The Obama administration needs to send a loud and clear message to nuclear-saber-rattling North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un, according to experts across the political spectrum: Don’t mess with the U.S.
“Their MO is to talk crazy and act rationally, so that’s what I’m looking for,” said Scott A. Snyder, director of the Council on Foreign Relations’ U.S.-Korean Policy Program. “I think there’s greater risk in this situation and I think that’s why the U.S. is sending the message it has.”
That message came in the form of nuclear-capable B-2 and B-52 bombers unleashed in military drills over South Korea, and new United Nations economic sanctions, all as Kim threatens to launch his newly developed missiles.
President Obama has installed missile defense systems on the West Coast in response to those threats even though North Koreans have no real hope of targeting the U.S. homeland.
Peter Brookes, a senior national security affairs fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said Obama may not like beefing up a missile defense system that was created by President George W. Bush, but it’s the right course. He said the situation is dangerous, but little different from the threats the North Koreans often make toward their neighbors.
And they are unlikely to ?invite the crushing retaliation that would come from a major attack on South Korea or U.S. targets in Japan, Guam or Saipan.
“I’m not a fan of the Obama administration, but I think Obama has sent a very strong signal to them,” Brookes said. “(The North Koreans) can’t fight a very long conflict and I think they understand that.”
However, the North Koreans have learned that the tenuous international aid that keeps their regime in power and their nation afloat is based largely on their perceived threat to their neighbors.
“It’s quite rational,” said Sung-Yoon Lee, an expert on North Korea at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. “It’s not crazy.”
And shoving back too hard against Pyongyang’s inflated threats could force them to double down and help convince its impoverished population that their sacrifices to maintain North Korea’s military are necessary.
Suffolk University Professor Simone Chun said the administration has taken the wrong tack entirely — and should be urging the North Koreans to sit down at the negotiating table.
“I think President Obama has wasted five years when he could have made a huge difference,” Chun said. “North Korea wants normalization of diplomacy with the United States.”