Common sense oozes out of this one, although the Korean issue is a great deal more complicated than he presents it…
We say more complicated because – and you can say this is partisan squabbling if you want – America’s actions in escalating the situation with North Korea have not been especially productive.
Buzzing the Norks with B-2 bombers, for example, was perhaps less wise than it could have been.
But where Whittle is correct is on the question of how to respond to Nork missile launches. We should be parking Aegis missile cruisers in the Sea of Japan and conducting active missile defense exercises when the Norks decide to launch rockets. Knocking down everything they shoot would be a nice way to demonstrate our technical superiority while not actually killing anyone. It would be an exercise in dominance that perhaps scared some of Kim Jung Un’s lickspittles into accepting the fact that military conflict with America or South Korea is exceedingly futile.
Those people need to understand that a war with us and the South Koreans would end very badly, and soon.
But of course, it’s more complicated than that, because the Chinese have been enabling the Norks for decades. They enable the Norks because it’s a good way to occupy our Asian policy to no productive end, and in doing so they create space to increase their prestige in the region.
We probably have enough leverage on China to keep them out of a conflict with the Norks. But nobody really wants to put that to a test. Particularly not given the humanitarian consequences of a war with the Norks. You’ve got 23 million people they can’t feed in peacetime; what happens if Kim starts a war and the bombing begins? South Korea can’t feed those people – not when they’re in the midst of grinding up the million-man Nork army which will be attempting to come south to live off forage. America can’t feed 23 million people. The Chinese won’t be able to feed them, though they’d likely have to since their borders would be completely overrun with refugees.
And when the Kim dynasty is completely finished, which would happen shortly after that war began, then what? The South Koreans might like to unify Korea at some point, but integrating North Korea with South Korea is far, far, far more costly and difficult than integrating East and West Germany was – and that took more than a decade. South Korea has grown extremely rich, but they’re a nation of 45 million – absorbing another nation of 23 million after having a destructive war, regardless of how short it might end up being, fought at least somewhat on its territory will be a monumentally difficult proposition. Remember that the Norks have thousands and thousands of artillery tubes pointed at Seoul, which is the 2nd largest city in the world, and have repeatedly threatened to turn it into a “sea of fire.”
Even with help, the idea that America could survive the functional destruction of New York City and respond by conquering and annexing Mexico is a daunting one. That’s what the South Koreans are faced with every time the situation to their north flares up, and for good reason they usually like to pretend the whole thing will just go away.
And it’s neither in our interest nor our particular right to pick a fight with the Norks that causes South Korea to burn. If South Korea were lose their manufacturing base to Nork artillery, that would affect the world economy pretty severely. Picking a fight with their neighbor doesn’t help anybody.
There is no good way to deal with the Norks. The best possible solution is never going to happen – namely, that North Korea begins a process of gradual economic and political liberalization with an eye toward eventual reunification with the South. You can’t get that with Kim Jung Un in charge, so that would mean you’d need a revolution there, and a revolution in North Korea probably means mass starvation and something that looks like Syria for a while. Or it would mean somebody has to occupy that country and in doing so shoulder the burden of feeding 23 million helpless scarecrows.
But while there’s no good way to deal with them, and there is no foreseeable result there we would call acceptable, at a minimum we can’t allow Kim Jung Un to destroy our credibility by threatening to nuke the United States of America without suffering any consequences. And fundamentally, that’s what Whittle is offering – American strength in dealing with the Norks hasn’t been the constant for a very long time, and this situation has worsened as a result to the point where the only way it can deteriorate now is for the war nobody wants to see to break out.