It's Time to Prepare for War With North Korea

Nicholas Kristof writes that experts' judgment is that Kim Jong Un is now on the war path
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 18, 2024 9:30 AM CST
It's Time to Prepare for War With North Korea
South Korean army's K-9 self-propelled howitzers move during a military exercise in Paju, South Korea, near the border with North Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024.   (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

The chilling rhetoric and missile tests from North Korea may sound like more of the same, but two highly regarded experts on the country conclude that "Kim Jong Un has made a strategic decision to go to war." That judgment comes from Robert Carlin, who's spent five decades analyzing the North for the US government and other groups, and Siegfried Hecker, a Stanford nuclear expert who's visited the North seven times, in a 38 North essay. And it's an opinion highlighted by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who's been covering and visiting North Korea for decades. He recognizes Kim "uses bombast for bargaining leverage." But Carlin and Hecker "do not see the war preparation themes in North Korean media appearing since the beginning of last year as typical bluster."

For decades up until 2019, Pyongyang had sought to normalize relations with the US. But that all changed when the Hanoi summit with former President Trump fell apart, "leaving Kim humiliated," Kristof writes. Since then, North Korea "has bolstered ties with Russia, improved its nuclear weapon capabilities, and escalated its rhetoric." Then this week, it announced "it would take a much harsher approach to South Korea, changing its constitution and its long-standing policy on reunification, and would not respect traditional boundary lines." Kim himself said his army is preparing for "a great revolutionary event" and that "the war will terribly destroy the entity called the Republic of Korea," as well as "inflict an unimaginably crushing defeat upon the US."

Many people will say the North would never strike the South or the US, as it would mean the end of Kim's regime. Some analysts believe North Korea is simply trying to influence elections in South Korea and the US in an attempt to usher in those who seek friendlier relations with the country. "But history suggests those who have convinced themselves that they have no good options left will take the view that even the most dangerous game is worth the candle," write Carlin and Hecker. Joel Wit, a longtime North Korea expert at the State Department, tells Kristof he's taking their warning "extremely seriously." The US should seek China's help in detering Pyongyang while ensuring "our military forces are prepared," Kristof writes. "It would be wise to be ready for anything." (More North Korea stories.)

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