The Constitution's foreign policy of invincible self-defense (with no "indispensable nation" braggadocio) should inform our strategy to cut the Gordian knot to ending North Korea's nuclear adventurism.
We should play the China card.
China would agree to annex North Korea, remove Kim Jong-un from power, and to shutter its nuclear and missile programs. In exchange, we would agree to cease our military opposition to China in the South China Sea and within its traditional spheres of influence. That would include terminating our defense treaties with South Korea, Japan, and the Philippines; and, returning the tens of thousands of American troops now stationed or training in these countries back to the United States with pay raises to protect our citizens from aggression. (In 1980, the United States terminated the 1955 Taiwan Defense Treaty. China has not attacked Taiwan in the ensuing 36 years despite its de facto independence).
The United States policy of invincible self-defense means no more courageous Captain Humayun Khans sent abroad to die for self-interested strangers without a crumb of allegiance to the United States. Our soldiers' lives are too precious to risk crucifixion on a multi-trillion dollar military-industrial-counterterrorism complex craving the adolescent thrill of world domination.
At present, China props up North Korea despite its nuclear and missile programs because it deflects the United States military away from itself. China's fears of United States aggression are not contrived. During the Korean War, we flirted with crossing the Yalu River and dropping nuclear bombs on the Chinese mainland. China dispatched three million military personnel to Korea in response. At present, we are challenging China in the air and on the sea over the Spratly and Paracel Islands. We are building an advanced THADD ballistic missile defense system in South Korea. Our Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, has touted the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) as worth an aircraft carrier against China.
China has no more inherent interest in North Korea's possession of nuclear weapons than we have in a nuclear-armed Mexico or Canada. But China needs security incentives to justify annexing North Korea to end its nuclear ambitions and threat to the United States. Those incentives include terminating our defense commitments to China's neighbors and removing tens of thousands of American soldiers stationed there.
That would not be unreasonable. Contemplate how we would react if China negotiated a defense treaty with Mexico featuring 30,000 Chinese troops stationed near our border. When a similar alliance between German and Mexico was proposed in the famous "Zimmerman" telegram during World War I, we erupted in fury.
South Korea and Japan might withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (as North Korea did in 2003) and develop nuclear arsenals if we ended our defense commitments to them. The two nations might conclude that nuclear weapons would be necessary to deter Chinese aggression, and, in the case of South Korea, a second edition of Japan's 1910-1945 colonization.
Expanding the number of nuclear weapons states by adding Japan and South Korea but subtracting North Korea would be worrisome but justifiable. Nuclear weapons are inherently risky. But the status quo alternative would leave North Korea's growing nuclear arsenal undemolished and undisturbed.
Our longstanding policy of escalating economic or diplomatic sanctions against North Korea for its nuclear recklessness has been an "incomplete success," to borrow President Jimmy Carter's euphemism for his failed rescue mission for American hostages in Iran. Last week, North Korea conducted its fifth and most powerful nuclear test--ending any doubt that it has mastered the fundamentals of detonating nuclear weapons. Military experts opine that by 2020, North Korea will probably have acquired the skills for a reliable intercontinental ballistic missile topped by a nuclear warhead; and, have accumulated enough nuclear material to build up to 100 warheads.
We would obviously be safer with nuclear weapons in the hands of friendly nations like South Korea or Japan as opposed to enemy nations like North Korea. Moreover, we have acquiesced in the nuclear weapons arsenals of Pakistan and India whose interests are more divergent from ours than are South Korea's or Japan's.
In sum, risking a nuclear-armed South Korea or Japan would be a small price to pay for playing the China card to end forever North Korea's nuclear threat. Do not be dissuaded by the predictable barking of the military-industrial-counterterrorism complex which is leading us to war with China.