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Practicing Coercive Diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

On August 11, the U.S. island territory's Homeland Security Office of Civil Defense posted a website fact sheet entitled "In Case of Emergency...Preparing for an Imminent Missile Threat" in response to North Korea's threat to launch a volley of ballistic missiles in Guam's direction.

The fact sheet included a warning reminiscent of late 1950s Cold War "duck and cover" advice American citizens were to follow during a nuclear attack: "Do not look at the flash or can blind you."

Guam, located west of the International Dateline, likes to call itself the place "where America's day begins."

Last week, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un threatened to make Guam the place where Asia's next major war begins and the Korean War reignites.

Reignite is the right verb. The Korean War has never officially ended, which makes it simultaneously a Cold War relic and a current, very dangerous conflict.

Today, South Korea is an economic, political and cultural dynamo. If wealth, societal vitality and health determined victory, South Korea and its allies won the war hands down.

Neither side, however, obtained a military victory. In 2017, South Korea likely has the edge in conventional combat power. Seoul's air, ground and naval forces are modern and well led. They are also well fed. North Korea fields a huge conventional force, but one armed with many poorly maintained and obsolete weapons. Since two to three million people in North Korea are near starvation, reports that non-elite ground units are short on rations have credibility.

Despite endemic poverty, starvation and social decay, North Korea has obtained an edge in long-range missiles and weapons of mass destruction (both chemical and nuclear). The North's relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles began with Communist dictator Kim Il Sung, the man who started the Korean War. He also founded the Kim dynasty. In 1994, the patriarch made a deal with the Clinton Administration, the Agreed Framework, where he agreed to end his nuclear quest in exchange for aid. He lied. His heirs, son Kim Jong Il and Guam-threatening grandson Kim Jong Un, have systematically violated every subsequent agreement to end the nuclear weapons quest.

The systematic violations are why the U.S., Japan and South Korea have little interest in making deals where North Korea receives any kind of reward. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made that clear in March when he declared, "strategic patience is over."

Strategic patience was a waiting game -- with South Korea and its allies waiting on North Korea to mellow.

Mellowing didn't occur.

In 2011, Kim Jong Un began an accelerated missile development program. North Korea has now tested missiles that can strike Hawaii -- and likely the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Some analysts believe North Korea now has miniaturized nuclear weapons that can be mounted on missiles.

That's why the Trump Administration is pursuing coercive diplomacy aimed at denuclearizing the Korean peninsula. That's diplo-speak for forcing North Korea to get rid of its nuclear weapons.

The Trump team is employing diplomacy, economic power, military power and information power. This U.S. is also urging China to add additional pressure.

And interestingly enough, China has. Kim threatened Guam after he engaged a belligerent exchange with U.S. President Donald Trump. Perhaps Kim decided shooting at Guam would trump Trump.

But after he made the threat, China warned that North Korea will be on its own "if it launches missiles threatening U.S. soil and there is retaliation..." China, however, "would intervene if Washington strikes first."

North Korea remains a threat. However, China is clearly separating itself from the Kim regime. China is no longer North Korea's certain shield.

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