How to Ease North Korea’s Fears

North Korea fears that it might end up like Iraq or Libya if it surrenders its nuclear program. China has offered an idea to calm those fears but President Trump says no, reports Ivan Eland.

By Ivan Eland

During his campaign, Donald J. Trump proposed to deal with the problem of North Korea by pressuring China to convince its ally to give up nuclear weapons and the missiles designed to carry them. Yet after North Korea’s recent test firing of several missiles, China proposed a solution to the problem, which the Trump administration summarily rejected.

North Korean missile launch on March 6, 2017.

China proposed that North Korea suspend its nuclear program in exchange for the United States and South Korea suspending their joint military exercises on the Korean peninsula, which triggered the North Korean missile tests. Although the Trump administration quickly nixed China’s idea, in consideration of its prior campaign rhetoric, the Chinese proposition should be reconsidered.

Also during the road to the White House, Trump suggested that the United States should be less active in wars overseas and thus let its allies assume more of the defense burden. China’s proposal would actually help the administration work toward that goal while making a start at getting North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program — or at least freezing it so that the North stops obtaining more weapons.

Of course, at stake is not only the North’s nuclear weapons program but the American Empire of one-sided alliances around the world; the United States, to be the big man on campus, provides security for wealthy allies but gets little back economically from full opening of their markets to American products and services.

In fact, over the decades, those allies have become rich in part by using the money they save in reduced defense spending to compete with American companies around the world. The South Korean “economic miracle” was based on physical protection by the U.S. military and trade protection against American goods and services.

Currently, this economic miracle has given South Korea the twelfth largest economy in the world, which is more than 35 times the GDP of its starving, communist North Korean enemy. Little doubt exists that South Korea could not only do more for its own defense, as Trump suggested, but defend itself without American help.

Therefore, South Korea could begin spending more on defense to build up its military forces, while joint U.S.-South Korea military exercise are suspended. These joint exercises would be unneeded when, after a few years, South Korea was weaned away from needing U.S. protection.

Easing Paranoia

Without a U.S.-South Korea alliance on its border, North Korea might be less paranoid and therefore more susceptible to Chinese pressure over its nuclear weapons program. In addition, the Chinese would be more inclined to apply such pressure. China is not fond of having an unstable nuclear weapons state on its border.

China’s President Xi Jinping.

Yet at the current time, the Chinese have been reluctant to apply too much pressure on North Korea for fear the regime will collapse, create a surge of refugees into China, and ultimately lead to a unified Korea on its border protected by the powerful U.S. military (similar to the inclusion of a unified Germany into the expanded NATO alliance in Europe after the Cold War ended).

Historically, China has been sensitive to other great powers’ military activity near its borders. For example, it fought a border war with the Soviet Union in 1969, flooded troops into North Korea during the Korean War in the early 1950s when U.S. forces there got too close to the Chinese border, and helped North Vietnam against the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Furthermore, legitimate Chinese aspirations to be a regional power would be given a safety valve if the United States removed the Cold War-era alliances ringing and containing China, including the one with South Korea.

In the 1800s, Britain allowed its then-adversary United States to rise as a great power, because a vast ocean between them mitigated the threat. Today, an even bigger ocean separates China and the United States.

If the United States wants China to police and constrain its allies — that is, North Korea — it must be willing to give up something in return. That is, if saving money by gradually ending the protection of a rich, ungrateful South Korean ally is really giving anything up.

Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at the Independent Institute. [This article first appeared as a blog post at HuffingtonPost.]

18 comments for “How to Ease North Korea’s Fears

  1. Ol' Hippy
    April 7, 2017 at 12:10

    A quick note. I watched the Today Show this morning,(’04/07) and McCain was saying, with a straight face, that the US was NOT an aggressive nation!! With leadership such as this I believe we’re doomed. I then turned off the TV as I couldn’t take it any more. In some circles I’ve been in this is a form of contempt prior to investigation. This is now after the US launched a direct attack against the al Assad regime taking out an air force base and killing some of his forces. The neocons have turned Trump into their puppet and I can only imagine the chaos that will ensue. N Korea, Iran, Russia, China, these players have nukes too with Iran being the exception.

