. Their officials stress a South Korean ability to strike back courtesy of the United States instead of tempering the possibility of an attack. In the event of one, South Korea will "respond immediately without political consideration," said a senior anonymous official regarding government thinking. "At the initial stage, South Korea is self-sufficient in terms of our ability to strike back. But [thereafter], we will need cooperation from the U.S. and neighbors."

"When the thug in the neighborhood has gotten himself a brand new machine gun, we can't defend our home with a stone," Chung Mong-joon, a ruling party leader and vocal champion of "nuclear sovereignty" for South Korea, recently said on the North Korean nuclear threat. So much for the exponential connection between stones, machine guns and a nuclear weapon. Their inexorable contingency doesn't apparently factor with Mong-joon or the U.S. military. The link between North Korea's nuclear development and the joint U.S. and South Korean military exercises being held in South Korea no doubt is moot.

Is this really the way to go? Is nuclear brinkmanship the surest means to progressive stability between these states, the region and the world? If North Korea's threats are part of a coherent plan to force negotiations, what kind of precedence does this send other states? While on the other hand, if sparking a war is America's means of relieving North Korea of its missiles, and validating a U.S. military presence in the Pacific to counterbalance China, does this not entrench the military quandaries of the Middle East? From Iraq to Syria, from Israel to Iran, both intractable warfare and greater defense have been aggravated by such methods with their geostrategic ramifications.

Some Chinese analysts think the United States is using North Korea as a threat to up their influence in northeast Asia. It's logical given that the United States keeps openly expressing a desire to be in the Asia-Pacific region correlative to winding back forces in the Middle East. All of which suggests the role they perceive is geostrategic rather than geopolitical. The former, however, has failed to manifest systemic accord in the Middle East, which portends ominously for the Pacific region. If the United States is rationalizing South Korea as it does Israel, and thus acts according to standard U.S. military procedure, the Chinese analysts could prove correct.

"The U.S. is doing all it can to defuse the situation on the Korean peninsular," U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in an address to the National Defense University in Washington recently. Forthwith deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System was undertaken to bolster forces in the region for a far-reaching show of U.S. military might. Next the United States announced it was speeding an advanced missile defense system to Guam two years ahead of schedule in what the Pentagon said was a precautionary move to protect U.S. naval and air forces from the North Korean threatened missile attack. Far out.

So North Korea repeatedly threatens Guam and Hawaii. Tit for tat.

"North Korea says they have the right to act pre-emptively while under threat [from the United States]," Australian Political Scientist Dr. Keith Suter said. Sounds like standard U.S. military reasoning. For all intents and purposes North Korea is emulating the United States. The only dialogue the hermit state seems to understand is defense. According to the Washington Post, by not recognizing North Korea "as a nuclear state" North Korea thinks the United States is trying to bring down its "dignified social system." All Kim Jung Un apparently wants is for President Obama to pick up the phone and be recognized like Russia and China as a nuclear power, says Suter.

"They have a nuclear capacity now," Hagel said. "They have a missile delivery capacity now. ... They have ratcheted up their bellicose, dangerous rhetoric, and some of the actions they have taken over the last few weeks present a real and clear danger."

Is this what Kim Jung-un wants to hear? And is this the stability a U.S. "nuclear umbrella" is supposed to engender? What is America's raison d'etat in the region without generating greater defense systems? With an economy reliant on global defense sales, a broad-based nuclear threat seems par for the course. And at the same time what good is North Korea's over-burgeoning military might really doing for its own citizens?

Pre-emptive deterrence or Cold War logic, call it what you like, the rationale seems to presage America's presence in any region. And if so, where does that leave the regulative authority of a geopolitical defense system in the Pacific?

This archaic Cold War rationale could still be ramifying geo-strategically with China.

"China would almost prefer to deal with the difficulties that they know—that is, a very provocative leadership in the north—than those that they don't know that could come from unification," Kurt Campbell, former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said recently. China could still want North Korea as a fractious buffer state against the U.S.-South Korean alliance rather than a unified Korean peninsular, going by Mike Green, the former Asia director in the U.S. National Security Council and influential northeast Asia analyst.

Nevertheless, despite Beijing's perceived annoyance at U.S. warships aimed for the Korean peninsula, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei has called for calm. "In the present situation, China believes all sides must exercise restraint and not take actions that are mutually provocative, and must certainly not take actions that would worson the situation," he said.

View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for Laurelle Atkinson.