Should Japan and South Korea Go Nuclear?
As the United States can only lose from a new Korean war in which thousands of Americans and millions of Koreans could perish, the first imperative is to dispense with the war talk, and to prevent the war Mattis rightly says would be "catastrophic."
China has declared that it will enter a new Korean conflict on the side of the North, but only if the North does not attack first.
For this and other reasons, the U.S. should let the North strike the first blow, unless we have hard evidence Kim is preparing a pre-emptive nuclear strike.
But if and when we manage to tamp down this crisis, we should ask ourselves why we are in this crisis. Why are we a party to this frozen conflict from 1953 that is 8,000 miles away?
The first Korean War ended months into Ike's first term. Our security treaty with Seoul was signed in October 1953.
That year, Stalin's successors had taken over a USSR that was busy testing missiles and hydrogen bombs. China was ruled by Chairman Mao, who had sent a million "volunteers' to fight in Korea. Japan, still recovering from World War II, was disarmed and entirely dependent upon the United States for its defense.
What has changed in six and a half decades?
That USSR no longer exists. It split, three decades ago, into 15 nations. Japan has risen to boast an economy 100 times as large as North Korea's. South Korea is among the most advanced nations in Asia with a population twice that of the North and an economy 40 times as large.
Since the KORUS free trade deal took effect under President Obama, Seoul has been running surging trade surpluses in goods at our expense every year.
The world has changed dramatically since the 1950s. But U.S. policy failed to change commensurately.