Robert Einhorn (Photo: Hu Zexi/People's Daily)
In dealing with the North Korea case, a most important thing is “to make a realistic judgment of what we can achieve with the leverage we have. We have to be realistic,” a former US diplomat told People’s Daily in a recent interview.
A senior fellow at Brookings, Robert Einhorn has decades-long diplomatic experience in dealing with nonproliferation issues. Nicknamed “Dentist”, Einhorn served as a special advisor for the Obama Administration on non-proliferation and arms control.
He had also been the assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation under Clinton Administration. Einhorn was a member of Secretary Madeleine Albright’s delegation during his historic visit to North Korea in 2000.
No viable military option
In 2017, North Korea has had its largest nuclear test to date and several missile launches, some reportedly with capability to hit US.
While the need for feasible solution to the North Korea nuclear issue is unprecedentedly high in the US, Trump Administration’s take of the issue has been confusing, if not frustrating, for many. Further complicating the situation, President Trump has time and again twittered tough rhetoric against North Korea, clearly hinting the use of force.
As Einhorn viewed it, despite all the eye-catching tweets, President Trump’s approach to the North Korea nuclear issue has not been significantly different from what his predecessors have done. “Mattis and Tillerson are not limiting to talking to North Korea. The strategy is to put powerful pressure on North Korea to the point where North Korean calculates that it’s better for it to give up its nuclear and missile plans and to do so completely and soon,” said Einhorn.
Einhorn said that he didn’t believe the US has a viable military solution to the issue. “I think Mattis, Gen. Dunford and the others appreciate that if we initiate the use of military force, North Korea will feel compelled to respond. It could lead to a major war that can escalate to the use of nuclear weapons.”
While some American experts talked about a first strike to destroy North Korea’s nuclear and missile facilities, Einhorn saw two serious problems with this approach. “First, we don’t know where they are. Second, if we initiate the use of force in that way, there could be a very destructive retaliation against Seoul, with tens of thousands of casualties. Mattis knows that. President Moon of South Korea also said it’s unacceptable,” he noted.
Increasing need to coordinate with China
Over the past months, the Trump Administration has increased its effort to engage China in dealing with the North Korea nuclear issue.
Compared with previous administrations, probably the Trump Administration has put more emphasis on persuading China. For now, China appears to be working conscientiously to enforce the most recent UN Security Council resolution, which is the toughest resolution to date, he said.
Meanwhile, there are voices from academia warning the danger of a failed coordination between China and US regarding the North Korea nuclear issue. In a recent article, Harvard Kennedy School professor Graham Allison raised the question that if events now happening on the Korean Peninsula would “drag the US and China into a great-power war.”
During President Trump’s visit to Beijing earlier this month, President Xi Jinping said he had shared views on the North Korea nuclear issue and both sides reaffirmed their commitments to promoting peace, stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region, safeguarding the international nuclear non-proliferation regime and realizing the goal of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
It is also stressed that the two countries share the same goal in finally settling the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue through dialogues and negotiation, and both sides are committed to safeguarding the peace and stability in the Peninsula, reports said.
In Beijing, President Trump said that the US hopes to cooperate with China to push forward the realization of the goal of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
A realistic judgment is the most important
Currently, the American public is showing more concern for Washington initiating a second Korean war. A September poll showed that most Americans believe President Trump’s talk of war had negative effect on the North Korea issue. Seventy percent of respondents in the Fox News survey disapproved of Trump’s comments on North Korea.
Einhorn said President Trump’s talk of war is counter-productive. The rhetoric confirms North Korea’s assumption that the US is permanently hostile to North Korea. It reinforces the North Korea’s determination to hold on to nuclear weapon which they see as the only way to deter a US that determined to do them in, he said.
To this, Einhorn recommended a more modest approach, saying “I don’t believe North Korea will soon give up its nuclear and missile plan completely. That’s why I recommend a more modest but more realistic objective. That is a phased approach to denuclearization, which starts with an interim freeze of North Korea nuclear and missile capabilities.”
Einhorn, who had played a key role in the Iran nuclear negotiation, said that the experiences from the Iran case should be learnt.
“You need to have strong pressure. You need to have partners. But you also have to have a realistic appreciation of how much leverage you have. In the Iran case, we don’t have enough pressure to make Iran give up its enrichment programs completely. In the North Korea case, the most important thing is also to make a realistic judgment of what we can achieve with the leverage we have. We have to be realistic,” said Einhorn.