Diplomacy is key on North Korea

The Cranston Herald ·

To the Editor:

On Saturday, Feb. 17, I had the pleasure of attending an open house at the Korean Cultural Center on Park Avenue in Cranston. I spent a year in the late 1970s teaching English at Yonsei University's Foreign Language Institute in Seoul and attending the open house reawakened fond memories.

Although that was a time of unrest in South Korea, it was a magical year for me getting to know that beautiful country and its people. I have memories of paper lantern lit temples on Buddha's birthday, green fields of rice in the spring and red persimmons hanging from trees in the countryside in the fall, the Presbyterian mega-church in downtown Seoul, even the scramble to catch the last bus home before curfew after going out for an after-class glass of rice wine with my students and friends.

In part because of my time in Korea, in part because I am opposed to war in any form, I have watched in alarm as North Korea's Kim Jong-un and President Trump escalate tensions between our two countries and as the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists set the doomsday clock to as close to midnight as it has been in a generation. 

The North Korean regime is inarguably deplorable in its violations of the basic human rights of its citizens. It is terrifying that it is so close to having nuclear weapons capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. And while we must do everything in our power to contain it and move it towards more acceptable behavior, we must stop short of instigating a war, possibly nuclear, in response.

Any war with North Korea would be catastrophically deadly, costly and difficult, if not impossible, to limit. We were unable to win a war with the North in the 1950s when its army and arms were more limited. We did not win the long and costly war in Vietnam. We are 16 years into our military engagement with Afghanistan with no end in sight. What makes us think that a war with North Korea now would be any different? It has not only nuclear but also chemical and biological weapons and a huge arsenal of missiles just 35 or so miles from Seoul, a metropolitan area with a population of over 25 million. With over 1.2 million active soldiers and a further 7.7 million in reserve, North Korea's ground force is one of the largest in the world.

There are, to be sure, hopeful signs of diplomatic openings on display at the Olympics now in progress in South Korea: delayed military exercises, deferred missile tests, unified Korean athletes, and an invitation for South Korea's president to visit North Korea. Also the denial by a top U.S. administration official this past week that the President, despite reports to the contrary, is not considering a preemptive "bloody nose" strike on the North.

But given the fact that the U.S. has not had an Ambassador to North Korea in place since Trump took office and given this administration's relationship to the truth, plus the President's past statements, we would be well advised to put safeguards in place to keep the administration to its word. Bills now in both chambers of Congress do just that. 

S. 2074 and H.R. 4837 would both bar the massive spending required for the president to initiate war with North Korea and reassert the Congress' constitutional duty to declare and fund war. It would prevent the administration from using the AUMF, intended to fight terrorism post-9/11, as an implicit permission to launch military operations whenever and wherever it sees fit. And it would require the administration to get prior Congressional approval before starting military action against North Korea absent an imminent attack on the U.S. or its allies. Congressman Cicilline is a co-sponsor of the House bill. Let's ask our Senators and Rep. Langevin to follow his example.

Diplomacy has worked with other dangerous enemies, such as the Soviet Union, in the past. It even slowed the development of nuclear weapons and stopped long-range missile tests in North Korea for nearly a decade with the Agreed Framework.

After the Olympic games are over, the U.S. needs to do its part to keep the diplomatic torch burning.

Nancy Houston