Step Up the Sanctions

A North Korean soldier gestures as he stands in foggy weather along the banks of the Yalu river near Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong.

The United States’ ongoing conflict with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), represents one of the most challenging diplomatic issues to date. Despite famine, extensive sanctions, and widespread dissatisfaction with current leadership, the country continues to pursue a nuclear program in an attempt to find a way to compete with its so-called archrival, the United States.

It is clear from the past few years that despite the sanctions that have decimated countless aspects of North Korean society, the current government will stop at nothing, not even the suffering of its people, to develop its nuclear arsenal. Having built a nuclear bomb as early as 2006, the country’s scientists’ main challenge is now making an intercontinental ballistic missile. Once in hand, the nation could then target the continental United States, potentially resulting in the first nuclear war in history.

However, to prevent this, the United States and South Korea can neither launch a preemptive strike nor risk a war with the rogue state. Both could result in two serious problems: an influx of refugees and the targeting of the South Korean capital, Seoul. As the fourth largest city in the world, with over 17.5 million living in the metropolitan area, a North Korean nuclear attack has the potential to devastate the country and its people. Meanwhile, refugees would pour over South Korean and Chinese borders as the result of a war with North Korea, producing the worst humanitarian crisis in decades.

Despite international promises, the Chinese government continues to assist the DPRK on its northern border, while condemning the rogue state’s nuclear program, to avoid the aforementioned refugee crisis. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, China continues to possess strong economic ties as well as an alliance with DPRK, while also supporting U.N. sanctions to condemn and prevent the country’s nuclear program. The U.S. needs to stop letting China take both sides. All other nations in the U.N. support an end to the DPRK’S nuclear program, while China claims to but then turns around and supports the country in its self-interest. President Trump should threaten, if not force China to cut off its lifeline to North Korea. Having previously backed the DPRK, the Chinese government trusts Mr. Trump even less than they trust Kim Jong-Un. Thus, the U.S. needs to improve foreign relations with Europe to team up against China with possible U.N. resolutions or sanctions that have the capability of damaging the Chinese economy more than an inevitable North Korean conflict would.

The U.S. and South Korea can then extend sanctions to their maximum, where the DPRK is receiving no outside help. Although this may sound like a short-term solution, it avoids “World War III,” or a potentially catastrophic humanitarian crisis. Ultimately, it slows down the North Korean nuclear program by cutting off access to outside materials while also strangling their government and forcing them to act as their citizens starve. Once the country is brought to its knees, the United States, as well as South Korea, have countless options for setting up a secure, fully democratic, and independent government of the people.