If the United States loses to North Korea

The implications of such an outcome would put China and Russia as global superpowers, toppling the US.

COMPARED TO current crises with North Korea, Israel is bland (photo credit: REUTERS)
COMPARED TO current crises with North Korea, Israel is bland
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The audacious North Korean nuclear and ballistic activity in recent years poses serious and far-reaching consequences and challenges to world order and stability, and mostly to the United States.
The obvious one is the collapse of the global nonproliferation regime, which may affect the future of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran.
There are three major ways of dealing with a rogue state. The first choice is political, either by means of subversive actions aimed at regime change or at least forcing it to change course. This would be followed by economic pressure through sanctions and ultimately, hybrid military pressure including subversive warfare by cyber and other means.
The US, even if it wished to assume the mantel of the world’s guardian, is incapable of fulfilling the task by political and economic means.
It needs the cooperation of other major players, mostly those that cooperated in reaching the JCPOA, especially China and Russia, both of which border North Korea.
While these two agreed to UN Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on North Korea, they comply with it only half-heartedly, leaving breathing space for the Kim regime. Political and economic pressures have obviously failed to deter North Korea from pursuing its nuclear/ballistic campaign.
This is almost an ideal situation for China, Russia and North Korea and an unenviable one for the United States. It is easy for US President Donald Trump to threaten fury and fire, but almost impossible to take action.
Even if he does not intend to seek the Congress’s prior approval, the US needs to consult with Japan and South Korea, as they stand to bear the major brunt of North Korean reaction to any military operation by the US. The probability of thousands of casualties and vast damage to infrastructure has thus far been a major factor in keeping the military means of stopping North Korea a remote possibility.
Enter Chinese diplomacy in the service of China’s long-term strategic goal of removing the US military and political presence in Asia. This objective overlaps the North Korean one, since the regime wishes to remove what it considers to be the American threat to its survival.
Chinese and Russian “friendly persuasion” of North Korea may produce a deal at the center of which is a North Korean readiness to freeze nuclear/ballistic activities in exchange for a gradual US reduction of forces in the eastern Pacific. If the US has no better or more acceptable response, Japan and South Korea may be willing to at least consider the pros and cons of a Chinese initiative if it emerges.
What is at stake is therefore the sustainability of an effective nonproliferation order and the global balance that has existed among the major powers of the US, China and Russia. In its attempt to preserve the credibility, supremacy, influence of its role, the US is faced with wily brinkmanship players.
Threats of fire and fury may not immediately deter them. Quiet, remotely controlled and noninflammatory actions may be an efficient initial response. This proposed line of action needs to follow several stages in order to produce the desired results. The term “desired results” needs a precise definition, but for now a mere North Korean entry into negotiations that are not based on concessions will do.
Lastly, there is only an artificial resemblance between the North Korean and Iranian cases, which are at different stages in their nuclear programs. However, failure to give an adequate response to the North Korean challenge by the US may result in the unforeseen consequences of dismantling of the JCPOA.
The writer is a veteran Israeli diplomat and senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.