  2. Joe L.
    April 7, 2017 at 10:43

    When it comes to North Korea, I am sure they are not blind. They watch country after country give up their weapons to only get invaded by the United States. Kim Jung Un is no doubt a dictator but he I also believe that he is constantly being provoked by the U.S. and South Korea with war games on the border of his country, has recent sanctions put on his country for a “Sony hack” that I don’t believe they did and the setting up of the THAAD system etc. It amazes me that the United States can look all the way across the ocean and believe that it should tell other countries how to act. This should be an asian issue which should involve China, Russia, Japan, South Korea etc. – not the U.S. or other distant nations. There are just too many powder kegs in the world at the moment and any one of them could spark a much larger conflict involving nuclear armed nations. Also, it is ironic that the only nation to have used nuclear weapons “twice”, on civilian populations, believes that it has the moral authority to tell anyone else anything.

  3. ltr
    April 6, 2017 at 19:16

    I am ever so grateful for these essays, but I just wish these were not so worrisome times.

    • JGarbo
      April 7, 2017 at 03:28

      I’ve tried wishing. Works on sunrises, just before dawn.

  4. Zachary Smith
    April 6, 2017 at 13:44

    Currently, this economic miracle has given South Korea the twelfth largest economy in the world, which is more than 35 times the GDP of its starving, communist North Korean enemy. Little doubt exists that South Korea could not only do more for its own defense, as Trump suggested, but defend itself without American help.

    I hadn’t known that the sizes of the two economies was THAT unequal!. So the US doesn’t really need to be in South Korea except as a toehold for the Empire’s coming encirclement of China. South Korea doesn’t need missile defense either, but the American Empire is continuing the same procedure as with Russia, making up an excuse to get that missile defense in place.

    South Korea is – despite being quite powerful otherwise – is totally adrift in terms of leadership after the impeachment of the President there. They’re putty in the hands of the warmongers, which we (the US) seem to have.

    Reportedly Bill Clinton examined the possibility of making an attack on North Korea.

    Although the fantasy of surgical strikes to topple brutal dictators has long intoxicated American military officials, they’ve been restrained by the sobering reality of such reckless action. In the 1990s, when President Bill Clinton considered a first strike on North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear reactor, the Pentagon concluded that even limited action would claim a million lives in the first 24 hours — and this was well before Pyongyang possessed nuclear weapons.


    From an older story:

    The North Korean situation is also ripe for war-game treatment, because of the extraordinarily difficult military and diplomatic challenges it presents. Iran, considered an urgent national-security priority, is thought to be three to five years away from possessing even a single nuclear device. North Korea is widely believed to have as many as ten already, and to be producing more every year. (It is also the first developing nation thought to be capable of striking the continental United States with a long-range ballistic missile.) And whereas Iraq did not, after all, have weapons of mass destruction, North Korea is believed to have large stockpiles of chemical weapons (mustard gas, sarin, VX nerve agent) and biological weapons (anthrax, botulism, cholera, hemorrhagic fever, plague, smallpox, typhoid, yellow fever). An actual war on the Korean peninsula would almost certainly be the bloodiest America has fought since Vietnam—possibly since World War II. In recent years Pentagon experts have estimated that the first ninety days of such a conflict might produce 300,000 to 500,000 South Korean and American military casualties, along with hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths. The damage to South Korea alone would rock the global economy.


    Has the Trump Administration been captured by the End Timers? The chest-thumping in both Syria and North Korea really is a cause for concern.

    Making small changes in policy in line with the Chinese suggestions seems to me to be a good idea.

    • JGarbo
      April 7, 2017 at 02:46

      As an old CIA veteran said, “If North Korea didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it.” It is the necessary blind to keep US forces so close to China. Thus the US will never willingly make peace with North Korea.

  5. Bill Bodden
    April 6, 2017 at 12:06

    This article from the Asia Times should be a cause for concern:

    “Pretty vacant: Trump’s Asia team. When the American leader meets his Chinese counterpart in Florida he will do so without the benefit of a dedicated team of regional specialists” –

    “When US President Donald Trump meets with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Florida, he will do so without the benefit of a team of Asian specialists to guide his diplomacy and draft his talking points. Asia policy to date has been steered chiefly by the White House, with Trump’s son-in-law and foreign policy neophyte Jared Kushner playing an outsized role.”

    “His replacement, former top general H.R. McMaster, has added to the confusion with the removal of top aide Stephen Bannon from the NSC’s core policy-making committee. Bannon, a former right-wing journalist, was widely viewed as the top anti-China hawk in Trump’s inner circle and the presumed ghost writer of Trump’s sometimes threatening tone toward Beijing.”

