On January 29, 2002, then-president George W. Bush used the term 'axis of evil' when he grouped together three countries: Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. This axis was used to describe three countries that, to the Bush Administration, presented a grave threat to the free world, either by seeking out weapons of mass destruction, sponsoring terrorism, or committing human rights violations.
For a while, Iran and Iraq dominated the headlines, and it seemed like North Korea, while dangerous, did not pose an imminent and tangible threat.
However, in recent years, North Korea has become increasingly bellicose and unstable. Recently, global alarm bells have been blaring as North Korea continues to make significant progress in launching or firing a long distance nuclear weapon. North Korea's dictator, Kim Jong-Un, continues to make explicit threats to the United States, South Korea, Japan, and other countries.
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” President Trump recently declared. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
To history buffs, this pronouncement by Trump sounds similar to a statement made by President Harry Truman to the American public about Japan near the end of World War II. Truman's exact words were, "If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth. Behind this air attack will follow sea and land forces in such numbers and power as they have not yet seen and with the fighting skill of which they are already well aware."
While the scenarios are different, Trump's message is ominously clear: the U.S. would take major military action if the North Koreans continued to threaten its or its allies' interests.
While it is unclear exactly what Trump would do if the North Koreans continued down its reckless and bellicose path, one thing is for certain, an attack, or a possible invasion of North Korea to topple the Kim regime, unprovoked, would not be a good idea.
Unless North Korea initiates an attack on the United States, or a close ally, leaving the U.S. with no non-military recourse, there is just simply too much to lose if the United States were to get bogged down in an armed conflict with North Korea.
There are several reasons why the U.S. should refrain from taking military action against North Korea at this time.
First, there is the issue of China. It is no secret that the U.S. is in the midst of a "Cold War 2" with Russia and China. A U.S. invasion of North Korea could unnecessarily provoke China, who, for better or worse, still remains an ally of North Korea. China has political and strategic interests in North Korea. China does not genuinely support the reunification of the two Koreas. It is the main supplier of oil and food that keep North Korea afloat. Additionally, China would not support an invasion of North Korea because of the possibility of a North Korean immigration influx that would likely occur in China if thousands of North Koreans fled their country into China. Another factor that should not be overlooked is the fact that China is a permanent member of the United Nation’s Security Council, whose cooperation is indispensable to the U.S. should it seek any solutions from the United Nations. For its own continued economic development which requires a peaceful international environment, especially around its own borders, it is unlikely that China will tolerate an armed conflict in the Korean peninsula either. While the current scenario with North Korea is intolerable, a far worse scenario might result in starting a conflict with China and being embroiled in a war with both North Korea and China.
Second, there would be the mass "human loss" that would occur if the U.S. invaded North Korea. Because North Korea will throw their entire country behind the war cause, the conflict would be protracted and would likely result in millions of lives lost. Especially after the unpopular Iraq War, there is no stomach for a war, especially if North Korea has not made the initial physical attack. Right now, North Korea is no worse than Iraq before 2003, which had made threats to the U.S., but had not carried them out. There is no reason to risk so many lives when the North Koreans have not initiated an attack.
Finally, there is the issue of post-Kim North Korea itself, which in reality, is just too uncertain to solve. There would be humanitarian aid and reconstruction effort to rebuild not just North Korea, but other parts of the world affected, which would be so massive, it would likely take decades to complete. The use of nuclear weapons in the conflict, which is highly likely, would decimate millions, and the fallout would take years to clean up.
Also, as discussed earlier, there would be the issue of a refugee crisis with millions of displaced North Koreans, largely poor and unskilled. Where would they go, and how would they adjust to their new lives, after having been brainwashed by the Kim regime? There would also be issues involving what to do with the country of North Korea itself. Do we reunify the Koreas, or do we keep North Korea as is, and if so, who would govern it? There are no easy answers.
At the present time, North Korea represents no bigger threat than that posed by Iraq in 2003. The U. S. should avoid getting involved into another unnecessary armed conflict, even if it means keeping Kim Jong-Un in power. While the threat from North Korea seems untenable, the threat is still not close to where it needs to be for preparations for an invasion, or even a war, to begin. Initiating an armed conflict with North Korea would not be warranted at this time.