By David Giacomini
There is a dangerous situation brewing across the Pacific Ocean. A small, militaristic nation is threatening the stability of the region. The U.S. has imposed economic sanctions and sent naval warships into the area as a show of military force. The nation has promised to make a preemptive strike if the U.S. makes a move to attack. This nation’s people has full faith in their leader and is assured of victory in any possible future conflict. As diplomatic channels break down, the possibility of war looms ever closer. While this may sound strikingly similar to the relations between the United States and Japan in early December 1941, it is meant to describe the current situation between the U.S. and North Korea, nearly 76 years later.
The Korean peninsula is not a stranger to this type of tension. The last time the region saw open conflict was during the Korean War, fought between the Communist North backed by China and the South backed by a U.S.-led coalition of U.N. countries. That conflict lasted between 1950 and 1953, when an armistice was signed calling a cease-fire and establishing a demilitarized border zone between the North and South. While the shooting may have stopped, the conflict has never officially ended since no peace treaty was ever signed. North and South Korea are still technically at war. The strained relations between the two countries has gotten worse in recent months as the North Koreans have ratcheted up their nuclear weapons program. These included two tests of weapons in 2016 as well as another this past September. They have also continued development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, and launched one on November 29 that surpassed all previous tests. It is believed that their ultimate goal is to develop a rocket that can carry a warhead to the United States.
Trump has not concealed his feelings for North Korea. He has called Kim Jong-un “little rocket man” and has promised to “totally destroy” North Korea in the event of war. Numerous advisors and members of the U.S. government have also come out as saying that war might be the only way to prevent North Korea from continuing to develop nuclear weapons. This plays nicely into the hands of Kim Jong-un. The North Korean people view the United States as their mortal enemy, and the true enemy to peace in the region. This is the dangerous part of this situation. Both leaders are dangerously combative and are willing to commit to war.
This raises the inevitable question: what can the two countries do to avoid war? For the United States, the ultimate goal is the total shut-down of North Korea’s nuclear program. This is a proposal that the North Koreans will probably never agree to. So, right there, it seems that any possibilities of discussions have hit a brick wall. The United States can impose new economic sanctions on the North Koreans, but there is little evidence that such an action would have beneficial results, especially since there have been nine other rounds of sanctions since 2006. In order to have a change in the region, the United States might have to drastically reevaluate how it deals with North Korea.
In the absence of that, however, there is still a possibility of war. Numerous experts have put the likelihood of another war breaking out at anywhere from 20 percent to 50 percent. A second war on the Korean peninsula would be greatly more destructive than the one fought over 60 years ago. Despite the fact that a solution to this situation is not readily available, it is important to hope that cooler heads will prevail.
David is a senior History major and Photography minor.
Graphic by the author.