North Korea: what options remain open?

After its nuclear weapons test on the weekend Pyongyang has threatened countermeasures if new sanctions are imposed. UN General Secretary António Guterres then stressed to all nations that war on the Korean Peninsula must be avoided at all costs. Commentators discuss how the international community should react.

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La Tribune (FR) /

EU would be a good mediator

The EU could be doing a lot more to mediate in the North Korea crisis, Northern Asia expert Marianne Peron-Doise laments in La Tribune:

“It's regrettable that Europe isn't insisting more on using its political and military expertise to prevent crises and produce solutions. ... Europe discusses security policy with most of the affected Asian countries and is very aware of the concerns of China, Japan and South Korea. In the US Security Council France and the UK are the driving forces behind the development and implementation of the resolutions that sanction Pyongyang for its weapons of mass destruction. The EU itself, however, hasn't yet taken advantage of the opportunity to act as a negotiating partner, or even as a mediator.”

Observador (PT) /

The US can't sort things out on its own anymore

Writing in Observador historian Rui Ramos has a problem with the way European observers see the North Korea conflict:

“Basically they're trying to blame the US for the North Korea conflict. … Either because Washington is putting North Korea under pressure, as Trump is doing. Or because it has simply ignored the country, as Obama did. It's always easier to see Kim Jong-un's nuclear tests as another 'test' for the US president. We see the US as the only power capable of bringing order to the world and making it comprehensible. But we're ignoring the mess this world is in. The North Korean crisis can furnish the final proof that the US is no longer able to keep the world in order on its own.”

Yeni Şafak (TR) /

Too early for a reckoning with Pyongyang

Despite Donald Trump's belligerent rhetoric Yeni Şafak doesn't believe the US will risk going to war with North Korea:

“An intervention in North Korea wouldn't be like that in Syria, where only missiles were fired. The most likely consequence of such a war would be major damage to South Korea and Japan. That's about the last thing the US wants now. A war in this region could also lead to China, which has kept North Korea in check up to now, and Russia, which openly opposes a war, taking a stand. The US can't risk that. In the near future regional wars will intensify at the conventional level. It's still too early for a major reckoning.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Stand by Trump

The West must honour its partnership with America, Corriere della Sera urges:

“The alliance partners must understand that in this case there is no such thing as geographic distance from the war zone. ... In such difficult times it is appropriate to take sides and form alliances that transcend personal sympathies. It would be a serious mistake, with consequences above all for the Europeans, if America's allies failed to demonstrate their allegiance with advice as well as friendly objections. Angela Merkel has understood this. She called Trump yesterday, but not just because she's in the midst of an election campaign. Hopefully other heads of government will follow her example and consider the possibility of a trans-Atlantic summit dedicated solely to the North Korea crisis.”

Politiken (DK) /

Talk to Pyongyang

Politiken believes diplomacy is the best option:

“North Korea's nuclear programme must be stopped and the risk that the weapons end up in other countries or in the hands of terrorist groups must be minimised. This can't be achieved through threats, but only through new diplomatic ideas based on the premise that North Korea possesses nuclear weapons and won't hand them over for now. … This doesn't require consensus. Former US president Richard Nixon showed the way when he visited China in 1972 - after decades of contention and without diplomatic relations existing between the two countries. He knew that despite their different ideologies it was better to be partners than enemies.”

Aamulehti (FI) /

Don't forget the civilians

Stepped-up sanctions would above all hit the ordinary people, Aamulehti points out:

“If you believe the best solution to the crisis is the opening up of North Korea, democracy and normal relations with its neighbours, we're still light years away from that. As long as North Korea doesn't attack anyone we're in the best possible situation: on tenterhooks but at peace. For all its sabre-rattling, this summer North Korea was plagued by the worst drought in almost two decades. Undernourishment and famine loom large over the country. Sanctions and for example an end to Chinese oil exports would presumably hit normal North Koreans harder than the elite. That must not be forgotten when the major powers start turning the screws.”

Delo (SI) /

Computer worm is the solution

The nuclear weapons states have the ability to end the North Korea crisis, Delo firmly believes:

“The only real solution to the problem posed by Kim, who no one really considers important but who represents a danger to the world, would be for all five nuclear weapons states to forget the conflicts that separate them and 'neutralise' Kim once and for all. Because common sense tells us that a single computer worm similar to the one that disabled the Iranian centrifuges some years ago could also put the North Korean computers out of action. Provided, that is, that the nuclear states actually want such an outcome, that they can reach an agreement on the issue and don't each pursue their own agenda - possibly together with Kim.”

