To Ri, those include “the right to shoot down the United States strategic bombers even they’re not yet inside the airspace border of our country.”
The chief reason that North Korea keeps testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles is self-defense. They rightly fear that the United States and our allies would dismantle the current regime if we could. During the Korean War the United States destroyed 80 percent of the buildings in North Korea.
Our official policy toward the Korean Peninsula is one that calls for denuclearization, but it is clear that we have little chance of achieving that in the years to come. Very few countries that have acquired nuclear weapons have given them up. North Korea, which fears the United States and the West in general, and not without reason, has worked systematically for decades to be in a position to protect themselves.
It is just not logical to presume that there are conditions under which they would give up the very weapons they believe are critical to their survival, and President Donald Trump's recent remarks about destroying North Korea or hinting at regime change have only made that more true.
What the United States must do is change our basic policy of seeking denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We have tried to stop the North Koreans from developing nuclear weapons and the means to transport nuclear weapons, and we have failed in that effort.
The question now must be: How can the United States and our allies preserve peace in the Korean Peninsula and protect ourselves from any attack from North Korea?
North Korea is not Nazi Germany of the 1930s. Nazi Germany build up one of the most powerful war machines in the history of the world, and they were determined to regain land lost after World War I and dominate much of Europe and ultimately the world.
North Korea is one of the poorest, smallest countries on earth. They have 25 million people and an annual GDP of $28 billion. The United States has 320 million people and an annual GDP of over $18 trillion.
North Korea has a powerful army and nuclear weapons; even more, they basically hold South Korea and Japan hostage since they can unleash conventional and nuclear weapons on these two countries with the expectation that they could do enormous damage and cause millions of deaths. Were they to attack either of our allies, then they would themselves face an immense counterattack from the United States and possibly complete annihilation. But they could take down millions in the process.
So the question is: What should the United States do?
There are many possibilities, but all good ones rely on publicly recognizing North Korea as a nuclear power and publicly dropping the goal of creating a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.
Once these two related points are recognized, it is a whole new game. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would have less to prove. He would have obtained what he needed: Respect for his military strength. Moreover, we must publicly affirm that we do not seek regime change. There are complex issues to negotiate about both sides wanting a unified Korea, but committing ourselves to the position that we will not seek regime change will provide Mr. Kim with the peace of mind he needs to back off from some of his threats toward the United States.
What is holding up peaceful relations between the United States and North Korea is just these two related points. President Trump is not willing to treat North Korea as a nuclear power, and as a result he and the Congress continue to sanction North Korea, and he personally continues to threaten North Korea.
It is time for the United States to stop trying not to lose face against a foe who has extreme needs to be recognized as a player on the world stage. They don't want to lose face either, and it is time for us, the bigger country in this dispute, to act like the bigger, more powerful country.
North Korea is surrounded by countries that either have nuclear weapons – China and Russia – or are protected by countries (i.e., the United States) that have nuclear weapons and will defend them. A fair question is: Why should North Korea not have a right to have nuclear weapons, too?
Recognizing that North Korea is a nuclear power does not mean that we recognize them as a power equal to us. It just means including them in that elite group of nations who possess nuclear weapons.
Once we get over this hurdle, then the way will be cleared to figure out the best way to make peace with North Korea. And if we do not get over this hurdle, then we risk a major war in the Korean Peninsula and even World War III.
Dave Anderson (firstname.lastname@example.org) was a candidate in the 2016 Democratic Primary in Maryland's 8th Congressional District. He is the Editor of Leveraging: A Political, Economic, and Societal Framework (Springer, 2014).