What happens when a dangerous animal is backed into a corner? It does not calm down. It does not suddenly become reasonable and opt to negotiate or surrender. When an animal is backed into a corner, it becomes more aggressive. It lashes out. It attacks because it sees no other options. This is, for the animal, the most logical course of action. I fear that North Korea has been backed into a corner and provoked to the point where their eventual retaliation is inevitable.
Over the course of the Korean War between 1950 and 1953, America dropped more bombs on North Korea than were dropped, in total, on the entire Pacific theater over the course of the Second World War. This included 32,000 tons of napalm. By some estimates, more than 20 percent of the population was killed. This devastation instilled resentment for America in the hearts of the North Korean people. The infrastructure would need to be completely rebuilt as well, allowing the new Kim regime to shape the country in their image. The war finished with the Korean peninsula divided along the 38th parallel. Since the division, North Korea has remained a bitter enemy of South Korea and the United States. While the treatment of its civilians is unjustifiable, it is important to understand why, in the aftermath of such a brutal war, North Korea developed such as strong animosity toward America, as well as why they have devoted so much of their resources towards building a strong military force.
In 2017, North Korea tested several missiles, among them the Hwasong-14 — a missile capable of reaching New York. At the beginning of 2021, North Korea announced that it had created the “world’s most powerful weapon,” which was launched at a parade a few days before Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States. There is no question of America’s military might either. As of 2021, America possesses roughly 6,200 nuclear weapons, enough to bring about the end of the world.
Donald Trump spent much of his presidency antagonizing North Korea via the same means as his predecessors — threats and heavy sanctions, including the blacklisting of six companies that were accused of buying North Korean coal. However, with the summit meeting of 2018, we have seen the possibility of relations improving between the two countries, or for there to at least be communication. Although Joe Biden has continued American aggression in the Middle East since becoming president, he has said that he hopes to stop the “forever wars” that America has been engaged in for the last few decades, and recently unveiled a plan to remove all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 of this year.
If Biden is indeed dedicated to peace, if he means what he has said, then he will continue to communicate with North Korea. He will lessen the sanctions that we have imposed and will assure Kim Jong-Un that America is not interested in a war that could kill millions of people, both American and North Korean. Kim Jong-Un is a dangerous man. He is an abhorrent leader, and there is no question that he has violated the rights of his people on numerous occasions and continues to do so. But a war with the United States is not in the best interest of those people. If President Biden wants peace, if he wants to protect the world, he will work with North Korea to prevent war — he will not force the country to lash out.
There is no questioning the fact that Kim Jong-Un, and his predecessors Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-Sung, have been totalitarian dictators who have treated their people brutally. To this day North Korea violates human rights. But it is vital to understand that a war with North Korea will not help these people. Saddam Hussein was also a brutal dictator, but the invasion of Iraq that removed him from power did not bring peace and freedom to the Middle East. The region was instead destabilized further. Joe Biden has the opportunity to prevent this, to ensure peace with North Korea for years to come. So far he has expressed willingness to engage diplomatically with North Korea in the name of denuclearization, although there hasn’t been mention of reducing sanctions. Reducing America’s military presence on the Korean peninsula would be a good next step. Reconsidering lifting sanctions would be another, as a show of good faith. From there, America and North Korea might be able to negotiate mutually decreasing our nuclear stockpiles. In order to gain enough trust from North Korea for this to happen, we will need to act first.
Desmond Keuper is a freshman majoring in philosophy.