  6. Sam F
    April 6, 2017 at 10:34

    NK are not fools: they cannot give up its nuclear deterrent just because the US temporarily pretends to have a lesser alliance with SK. The mere suggestion of that is plainly a trap and hence a threat.

    NK will not feel unthreatened until the US has made reparations and apologies for its firebombing of NK civilians after the war, which may have killed two million innocents just for revenge. The US has shown no signs either of recognition that it too made mistakes leading to the Korean War (the same mistakes it made in Vietnam and has not admitted); or of even being able to learn anything in foreign policy. Only fools would give up their arms to the US.

    The problem with NK is the problem with US foreign policy, which is the problem with the US: its government is utterly corrupted by money, and its is led by scammers of the warmongering religion, who have no concern whatsoever for humanity foreign or domestic. The US is the world’s most immediate problem, and all nations that can get nuclear weapons would be well advised to do so and use them to deter the US.

  7. April 6, 2017 at 10:25

    That’s right, the US Imperium doesn’t talk to anyone unless it has to, such as the world power China, whose powerful president is visiting today with “our” schizoid president. But thank you, Mr Eland, for this essay, which does lay out a way of diplomacy which certainly makes much sense. One can only hope that today’s visit between Trump and Xi Jinping will be more fruitful than the visit of Angela Merkel!

  8. Ian Perkins
    April 6, 2017 at 10:09

    Alternatively, they could hold peace talks with North Korea, as I believe North Korea has repeatedly requested. Not that I’m anticipating such a move.

    • mike k
      April 6, 2017 at 10:28

      Those in control of US policy do not want peace, Those who long for peace are their enemies. They invented the word peaceniks to demonize people working for peace. Look at what they are doing to Trump. Our rulers have turned the US into a military state. This is an essential feature of Empire and Fascism.

    • JGarbo
      April 7, 2017 at 02:41

      Sadly (even hopelessly) it’s simple: Peace is not as gratifying and profitable as war, so long you’re not personally at risk. What the lunatics don’t realize is that the next war could be nuclear, ie everyone would be at risk.

  9. mike k
    April 6, 2017 at 07:56

    There is one little problem in the way of the rational solutions the article proposes. Those who control US international policy are dead set on world domination, and rational plans to foster world peace are contrary to their intentions to rule the world, no matter what the costs and risks to the citizens of that world.

    • April 6, 2017 at 10:06


    • Bill Bodden
      April 6, 2017 at 12:04

      I’ll second that. The Empire doesn’t do rational solutions.

    • Joe Tedesky
      April 6, 2017 at 16:43

      mike k what you have written here is so true. If you read the Neocon inspired Project for A New American Century white paper you will read how this military power that the U.S. has, is America’s biggest advantage, and considered by the PNACers to be the Ace up our country’s sleeve to bring the whole world around to become like us.

      ” America’s grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend this advantageous position as far into the future as possible.”

      These crazed leaders seem to believe that since we paid for all this weaponry, that this means now we as a world dominate leader must use these terrible weapons, so as to keep all nations in lockstep to our own goals and desires. The Neocon who believe this nonsense also rely heavily on the fact that they won the first Cold War this way, so now we must continue that fight to retain world hegemony. So when we see plans based on the Grand Chessboard strategy of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s being rolled out, and we see the extreme military budgets that we see our tax dollars funding, well this is because these maniacs believe this is how we became the world’s biggest sole superpower in the first place. Remember one lie leads to another lie. It’s simple math to them, but there are many historians who would argue with the Neocon’s theory of who, and what defeated our once mighty opponent the USSR. As a side note pertaining to the fall of the USSR, has any American ever asked a Russian why the Soviet Government fell?

      One of our country’s biggest problems is the way we teach history. We always talk about the ‘Owned Media’ fanatics who condense and craft our news to the way they want to deliver their propaganda, and because of that we as a nation of educated news gathers suffer. Yet why should it not surprise any of us, since we are the country where Karl Rove spouted how we make our own realities? A day of reckoning for America will begin when someone decides to level with the American people, and they start telling the truth.

  10. Sally Snyder
    April 6, 2017 at 07:37

    Here is an interesting look at the economic and political costs to the world if the current North Korean regime collapses:

    As is typical in the case of regime change, the unanticipated consequences will be wide-ranging.

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