Date(s) - 09/12/2017
9:00 am - 10:00 am
The Sands Regency
At the Sands Regency
Confronting North Korea
Ambassador Christopher Hill
The Sands Regency, Tuesday September 12, 2017, 9:00 a.m.
North Korea’s test of an intercontinental ballistic missile was a major step forward in its growing capability to deliver ICBMs with nuclear warheads as far as the Western United States. The U.S. and its allies have pursued a number of steps to eliminate or at least restrict Pyongyang’s capability to deliver weapons armed with nuclear warheads over great distances, but nothing has worked. America and allies in the region have tried to fashion a diplomatic, negotiated agreement, but North Korea seems uninterested. The U.S. has also pursued sanctions against Pyongyang, and while they have had some domestic impact, they have been insufficient to change the course the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-Un, is pursuing. Nor surprising, the Pentagon is drawing up plans for the implementation of various military options, alternatives that now seem more possible given North Korean intransigence and President Trump’s threat to bring “Fire and Fury” on that country.
President Trump has also tried to persuade China, the one country that would seem to have leverage over North Korea, to join in the sanctions regime and to put additional diplomatic and economic pressure on Pyongyang. Beijing seems uninterested in assisting in restricting North Korean aggression and in opening up the country to foreign influences. In fact, new data shows that China’s trade with its North Korean neighbor has increased substantially this year, including sending much needed food, fuel and machinery to sustain the North Korean economy. China clearly is unwilling to do Washington’s bidding and put pressure on Pyongyang.
This makes the “military option” that much more likely. Such a preemptive operation would likely include a “surgical strike” on North Korean missile sites to remove its capability of launching ICBMs. The attack would likely include strikes against the country’s political leadership, including Kim Jong Un. In addition, the US/allied preemption would likely include a massive cyber attack designed to destroy the North’s communications systems and military command and control. However, such a strike would probably lead to Pyongyang hitting back hard with thousands of artillery rounds landing in South Korea and, possibly, Japan. That would likely kill hundreds of thousands, including U.S. troops stationed in both countries. In sum, there are no good options for dealing with an intransigent North Korean regime, but a decision regarding a preemptive strike is likely to be forthcoming soon.
Ambassador Chris Hill is uniquely qualified to speak to this challenge. Hill is the former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, during which time he served as the head of the U.S. delegation to the Six Party Talks on the North Korea nuclear issue. He has also served as the American Ambassador to Iraq, Poland, and Macedonia, and as Senior Director on the staff of the National Security Council. He currently is the Dean of the Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.
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