The Korean Peninsula Demilitarized Zone, simply called the DMZ, is both the most militarized border on the planet and simultaneously one of the most unspoiled nature reserves on the planet.
The delicate balance between serenity and chaos has existed for over 60 years, since the armistice that ceased – for now – the Korean War in 1954.
The Kims, the family that has ruled with an iron fist over the northern half of the peninsula since 1954, has from generation to generation proclaimed its nuclear arsenal as its only strategy to fend off “western imperialism.”
Beginning in the '90s, the United States would simply “be patient” and let the unstable nature of Kim Jong-un’s dictatorship take its course and decay while simultaneously using diplomacy to curtail North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. In return for humanitarian aid, North Korea has in 1994 and 2005 agreed to halt its nuclear ambitions. Both times the nation has reneged on its promise.
More recently, Kim Jong-un has stated publicly that under no circumstances will his country willingly give up its nuclear program or even halt testing. Strategic patience has failed. President Donald Trump’s pivoting of policy in favor of a more robust approach is necessary. It may or may not be successful, but the reorientation of policy needs a fresh perspective. Just as former president Barack Obama believed Cuban, Iranian and Russian policy needed a reset, Trump must try to reset the North Korean problem.
If the United States simply continues with strategic patience, the nation treads deeper into the water of insanity. Washington could change course altogether and officially allow North Korea to enter into the family of nuclear states, but that would set a deadly precedent for nuclear proliferation, while also obliterating the strength of the United States’ international prowess on the world stage and with its allies in the region.
The more nuanced position Trump and his generals appear to be advancing is one of realpolitik. Hoping to show both in words and in action the military might the United States possesses, Trump suggests that the United States will not patiently sit by and allow North Korea to obtain ICMBs tipped with nuclear warheads. Of course that strategy required that Trump be prepared to follow through on his “fire and fury” statement he made regarding North Korea's threat of launching missiles near Guam, a U.S. territory.
If this administration plays its cards right, the more bullish approach it is taking should produce more vigorous diplomacy between the two nations. It may well all be done behind closed doors, and back channel communication, but any dialogue is better than none.
As goes the old Latin saying, “If you want peace, prepare for war,” Trump’s fiery words may not produce any tangible results, but they can certainly maintain the peace on the peninsula. The preparation, or in this case threat of war, may be enough to coax North Korea and the United States into considering radical options, such as ending the Korean War once and for all.