(Ambassador Susan Burk, Jonathan Granoff, Ambassador Douglas Roche, President Jimmy Carter)
President Carter dignified America while in office, started no wars, and since leaving office has exemplified dignity and character and is an expert in dealing with North Korea, successfully. He has offered his help.
At each news cycle we hear President Trump reiterate dangerous provocations toward North Korea, only increasing the risk of crisis leading to miscalculation resulting in war and the possibility of nuclear catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. It is shocking to reflect on how extreme his expressions on behalf of our nation actually are. He threatened to “destroy North Korea” in his recent UN speech before the General Assembly thereby defying the laws of war, which require military actions to be proportionate and discriminate between combatants and civilians, thus threatening a crime against humanity, a genocide against over 25 million people.
America is a nation based on the rule of law, degrading international law degrades America.
Let’s take a practical look at the present situation.
Does North Korea, after the killing of the leaders of Libya and Iraq after their having given up weapons of mass destruction, have any reason to be afraid? Is it likely that it will give up nuclear weapons while being afraid? Are its fears arising entirely from illusions or from the failure to end the Korean war, aggressive rhetoric and threats, flights of bombers and troop exercises that demonstrate a clear ability on the part of the United States to obliterate it, even without nuclear weapons. While further sanctions and pressures on North Korea remain the currency of diplomacy by the international community, will repeating and increasing unsuccessful behavior again and again lead to a new result? Sanctions could work if the North Koreans had a way in which changing their behavior led to a greater sense of security. That remains the core issue: How to give North Korea a sufficient sense of security that it will engage reasonably and honestly in diplomacy. If we believe that it cannot ever so engage then regime change becomes the only option. I believe, as distasteful as the tyrannical regime might be, it could possibly engage credibly if it perceives such activity as in its interest. What is its interest? 1. Security for the ruling cadre and family. 2. Respect from the international community 3. Development for its people sufficient to ensure 1. Twenty years ago it might have received these three without nuclear weapons. However, today 1 and 2 require nuclear weapons in its eyes. Its logic mirrors ours – nuclear weapons deter aggression. There is however a difference. The US has thousands of nuclear weapons and gargantuan conventional weaponry while North Korea has less than a dozen usable nuclear weapons and no capacity to deliver them with confidence, accuracy or sufficiency to survive the consequences. But, if it believes it is existentially threatened, is it likely to give them up?
If however North Korea is brought into a realm of engagement, where trust is intentionally built rather than fear and uncertainty, where it receives clear reliable benefits from good behavior, where relations explicitly strive to achieve a degree of normalcy such as fully ending the Korean War, where its reasons for fear are appreciated, over time it might find that 3 is so attractive that it changes its behavior to both the international community and even its own people. In other words we should promptly engage in direct diplomacy without preconditions and change the present dangerous course to one of hope. What do we lose by trying an approach that builds safety and trust?
President Carter has offered to lead a diplomatic effort. Nothing is lost by giving him the authority to proceed and there is much to be gained if the North Korean program can be capped, leaving its capacity to threaten the US thwarted while opening up a process that over time could actually lead to denuclearization, which remains a legal duty to be achieved under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to which China, UK, Russia, France, and US are presently committed.