While U.S. President Donald J. Trump has been gallivanting around the world this week trying to unite the hubs of the three monotheistic religions in a commitment to world peace and the war against terrorism, the Bad Boy of Pyongyang has been busy winning the opprobrium of the international community with yet another flex of his nuclear muscles.
On Sunday, May 21, Kim Jong-un test-fired a medium-range ballistic missile, the second in just one week.
Emboldened by the fact that, so far, no one has dared to use military force to try to curb his atomic tantrums (economic sanctions do not intimidate Kim), the defiant totalitarian North Korean leader has let loose with a whole new spate of stop-me-if-you-can ballistic launchings.
Although North Korea’s indulgent custodian China has officially reprimanded Kim for his recent ballastic outbursts, the wayward despot shows no sign of relenting in his atomic quest for international power.
If anything, Kim seems to be getting more brazen with each launching, escalating regional tensions and upping the ante for the world’s nuclear gatekeepers.
With its most recent strikes, North Korea has clearly demonstrated that it could attack U.S. territories in the Pacific, and knowing Kim’s erratic temperament, Pyongyang would have no moral or political qualms about doing just that.
How can Kim be reeled in?
Ideally, Beijing could put pressure on Pyongyang with real economic sanctions that would bring the North Korean economy to a halt.
China is North Korea’s largest trade partner, purchasing more than 95 percent of the hermetic East Asian nation’s coal output which represents roughly a third of its total $3 billion in annual overseas sales) and accounting for 87 percent of its total exports.
Moreover, Beijing sells Pyongyang about $3.5 billion in goods and services each year.
A real Chinese economic cutoff of North Korea would stymie Kim’s nuclear ambitions.
But, for now, Beijing is still playing it cool, using its influence over Pyongyang as a leverage tool against Washington and its chummy ally Seoul.
Pressuring China to restrain North Korea has not worked, and with no real military options (no one wants to cross the nuclear arms line, which is exactly what would happen if Pyongyang were attacked), the only possible solution is to persuade Kim to put down his nuclear toys and come play nice with the rest of the world.
Granted, diplomacy has not worked in the past, but neither has strategic patience (which essentially boils down to ignoring the problem and hoping it — and Kim — will eventually go away).
But the nightmare of North Korea is a reality, and as much as the world may hope that it will one day awaken and discover that the boogieman of Kim Jong-un was just a bad dream, the fact of the matter is that he is here to stay, at least until his people finally have had enough of his insanity and overthrow him.
Like it or not, North Korea is a nuclear-armed state and, despite global condemnation, will remain one.
Which means that, in addition to deploying missile protection systems like the
Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in South Korea to shoot down any short- and intermediate-range missiles potentially fired from North Korea, the civilized world has to reach out and extend a hand of cautious friendship to Kim and his merry band of autocrats.
Kim is the spoiled brat bully who has taken to beating up the other kids on the playground because they won’t play with him.
So far, his missile launchings have been all show and no strike, but as his isolation from the rest of the international community grows, so too increases the possibility of Kim actually aiming his ballistic assaults at his perceived enemies.
It won’t be easy, but it’s time to invite North Korea to join the global fraternity.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.