In today’s political climate, with every weapons test North Korea performs, the media continuously pushes the idea to us that a war between North Korea and the United States is impending and ultimately unavoidable. Whether or not this is the case, it is important that the United States public understands how our nation has arrived at this point in history.
The hostility between the United States of America and North Korea seemingly began during the Korean War which took place from 1950 to 1953. This war was primarily fought due to border conflicts between North and South Korea, with North Korea being backed by China and the Soviet Union whereas South Korea was backed by the United States and the United Nations. Before being recognized as North and South Korea respectively, Korea as a whole was under the rule of imperial Japan until being liberated. The Soviet Union, in an agreement with the United States, liberated the northern section of Korea where the United States liberated the south section of Korea. Once the Cold War began, different allegiances within Korea essentially created a divide between the two regions of its nation. Each region both north and south declared a government which ruled over the rest of Korea and no solid agreement could be reached between the two regions. With hostility between the two regions of Korea growing, when North Korea decided to invade South Korean territory this hostility was upgraded to warfare.
The next two years produced a seemingly endless war as both sides now were attempting to win by wearing the other side down to the point of defeat. However, this never ended up occurring. Throughout the war, both sides suffered wins and defeats. Eventually, it seemed as though the only possible way this war would end would have to be through a formal agreement, which in turn ended up producing the Korean Armistice Agreement. Under this agreement, both North and South Korea would be recognized as their own individual entities, and a demilitarized zone would be established between the two countries to act as a buffer zone and “keep the peace” in regards to border conflicts. Although this occurred, no official peace treaty has ever been signed. Due to this reason and history, there is still hostility and negative feelings between North and South Korea.
Turning back to relations between the United States and North Korea, it is evident why there is resentment and aggression between these two countries. When the United States backed South Korea, it became an automatic enemy of North Korea. Although these feelings of animosity have been around since the beginning of the Korean War, in recent years it seems as though these feelings have only escalated. The main issue that this paper will be examining is North Korea’s decision to obtain nuclear weapons, regardless of the United States obvious disapproval of these actions.
North Korea’s road to obtaining nuclear weapons begins in 1985 with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. This treaty was put in place to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and similar technology in an attempt to promote peaceful cooperation between states, while hopefully leading towards a total nuclear disarmament at some point in the future. North Korea signed this agreement alongside 189 other states before withdrawing itself in 2003, only after being sanctioned for violating the treaty obligations numerous times.
In 2006, North Korea tested its first nuclear weapon in an underground area and in turn alarmed many of the world’s largest state actors. After the test occurred, North Korean government confirmed the existence of their nuclear weapons. As a result of this announcement, six parties: South Korea, North Korea, the United States of America, China, Japan, and Russia began talks in an attempt to peacefully resolve the security concerns brought about by North Korea’s weapons tests. These talks resulted in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, agreeing to shut down its nuclear reactor. This situation seemingly deescalated until 2009 when North Korea announced that it would reactivate its nuclear facilities once more. Following this announcement, North Korea tested its second underground nuclear test, alongside with a short range missile test.
In 2013, seismic activity was registered from North Korea at a magnitude that suggested that the country had tested yet another nuclear device underground. A few years later in 2015, the leader of North Korea at the time, Kim Jong-un, gave the rest of the world reason to believe that North Korea had the ability to detonate a hydrogen bomb. With little to no proof on that topic, most states acknowledged Kim Jong-un’s statement as a bluff. However, in the following year seismic activity was detected yet again, and North Korea stated that the activity was a result of their Hydrogen bomb test. Due to the fact that this has neither been proven nor disproven, it is unknown if that test was a result of a hydrogen bomb or a nuclear bomb. Governmental agencies such as NATO and the UN spoke out again the tests done by North Korea; however, it is apparent that their reprimands had little to no effect on North Korea’s actions. Another nuclear test was done near the end of 2016, this time combining a nuclear weapon with a ballistic missile. Throughout this time, North Korea’s actual capability in regards to ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons had not been confirmed. Due to recent events, however, the fact that North Korea almost positively is in possession of nuclear weapons is hard to debate.
Currently, tensions between the United States and North Korea are mounting, and it seems as though some form of direct conflict is unavoidable, at least that is what the media portrays. As recently as November of this year, North Korea claimed to have tested a ballistic missile topped with a warhead that has the potential to reach the United States. Although this has not been confirmed, the Pentagon has stated that it believes that North Korea will have this capability within a year, if they do not already. The American public’s concerns with North Korea were already quite high, but now that the nation has learned that they are at risk of an attack in the near future, apprehension is at an all-time high.
