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Fri, March 22

Column: North Korea, switch to containment

Holes in the sanctions


Bob Gates says contain


Bombing is not a practical solution


On North Korea the only option we aren’t considering is the only one that’s likely to come true; that North Korea simply becomes one more country with nuclear missiles, much like Pakistan.

It’s not a desirable result. It might have been preventable in the past. This is not about appeasement but about acknowledging reality and not pretending otherwise. At this point the only options are either a horrific war that slaughters vast numbers of civilians, many in South Korea and Japan, and which possibly draws us into war with China, or we switch to simply containing North Korea as a nuclear-armed country.

As has been pointed out (see links with this column online) we don’t know exactly where all of their nuclear materials are, so we can’t just bomb all of those in a surprise attack. It’s a country as big as Arkansas and has a population four times that of Arizona. Actually controlling their weapons programs would take overrunning the country in a conventional war. North Korea also has chemical weapons and rockets that can reach South Korea and Japan, so if they were attacked in a large air campaign or an invasion, they would likely launch those. There is no easy, clean way to simply eradicate the situation.

Negotiations won’t work because they won’t give up their nuclear or chemical weapons for any price because they see those as the only thing that prevents an invasion.

I don’t know if preventing North Korea from acquiring the know-how and materials to build nuclear weapons could ever have permanently succeeded, but it sure seems the U.S. and the world didn’t do a great job of trying. Countries who are our allies, such as Qatar, or owe their existence to us, say Kuwait, hire $1 billion in North Korean labor every year, and no doubt most of that ends up in the hands of their government. Another ally, the UAE, in recent times bought $100 million in weapons from them. How does that jive with a serious effort to cut off their funds?

We spend a fortune on intelligence yet we didn’t stop these funding sources, or detect or prevent how they were getting technological help or materials. Our fortune misspent.

China does a lot of trade with them and ignores much of the sanctions. It might take a full-blown trade war to get China to change that. Either we should have accepted that as the price and done it long ago, or more realistically, owned up to the fact that sanctions were never going to work.

Kim Jong-un, like his predecessors, is crazy in some ways but shrewd and self-interested. If he ever used his weapons, it would trigger a war that would mean the end of all of the enjoyment of luxury his position as spoiled dictator provides him, and the end of him. He knows that, and it’s not what he wants.

We need to switch to a policy of containment. I recently came across the fact that none other than Bob Gates, the man with the most experience and reputation alive, with decades at the top of both defense and intelligence, for both Democratic and Republican administrations, has said the same thing.

I wish we had done things differently in the past, but here we are. I wish the administration would be realistic now, rather than all this false macho-bravado, which is not going to succeed, and is mostly just for the consumption of us citizens, and only increases the risk of that horrific war.

Tom Cantlon is a local business owner and writer and can be reached at comments at


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