Long Menu of Options to Contain, Punish North Korea

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China and North Korea were no doubt as surprised as anyone by Donald Trump’s dramatic electoral victory. They had probably anticipated that a new Clinton Administration, like the Obama Administration before it, would be anesthetized by Chinese diplomacy and continue the policy of “strategic patience”—really, strategic neglect – that had allowed the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to continue gradually on its path towards developing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. They probably assumed sluggish, reluctant acquiescence to North Korea eventually deploying ICBMs capable of threatening the American people with nuclear strikes on the continental U.S. From Beijing’s perspective, while not ideal, this might bolster China’s strategic objective of deterring U.S. military action against North Korea.

However, the Trump Administration correctly scuttled “strategic patience,” and the administration now recognizes that we are at a dangerous strategic tipping point, one where the balance of forces is shifting dramatically against the United States. DPRK possession of nuclear ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles] could be seen as engendering strategic decoupling of the U.S. from its regional allies, particularly Japan and the Republic of Korea.  Just as former French President Charles de Gaulle questioned—during the height of the Cold War when the Soviet Union was building up its nuclear forces in Europe—whether the U.S. would be ready to trade New York for Paris, Asian leaders might doubt whether the U.S. would trade New York for Tokyo or Seoul.

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