Amp up cooperation, tamp down provocation on Korea

On the heels of this week’s high-stakes intercontinental ballistic missile firing by North Korea, the predictable war of words has amped up anew on many fronts.

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley fired off this warning Thursday about the implications of the rogue state’s most powerful test yet: “If war comes, make no mistake, the North Korean regime will be utterly destroyed.”

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis unloaded this sobering salvo: Kim Jong Un now has the ability to hit “everywhere in the world basically. ... The bottom line is, it is a continued effort to build a threat – a ballistic missile threat that endangers world peace, regional peace and certainly the United States.”

For his part, President Donald J. Trump renewed his taunts against the North Korean leader, calling Kim “a sick puppy.”

In Asia, North Korea’s state media, a mouthpiece for Kim, sentenced the American president to death for insulting the rogue communist leader.

Clearly, such incendiary exchanges run the risk of evolving from threats of war to acts of war. They must be tamped down.

As we’ve argued along each stage of escalation of the Korean nuclear crisis, diplomacy crafted by way of a united global coalition holds the best hope of reducing tensions and staving off the inevitable death and destruction that would accompany war with North Korea.

To be sure, this week’s ICBM test is cause for heightened concern.

North Korea launched a Hwasong-15 missile Tuesday, the first in over two months. The missile was reported to have reached an altitude of 4,500 kilometers and landed near Japan’s exclusive economic zone. It had potential to travel as far as 8,000 miles, according to credible reports.

Michael Elleman, a missile expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Washington, said his “initial calculations indicate the new missile could deliver a moderately sized nuclear weapon to any city on the U.S. mainland.”


Now is clearly not the time to allow emotionally charged rhetoric to shape policy toward North Korea.

Fortunately amid all of the bluster, name-calling and threats, a few voices of reason still can be heard.

One of them is from U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. In response to Tuesday’s launch, the leader said, “Diplomatic options remain viable and open.” He did, however, add a critical caveat: “for now.”

Even the president himself during his recent visit to five Asian nations recognized the value of cooperation over confrontation. While visiting South Korea, he implored Pyongyang “to come to the table and make a deal.”

That refrain should grow stronger, and voices of more nations – most critically, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia – should join in.

After all, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, puts the chances of a U.S.-North Korean War at 50/50. It’s now up to the peace-seeking members of the international community to press for diplomatic solutions to lessen those chilling odds.

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