While the United States is looking at how to proceed in the nation’s longest war in Afghanistan, the threat from North Korea has again seized the spotlight.
North Korea is pressing ahead with missile tests despite condemnation from around the world, and over the weekend the regime successfully tested a hydrogen bomb so powerful that it set off a Richter scale reading of 6.3 magnitude.
The test led to a Labor Day meeting of the U.N. Security Council at which U.N. Ambassador and former S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley laid things on the line for the world body – and notably the nations such as China that continue to directly and indirectly prop up Kim Jong-Un.
As reported by CNN, Haley said North Korea is "begging for war," calling its sixth nuclear test a clear sign that "the time for half measures" from the United Nations has to end.
"Enough is enough," Haley said. "We have taken an incremental approach, and despite the best of intentions, it has not worked."
She said the United States does not want war but will defend itself and allies when North Korea is issuing threats with missiles pointed at U.S. territories.
"War is never something the Unites States wants -- we don't want it now," Haley said. "But our country's patience is not unlimited. We will defend our allies and our territory."
At the conclusion of the meeting, Haley said the United States will circulate a resolution in response to the nuclear test.
South Korea's Ambassador to the United Nations Cho Tae-yul, according to CNN, said it has to have real teeth.
"Now is the time to take measures that are strong and robust enough to compel North Korea to seriously engage in dialogue," he said. "The new resolution must include not only additional measures to further block funds that could possibly flow into North Korea's illegal nuclear program, but also truly biting and robust measures that Pyongyang finds very painful."
Monday's session was the 10th time the Security Council has met on North Korea this year and it came on the heels of other comments from U.S. leaders.
Defense Secretary General James Mattis issued a strong warning on Sunday. He said North Korea would be met with a “massive military response” if it threatens the United States or its allies.
“Any threat to the United States or its territories including Guam or our allies will be met with a massive military response,” Mattis said. “Kim Jong-Un should take heed the United Nations Security Council’s unified voice. All members unanimously agreed on the threat North Korea poses. And they remain unanimous in their commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Because we are not looking to the total annihilation of a country, namely, North Korea.”
Mattis said the United States has “many military options.”
But the fact remains that none of them is good. A new war in Korea not only risks nuclear confrontation, it would be deadly with only the use of conventional forces. The death toll in the Koreas alone is projected to be staggering.
Avoiding such a war is the top priority and it may take extraordinary measures short of military action.
President Donald Trump continues to target China as complicit in allowing North Korea's nuclear program to continue. On Sunday, he tweeted that the United States is considering "stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea," which would include China.
At the U.N. meeting Monday, Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi said the situation was "falling into a vicious circle" and urged North Korea to "stop taking actions that are wrong."
But he said, “China will never allow chaos and war on the peninsula” and again pushed for a China-Russia proposal that would freeze the North Korean nuclear program in exchange for suspension of U.S.-South Korean military exercises.
Haley said such a proposal is a non-starter.
Again as reported by CNN, she said, "The idea that some have suggested a so-called 'freeze for freeze' is insulting. When a rogue regime has a nuclear weapon and an ICBM pointed at you, you do not take steps to lower your guard. No one would do that. We certainly won't."
She said quickly enacting the strongest possible sanctions in the Security Council is the only way to resolve the issue diplomatically.
"We've kicked the can down the road long enough," Haley said. "There is no more road left."
But a road has to be found. And sanctions may not be the only way toward resolution short of war. In fact, sanctions against North Korea – even those that are “truly biting and robust” – appear unlikely to work in the short term. They may be giving the regime ammunition to foster the story line that the United States is out to destroy North Korea.
North Korea is a state with nuclear weapons and all the talk of war and is not going to undo that fact. And while the United States does not accept a nuclear-armed North Korea in the long term, the best way to bring about a Korean peninsula without such weapons is to be pursue negotiations to which all key players are partners.
China is crucial to such negotiations and should get serious immediately about bringing the North Koreans out of the corner into which they have put themselves and into talks about avoiding a war that will be devastating for them and others. President Trump should use all the leverage needed regarding trade and other issues to get the Chinese mobilized immediately, even as the rhetoric in the Korean confrontation is cooled.
War in Korea can and must be averted.