N orth Korea has tested 11 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) this year, but its latest test is the most worrisome. The ICBM launched at the end of July flew a distance of 621 miles. Experts fear that if North Korea can change the angle of the trajectory, it could potentially travel as far as the East Coast of the United States. Professor Shaul Horev, a lecturer in political science at the University of Haifa and the former head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, says it is difficult to forecast the outcome of this latest development, but emphasizes there are many political tools that can be employed against North Korea short of war.

President Trump has been making some threatening noises toward North Korea in retaliation for the ICBM launch. What better options does the US have?

Wielding political might is the domain of politicians and if they apply it correctly, war can be prevented. But before asking if there will be a war, we must first understand what’s driving North Korea’s quest. They have two goals. First, they want to be recognized as a military power with nuclear capabilities. Second, they want this to bolster their deterrence versus opponents, which include South Korea, Japan, and the United States. I don’t think the North Koreans are looking to push the nuclear button, but they must be viewed as a threat, especially considering their totalitarian government, which doesn’t have checks and balances, or brakes on its actions, as compared to other nations.

In 1994, President Clinton signed an agreement giving $4 billion to North Korea over a decade in return for the nation freezing and then dismantling its nuclear program. Even then, skeptics said it was a bad move to negotiate with a rogue regime. Have the skeptics been proven right?

Politicians have a variety of means by which they can resolve conflicts and tension without resorting to war. These include economic incentives and diplomacy. There were efforts, specifically in Democratic administrations such as Clinton’s and Obama’s, to try to stop North Korea through economic incentives. We also must remember North Korea was a signatory to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT) but withdrew from it at the beginning of 2003. The Americans, including President Bush [a Republican], and later President Obama, tried to persuade them to return through economic incentives. Unfortunately, it did not work.

If the situation has only worsened in several consecutive administrations, is it time to drop the carrot and use the stick?

The North Koreans continue to be an aggressive regime. Beginning in 2006, they undertook a number of underground missile tests, which are every bit as problematic. We have to realize that North Korea is advancing on two parallel fronts: developing nuclear weapons, and developing delivery systems, including the ballistic missiles that are getting all the press now. The world hasn’t stood idly by. It has slapped North Korea with stiff economic sanctions and the United Nations Security Council has also recently leveled harsh sanctions.

You contend North Korea will not press the nuclear button, but short of that, what is their endgame?

Pakistan has nuclear weapons and is also not a signatory to the NPT, yet the international community is not demanding that it give up its nuclear arms. India too is also a non-signatory, yet America leaves it alone. Perhaps this is due to its size — 1.3 billion people — but US administrations and Congress allow India to retain both its civilian and military nuclear programs. Now, I don’t think that North Korea is India. India is a democratic nation, but Pakistan is certainly not, and it also has an unstable government, yet the world recognizes it as a nuclear power and leaves it alone.

Could North Korea one day win this same recognition?

It would be unwise to grant that. North Korea is a rogue nation, and its footprints can be found in a variety of places. They export nuclear technology that allows other countries to develop nuclear arms. There is broad consensus that North Korea’s nuclear program is a threat to global security, and the only disagreement revolves around how to stop them. As I said, North Korea is seeking recognition and the deterrent power that comes with being a member of the nuclear club. In the meantime, it is exporting ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction. We cannot let them continue, even if I do not know the exact mix to be employed to prevent this.

What role can China play? President Trump tried initially to recruit them to the cause. Now he seems to have given up. Did he throw in the towel too soon?

Even though China is considered an ally of North Korea, it is unhappy with its nuclear tests. North Korea is a small nation, but it borders China. One day, North Korea could turn its weapons on China too. Russia too, even though it is also an ally of North Korea, is only using that relationship as a wedge against the United States. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 672)