However, when evaluating this situation in an attempt to determine the risk North Korea poses to the United States, it is important to understand the reasoning behind both parties’ actions. As evidenced throughout the history of relations between North Korea and the United States, it is obviously why the U.S. does not feel comfortable with North Korea possessing nuclear capabilities. In American media, Kim Jong-un is portrayed as irrational and unpredictable. No sane person would want the world’s most powerful weapons to be in the hands of a madman. Additionally, because the United States functions as the world’s leading hegemonic power, it assumes the responsibility of preventing North Korea from using nuclear weapons on any other countries, including North Korea, Japan, and ultimately America, as all of these states have been threatened by Kim Jong-un.
One important factor to consider is the role that nuclear weapons have in the global political climate as a whole. Although nuclear weapons have the potential to wreak havoc, ironically they also have the ability to promote peace throughout the world. But how can one of the most effective and deadly weapons in all of history lead to the promotion of peace? Currently, there are five sovereign states that are recognized as holding nuclear weapons under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which include: (1) China, (2) France (3) Russia, (4) The United Kingdom, and (5) The United States of America. These five nations also serve as the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. Additionally, it can be argued that these five states are five of the most powerful state actors in today’s world. India, Pakistan, North Korea and presumably Israel also have nuclear weapons, although these are not recognized within the scope of the NPT. It is presumable that the largest powers in the world are recognized as possessing nuclear capabilities by the NPT is due to the fact that states are unlikely to engage in conflict while living under the threat of a nuclear attack from each other. For example, tensions between the United States and Russia will most likely never escalate to the fullest extent due to the fact that both countries possess nuclear weapons. In this sense, nuclear weapons act as a deterrent for countries to engage in actual conflict with each other and foster the importance of working together to end disputes without turning to violence. Additionally, giving numerous states nuclear capabilities helps to keep the remaining states in line as well. For example, the United States would never drop a nuclear bomb onto a country with no nuclear capabilities due to fear of the repercussions from the remaining states with nuclear capabilities. Essentially, providing major powers with nuclear weapons helps to ensure the fact that they will never be used again, at least in theory. This leads into analyzing why North Korea would want to obtain nuclear weapons so desperately, regardless of any sanctions that will be taken on them.
China plays an important role in the conflict between the United States and North Korea. China’s history with North Korea can also be traced back to the Korean War, where China decided to back North Korea. Since then, they have been considered on good terms with each other, if not allies. However, when North Korea continued to provoke the United States, China decided to sanction North Korea by banning exports of some petroleum products to the country while also banning some imports from North Korea. Although these sanctions can be seen as China reprimanding North Korea on their recent actions, China stated that if the United States were to engage in war with North Korea, it would back North Korea. However, if North Korea were to initiate war with the United States, China would remain neutral. At first, these actions are hard to understand, but China is placed in a very difficult situation within this entire conflict. On one hand, they clearly do not support North Korea’s continuation of expanding their nuclear programs; however, China has special interests within North Korea that need to be protected. For example, China would not want Kim Jong-un’s regime to be overthrown due to the fact that North Korea serves as a buffer to U.S. interests on its border. Additionally, China signed a mutual defense pact with North Korea in 1961, which means that if North Korea is attacked China is legally obligated to provide military backing and other assistance. Due to these reasons, combined with Chinese leaders not knowing how to deal with Donald Trump’s outspokenness and unpredictable actions, puts China basically between a rock and a hard place. Examining how the looming threat of how engaging in war with North Korea would ultimately lead to war with China, this adds another layer to the issue at hand.
But why is North Korea so intent to become a nuclear power? The answer is simple: having nuclear weapons leads to an increase in global power. As evidenced earlier, the five nuclear states that are recognized by the NPT are also five of the strongest states in the world. Essentially, having a nuclear weapon at your disposal increases your negotiating power. Most of these recognized states will likely never use nuclear weapons, and this is why North Korea having nuclear weapons seems to become such a large problem due to the fact that they are actually threatening to use them. This unpredictability is the greatest cause for concern, as the entire world has witnessed the destroying power that a nuclear weapon is capable of. If North Korea obtains nuclear weapons that have the capability to reach anywhere in the world, this levels the playing field for them. Basically, North Korea believes that the best way to increase its global power is by securing nuclear weapons, and at that point they will hopefully be recognized as a world power along with the other states that hold nuclear weapons. In is doubtful that this approach will work, but I believe this is the main reason why North Korea is so determined to demonstrate its nuclear capabilities for the entire world to see. Nuclear weapons means more power and North Korea desperately wants to increase the amount of power it has in regards to the rest of the world.
