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Solving the North Korea problem

  • SVC 201, U.S. Capitol Visitor Center (map)


To Kim Jong-un, North Korea's nuclear weapons are a deterrent that guarantees his survival and his stranglehold on power. His weapons program is about self-preservation. Everyone else is appalled that one of the world’s worst regimes is capable of such destruction. Now what?

If diplomacy can’t convince North Korea to give up its bombs, only a massive and costly use of military force can. The Korean War of the early 1950s cost nearly 3,000,000 lives and devastated the Korean Peninsula. What would a new war bring? Another possibility is containing and deterring a nuclear North Korea—a policy which worked for decades against much stronger and more threatening regimes. But is Jong-un a rational actor capable of being deterred?

How can China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, and other neighbors help advance our mutual interests without enabling North Korea’s worst impulses? Are the Departments of State and Defense prepared for these challenges? What is Congress’ role in facilitating outcomes or authorizing force?

Rob Givens served as Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations of U.S. Forces Korea. Doug Bandow was a special assistant to President Reagan and just returned from a visit to Pyongyang in June.