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Korean flashpoint: Avoid dangerous escalation of rhetoric, manage Pyongyang through talks and containment
Posted:Aug 9, 2017
 
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With the war of words sharpening between North Korea and the US – Pyongyang has threatened to launch pre-emptive strikes against the American territory of Guam, while President Donald Trump has vowed to rain fire and fury if the North doesn’t stop threatening his country – tensions in East Asia have risen several notches. This comes in the wake of the UN Security Council imposing new sanctions on North Korea that could slash its $3 billion annual export revenue by a third. North Korea and the US are caught in a classic security dilemma, where each side sees the other as a threat and mutually feeds anxieties.
 
It’s a mistake to see the North Korean side as totally irrational: given its one-party Stalinist system with a supreme leader, and having very few resources, it’s easy to see why such a regime would fear being overrun by superior South Korean and American forces. North’s Kim Jong-un has seen what happened to other dictators like Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. Therefore it’s extremely unlikely that Pyongyang will abandon its nuclear programme, which it sees as its only guarantor of security.
 
However, this doesn’t mean its nuclear and missile programmes can’t be capped through sanctions and incentives. After all Islamabad behaves much worse than Pyongyang does, yet the world responds to it with forbearance and aid: it not only engages in nuclear sabre rattling (like North Korea), it also exports terror to neighbouring countries (which North Korea doesn’t). In North Korea’s case, US secretary of state Rex Tillerson has said that dialogue is possible if Pyongyang halts missile launches. China should be persuaded to pressure Kim to take up the offer. Pyongyang must be managed through a mix of talks and containment, without escalating rhetoric that might spiral into war and all-out destruction.
 
 
 
 
 
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