Brains Over Bombs: Why Cooler Heads Must Prevail on North Korea



With North Korea ramping up the doomsday rhetoric over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed my libertarian friends proposing some very un-libertarian solutions… In many cases, missing out on some very important historical/cultural context.

Before you rush out to the nearest doomsday bunker or declare your support for another massive land invasion, I’d urge you to consider how Pyongyang’s aggressive position has panned out in the past. Anyone with eyes on the situation over the last 20 years might notice a trend.


In 1985, NK signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, indicating a willingness to give up nuclear ambitions in exchange for greater international cooperation.

It wasn’t until 1993 international agencies began suspecting NK of breaking the terms of the agreement, and began pressing them for transparency. Though there were renewed agreements reached in 1994, relations between NK and the international community eroded as they denied inspectors access to their nuclear facilities.

In 2002, then-President George W. Bush declared North Korea an enemy of the west officially, prompting NK to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty in retaliation.

Shortly after withdrawing from the agreement, the North Korean government declared its possession of nuclear arms officially, in April of 2003.

Two years later, North Korea agrees once again to give up its entire nuclear research program, in exchange for international assistance with its growing energy demands. Only a year later, in 2006, NK further provokes the international community by testing long-range missiles. The UN Security Council consequently passed a resolution demanding NK immediately cease their long-range missile program.

Later that year, NK declares they have successfully tested a nuclear weapon, prompting a new wave of international sanctions.

It is clear by 2006, the scheme of the North Korean regime is to hold the world hostage with apocalyptic weaponry, by any means necessary. They have already broken every treaty and compromise offered to them, and have stated clearly their intention to develop and weaponize their nuclear capabilities. Despite this threat, you’ll note allied nations did not respond with overwhelming force.

Fast forward to 2009, North Korea conducts a second nuclear test. Again, the world watches with their breath held, but no military intervention occurs. Sanctions, however, to continue to escalate.

In 2011, the US sits down with NK once again, to negotiate an end to the program. After more than a year of argument, they finally settled on mutually agreeable terms in February of 2012; NK agreed to stop testing long-range missiles and nuclear warheads in exchange for food aid.

This state of affairs didn’t last long, as North Korea declared it would continue both its missile and nuclear programs in defiance of its agreements in January of 2013. They proceeded with their third nuclear test later that year.

In 2014, NK fired conventional arms into the South Korean sea, prompting South Korea to fire shells back into North Korean waters.

In 2016, NK declared a successful test of a hydrogen bomb; this year, in 2017, Kim Jong Un claims to have developed an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking US territories. The regime has carried out 6 nuclear tests in total, most recently in September of 2017.


The fact is, US/NK relations have long been tainted with threats of annihilation. This is essentially the only bit of leverage North Korea has left, the fear of nuclear conflict. They threatened earlier this year to attack Guam, warning the world weeks in advance of its intentions; yet, behold, they surprised us all by backing down at the last minute.

Though I’d be a fool to suggest this petulant regime doesn’t pose a very real threat to the longevity of the human species, I must fall on the side of skepticism whenever they brandish their nuclear capabilities at us. To hear so many of my fellow Americans calling for a military solution is worrisome; not because their concern is misplaced, but because victory is quite literally impossible.

Yes, we could invade NK… yes, with a coalition of international support, we could unseat and demolish the government within months. We’ve done it before. 

Yet, as is so often the case, rampant military interventionism would riddle our international relations with mistrust and spite. We cannot crush hatred beneath the boots of soldiers; the truth is, the survivors of such a war would continue to resist us for generations to come, and we would solidify in the North Korean mind the validity of the anti-US propaganda they’ve been subjected to since birth. We’d become bogged down in yet another endless conflict which would only serve to replace the current humanitarian crisis with mass-scale bloodshed.

Worse, if we attack first, we will likely spur a response from China, who has previously acted against the US on the Korean Peninsula; the influx of North Korean refugees, coupled with the threat of NATO bases on their borders, would almost assuredly force China to act against us in self-defense.

If we are to honor the commitment of our armed forces, we must reject the calls to use them as a solution to all world problems. North Korea has acted in this way since before I was born… why, now, is the media pressuring you to feel fear? Why suddenly do our libertarian friends consider warfare a reasonable response to tired, stale threats? Why does a malnourished and distant militia inspire statism in even the firmest of anti-authoritarians?

The long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) is launched during a test in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017.


I do not write this piece to condone the careless and wicked actions of a tyrannical regime hell-bent on increasing their capacity for violence. If anything, it offends my most dearly held principles to hear the stories of North Korean refugees. My soul weeps for the humanitarian crisis that is ‘3 generations of punishment’, and I have trouble imagining a government which would shoot a citizen dead for the crime of trying to escape. My life as an American is so far removed from that Orwellian hellscape, I have difficulty conceiving of life under the thumb of Big Brother.

Rather, I hope for you to consider how our own refusal to negotiate at times prevents progress on the peninsula. We’ve maintained our cooperative war-games on their borders for years, and have long held those exercises are non-negotiable. While it seems counter-intuitive to continue negotiating with a regime which has consistently gone back on its promises, I’d argue we do not stand to lose meaningful ground by offering to cease these simulations. Such a display of might on our borders might prompt a defensive stance; perhaps we should be willing to host these practice sessions elsewhere. I do not even suggest a diminishing of US presence in the area; with no commitment to close bases in SK, we could greatly ease tensions and perhaps achieve a lull in nuclear testing, simply by running our exercises a bit further from the North Korean border.

No sane man would claim to know the answer to this conflict. Yet, I feel comfortable making the following claim: a ground invasion of North Korea, in response to threats we’ve heard a thousand times before, is irrational, irresponsible, and certain to result in a great many unnecessary deaths. If we seek a utilitarian response to the Korean threat, we absolutely MUST secure the allegiance of both China and Russia.

There is nothing to be gained from threatening the ‘Rocket Man’ with utter annihilation before a UN general assembly; doomsday rhetoric is what got us into this mess, and it will serve only to worsen our international image. EVERYONE understands it is well within US military capability to wipe NK from the map; it is incumbent upon us, the rational, to find a diplomatic solution if at all possible.

Make no mistake; if NK attacks our mainland or our allies, it will spell out the end of the North Korean experiment. THEY KNOW THAT. And that, friends, is why I am not afraid.


You can read more by Kevin Shaw on Think Liberty here.


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