This post is a follow-up to Patrick Dowdle’s blog about North Korea.
In recent weeks, North Korea has increased their aggressive rhetoric against the United States and South Korea, going as far as mobilizing rockets on their eastern coast. These two medium range missiles, with the capability to strike most targets in Southeast Asia, including Japan and Guam. Instead of viewing the situation from the United States point of view, I want to discuss the actions from Kim Jong Un and the North’s perspective. North Korea, as a member of the UN, is technically required to adhere to the Charter of the United Nations, specifically chapter VII that includes threats to the peace and acts of aggression. The recent military drills devised by the United States and South Korea, an effort to help train and protect the southern half of the two warring nations (an official peace treaty was never signed from the war in 1953, and the North recently repealed the armistice that ended the fighting). From the North’s perspective, the military drills and the presence of several pieces of key military equipment (B-2 and F-22 stealth aircraft), which were meant to act as a deterrent against further escalations, may actually lead to the opposite result.
The UN Charter allows for member states the right to self defense against imminent threats to the peace of one’s state under article 51. In addition to retaliatory self-defense, countries have the right to preemptive or anticipatory self-defense if they feel the threat is imminent and there are no other peaceful alternatives. This is where I feel the United States and North Korea are going to be walking on thin ice. Both countries can reasonably believe that there is an imminent threat of attack. The north may see the military drills as a move of aggression as opposed to a move of defense. North Korea would technically have the right to preemptive self defense if there were no other peaceful alternative, as long as it conformed to the Caroline Test. The Caroline Test, a customary international law, limits the scope of an anticipatory self defense strike, requiring an imminent threat without peaceful alternatives and a requirement that the attack is proportional to the threat. But, is the use of nuclear weapons (as the North has threatened), proportional to the threat against their country? I have to respond with a resounding NO, but the North may believe that the threat to their country is their very existence and in that case any measure, including a nuclear attack, would be reasonable.
I write this blog not to rationalize the actions of the North, however to emphasize just how unstable southeast Asia is at the moment and how fragile a situation it is. In the United States, we are conditioned to brush off the threats from North Korea as unsubstantiated rhetoric, however with the world’s fourth largest army, with one million active and around six million in reserves, the danger is real. What actions can be undertaken in order to quell the situation without coming across as a threat to North Korea? I believe that communication, rather than sword-rattling, needs to be the course of action in order to settle tempers and reduce the increasingly imminent threat of action.