Birgün (TR) /

Military buildup is a huge business

Birgün points to economic reasons behind US reactions to North Korea's provocations:

“The nuclear crisis between the US and North Korea is mainly being used to legitimize nuclear armament. It facilitates large investments in nuclear programmes that certain regimes see as a final guarantee. … The US, which is fuelling the nuclear crisis, sells billions in weapons to the region and above all South Korea and Japan. A few months ago the government in Seoul announced that it was setting up the THAAD defence system and four other US missile launching pads. Trump, who says he's willing to use nuclear weapons against North Korea, has thus created a very tight bond between the US and Japan and South Korea.”

Les Echos (FR) /

Regional powers must join forces

China, Japan and South Korea need to put far more effort into reaching a peaceful solution to the crisis, political scientist Dominique Moïsi warns in Les Echos:

“None of these countries - with the possible exception of Japan - has made solving the North Korea crisis a top priority. Even the South Koreans are more focussed on domestic issues than on Pyongyang's behaviour, and they don't seem willing to set aside their historical dispute with Tokyo once and for all. As for the Chinese, they're more afraid of America's reactions to North Korea's missiles than they are of these same missiles' destabilising impact on the entire region. Asia can only remain a continent of peace and growth if China, Japan and South Korea can reach an understanding. Otherwise North Korea risks becoming for 21st-century Asia what Serbia was for 20th-century Europe.”

De Morgen (BE) /

What Europe must do now

Political scientist and defence expert Jonathan Holslag explains in De Morgen what measures Europe must take to defend itself in the North Korea crisis:

“We have to concentrate on our periphery. ... By that I mean we must build up our military presence and support societies in their desire for prosperity and stability. In doing so we can provide relief to countries like the US and Japan. ... Moreover, Europe must invest more in its own deterrence capacities. ... It's also extremely important that we make better use of our armed forces to protect Europe's external borders. ... Because one thing is clear: the game is up. We have no use for political loudmouths trying to score points with fear-mongering. What we need is sober-minded leaders who can explain the world credibly and who look further than the next elections.”

El País (ES) /

The international community has failed

North Korea is mainly responsible for the current situation but the other players are not entirely blameless either, El País points out:

“It's also true that over the years the international community has failed to stop the Pyongyang regime's inexorable advance to the point we have now reached. Sometimes it was for lack of interest, other times because of mistaken tactics or conflicts of interest on the international stage. But the fact is that since North Korea carried out its first nuclear test in 2006 no one has managed to stop its dangerous technological advance.”

Trud (BG) /

US and Europe must withdraw troops

To defuse the conflict, both sides must be willing to make concessions, writes Trud:

“North Korea must stop its nuclear tests. And the US must end its military exercises and flights on the North Korean border, which Kim sees as a provocation. The US and Europe must pull their troops out of South Korea or at least reduce the current strength of tens of thousands of soldiers. This is the only long-term solution to the North Korea conflict, the only way to prevent the destruction of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives. … Moreover the efforts of the new South Korean president to build a dialogue with Kim should be supported by Western politicians and media rather than condemned.”

Sme (SK) /

South Korea and Japan also need nuclear weapons

South Korea and Japan should have their own nuclear arsenals, Sme recommends:

“The US must react to Kim's nuclear ambitions - and it will. ... Apart from a military strike the only option is to strengthen the defence capabilities of Washington's East Asian allies, South Korea and Japan. In other words, the US must put nuclear weapons at these countries' disposal. Or allow them to develop their own nuclear stockpiles. That would be the worst scenario for Kim's main ally China: a defeat for Beijing, which has for years been playing the North Korean card to further its own policies.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Identify those funding the nuclear tests

It's too late for negotiations with North Korea, Remco Breuker, professor of Korea studies at the University of Leiden, writes in NRC Handelsblad:

“Twenty years ago it might have been possible to sign an agreement on renouncing nuclear ambitions. Now this is unthinkable. North Korea won't let those who laugh at it go unpunished. … Now the following must happen: the unofficial North Korean economic networks that are making the nuclear weapons tests possible must be identified. … This time the North Korean system must be properly financially isolated. This can only be achieved through serious cooperation between the UN, the US, South Korea and the EU. … We really need to do this because all other scenarios for the future are very, very grim.”

The Times (GB) /

Kim taking advantage of White House chaos

The Trump administration has no coherent strategy in its dealings with North Korea, The Times complains:

“For a while, Trump's lack of clarity on North Korea - praising Kim as a 'smart cookie' one moment, threatening him with nuclear attack another - might have been interpreted as a deliberate strategy of pressure and ambiguity. These days, with the president's senior aides contradicting him regularly, they merely look incoherent. ... Not all North Korean leaders have enjoyed the luxury of incoherence in the White House. Kim intends to exploit it quickly for as long as it lasts.”