Are "all options" really on the table, as Donald Trump says, when it comes to dealing with North Korea? In reality, says guest contributor Peter Sturm, the military options are very limited.
It's a phrase that's part of the standard repertory whenever the United States talks about North Korea. And now the Trump administration, too, insists that "all options" are on the table. A UN resolution should impose further sanctions on North Korea. In principle, Washington is open to negotiations. That all sounds a lot like continuity, and in principle, that's good news.
What is the target?
But that's also the point where the questions start. How will Washington ensure that China really does implement the sanctions agreed by the United Nations? What exactly is there to negotiate about with North Korea, if you see "negotiating" as meaning that everyone has to make some concessions? And then there's the big question: What military options are realistic? You quickly reach a dead end considering that question.
Of course, the US could launch a preemptive strike - as was the case with the attack in Syria. But on what target? If it were to bomb the atomic test site, there's a big danger that radioactive material could be released that would affect neighboring Chinese territory. A "decapitating strike" against Kim Jong-un's leadership would cause large-scale chaos, but it would barely impact North Korea's military capability. An attack, then, on the border region and the troops stationed there, who are among the best that North Korea's military has to offer?
Classic case of self-deterrence
All of this is possible in theory. But even if just a very small number of artillery and/or rocket batteries remain intact, that's more than enough to do serious damage to US ally South Korea (which Donald Trump has promised to protect). The South Korean capital Seoul is located close to the border with North Korea, and is so big that the North Korean projectiles wouldn't even have to be that accurate. Korea is dealing with a classic scenario of self-deterrence. Is there no way out? Kim Jong-un has put his country and his people into a perpetual state of emotional emergency. The worst thing that can happen to him is if nothing happens. Then, North Koreans might have a chance to remember that they are not doing well - and to ask themselves why that is the case.
Peter Sturm is an editor at the German daily newspaper "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" (FAZ).
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