However, even if North Korea develops the ability to attack the United States, it is unknown whether or not they would actually do so. In regards to military power, the United States far outnumbers the amount spent on military in comparison to the rest of the world. With the largest military and acting as one of the world’s largest powers, it is unlikely that North Korea would expect to win a war against the United States. Due to this reason, I hypothesize that North Korea is threatening the United States and its allies in an attempt to show the world that as a country they are unafraid to challenge larger powers. However, although it is possible North Korea would actually be willing to initiate a war with the United States, this is unlikely unless Kim Jong-un is as unpredictable and irrational as the media portrays, which I doubt.
Both countries have done a sufficient job or promoting how the other country is on the wrong side of history, although North Korea’s attempt seems much more extreme. North Koreans are taught to hate America from when they are children and throughout their entire adult life through repeated and frequent propaganda. North Korea heavily censors what information its public is allowed to have, and in most cases the only side of a story the North Korean public receives is from its government. With this in mind, the North Korean government continues to perpetuate propaganda that pushes the idea that America is evil throughout their education, culture, and ideology. Due to this reason, the hatred North Koreans have for the United States and its citizens is so deeply rooted in their culture that it is one of the most common ideologies held within North Korea. Americans also do not think highly of North Korea, or at least the perceived threat of North Korea. Recent surveys suggest that around 66 percent of Americans view North Korea as a serious threat. Additionally, approximately 58 percent of Americans state that they would support military action against North Korea if the United States cannot accomplish its goals peacefully. The American media wastes no time in portraying Kim Jong-un as an unreasonable and illogical dictator. Whether or not this is true is up to opinion. However, it is safe to say that public opinions of both respective nations do not view the other in a positive light.
Overall, it is difficult to say whether or not a positive outcome to this situation is possible. On one hand, the United States could end up being involved in a war against North Korea, which in turn would most likely drag other high powered states into the conflict as well. On the other hand, the most positive outcome of this conflict would most likely involve some sort of treaty or armistice that puts to rest the ongoing conflict between North Korea and South Korea, which in turn affects the United States as an ally of South Korea. The treaty could effectively establish the North and South’s respective rights to exist and operate independently, and could act as an official end to the Korean War, a war which was never technically ended. The main reason that North Korea displays so much disdain for the United States is based on the original Korean War, where the United States decided to back South Korea. Before that point, there were no main conflicts between these two state actors. Additionally, another similar route would involve the United States of America and North Korea to come to some sort of official agreement or armistice. Although this would not attack the true root of the issue, which is the long lasting resentment of America that North Korea has been carrying since the Korean War, but it would at least secure both nations security for the time being and push the issue back to an actual resolution on a later date. Although, due to both the United States and North Korean governments unwillingness to succumb to the other nation, attempting to come to this type of understanding would be incredibly unlikely.
If North Korea does end up using its nuclear weapons, this would be the most negative outcome possible. Obviously, now that the world has seen the true destructive capability that a nuclear weapon has, there should be no reason to use this type of weapon again; however, this only pertains to people who think rationally. Because Kim Jong-un is difficult to predict, it is unknown whether or not he’d truly implement the use of a nuclear warhead just to prove a point. This is the main reason why the conflict between North Korea and America has been increasingly receiving more and more attention. If North Korea had a more reasonable and less provocative government, it is likely that this situation would have never been escalated to the state that it is currently in today. In total, like most political events that occur throughout history, it is impossible to predict the outcome of an event until it occurs. Due to this reason, while rationing in Kim Jong-un’s unpredictable nature and unwillingness to yield, it is doubtful that a peaceful agreement will ever be reached in which the United States doesn’t have to budge on any of its positions. This may be the exact reason why Kim Jong-un acts the way he does. Because he is perceived as being so irrational, it lessens the perceived possibility of coming to terms on an agreement between the two states. When this possible agreement seems unlikely, the only other option for the United States to secure an agreement without the use of military force would be to sacrifice its position on some of its demands in order to protect the greater overall security of the United States and its allies. However, depending on how unwavering the United States government is, it is unknown if our country would be willing to sacrifice those requirements.
Overall, as mentioned earlier, it is impossible to predict the outcome of an event with certainty. The best we can do is take into consideration the history of the two nations within the conflict, the possibility of finding common ground,if it exists, and use these factors to determine if a positive outcome is even possible. In this exact situation, I believe that a positive outcome can be reached, but it will be difficult. Due to the fact that China is unwilling to put a stop to North Korea’s actions, it is likely that this conflict will eventually become more heightened, but it most cases situations need to reach a breaking point before they can be resolved. Optimism would suggest that there is a way to peacefully resolve this issue; however, realism suggests that the only way to ration with an unreasonable state would be to solve the issue militarily.