In July 2017, North Korea conducted two tests of its Hwasong-14 missile. In August, they fired a ballistic missile directly over Japan into the Pacific. In September, North Korea detonated what it claims was a thermonuclear bomb and launched another missile over Japan. In November, they test-fired its new Hwasong-15, a missile which analysts believe could have reached the entirety of the U.S. mainland, depending on the weight of the warhead. These developments are not only reckless, they run contrary to international law. Since 2006, the U.N. Security Council has passed a number of resolutions condemning North Korea's activities, calling on the country to cease its nuclear and missile programs, all of which violate prior resolutions.
As North Korea's capabilities have grown, so too has tension with the U.S., which has only worsened with bellicose rhetoric from President Trump. Over the past year, Trump has threatened North Korea with “fire and fury,” warned that the U.S. would “totally destroy” the country, and characterized pursuing a diplomatic solution as a “waste of time.” Trump’s rhetoric is often at odds with his own administration, making things worse. Under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, U.S. policy toward the North has been characterized as one of “maximum pressure and engagement,” in which sanctions and diplomacy are used to reduce the regime’s nuclear activity.
Experts agree that the U.S. lacks a viable military option against North Korea. Aside from massive casualties on the Korean Peninsula, including the deaths of thousands of American citizens, a conflict with North Korea could trigger a nuclear exchange, raising the death toll to millions and ushering in a years-long nuclear winter. Despite this, recent reports indicate that the White House has given serious consideration to an extraordinarily reckless “bloody nose” attack on the country. While administration officials deny such a strategy exists, the fact that it was even considered is alarming.
Tensions between North and South Korea have diminished since the International Olympic Committee allowed North Korean athletes to compete in the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics. In February, the State Department announced that the North Koreans cancelled a secret meeting with Vice President Mike Pence. This initial snag to denuclearization talks did not prevent President Trump and Kim Jong-un from agreeing to initiate negotiations at a summit meeting in Singapore on June 12, reversing conventional U.S. policy that designated North Korean denuclearization as a precondition for any meeting between the two states' leaders.
The duo held the summit, the first face-to-face meeting between the countries' leaders in history, but made little progress toward a detailed denuclearization plan. Instead, the sides signed a joint statement in which North Korea committed to returning the remains of American POWs and "complete denuclearization," a promise it had previously made in Panmunjom. For its part, the United States committed to "security guarantees" for the North Korean regime. Outside of the signed agreement, President Trump told the media that he had agreed to halt joint military exercises with South Korea and that Kim Jong-un had pledged to destroy a missile engine testing facility, although the two sides did not agree on an institutional mechanism for verifying this action.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
- Call your senators at (202) 224-3121 and ask them to support the Preventing Preemptive War in North Korea Act (S. 2047), which states that, "No funds may be used for kinetic military operations in North Korea absent an imminent threat to the United States without express congressional authorization." Under the Constitution, Congress alone can authorize the use of military force. This important legislation, spearheaded by Senator Chris Murphy, reinforces that point.
- You can also ask your congressional representatives to cosponsor the No Unconstitutional Strike against North Korea Act (H.R. 4837/S. 2016), which assert that only Congress can authorize U.S.-initiated military action against North Korea. We need lawmakers to express public support for a more effective U.S. diplomatic approach toward North Korea. These two bills offer a great way for them to do that.
- Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: North Korea – Arms Control Association
- Factsheets on North Korea – The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation
- Letter from members of the Council of Korean Americans in California to Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Kamala Harris, and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, February 2018
- Giving North Korea a ‘Bloody Nose’ Carries a Huge Risk to Americans – By Victor Cha, The Washington Post, January 2018
- The Myth of the Limited Strike on North Korea – By Abraham M. Denmark, Foreign Affairs, January 2018
- Another Opportunity for Diplomacy on North Korea – By Bonnie Jenkins, The Brookings Institution, January 2018
- How to Avoid Stumbling into a North Korea Catastrophe – By Tim Kaine, CNN, January 2018
- The United States Should Resolve to Avoid War With North Korea in 2018 – By Colin Kahl, Foreign Policy, December 2017
- A Responsible Approach to North Korea – By Kelly Magsamen, Melanie Hart, Michael Fuchs, and Vikram Singh, Center for American Progress, November 2017
- 25 Years of Negotiations and Provocations: North Korea and the United States – By Lisa Collins, Center for Strategic and International Studies, October 2017
- What Would War with North Korea Look Like? – By Robin Wright, The New Yorker, September 2017
- Trump’s Nuclear Crisis Was of His Own Making – By Ned Price, Foreign Policy, August 2017
- Cold War Lessons in Coercive Diplomacy for Dealing with North Korea Today – By Michael McFaul, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, August 2017
- The U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework at a Glance – Arms Control Association, August 2017
- Why Deterring and Containing North Korea Is Our Least Bad Option – By Jeffrey A. Bader, The Brookings Institution, August 2017
- The Six-Party Talks at a Glance – Arms Control Association, July 2017
- How to Take Down Kim Jong Un – By Tom Malinowski, Politico, July 2017