The North Korea essentially holds South Korea hostage against American attack. If the Americans attempt to declaw North Korea by removing their nuclear potential, they will respond by a strong conventional/chemical artillery attack on Seoul. If that happens, say goodbye to Samsung and LG, to put it mildly. This would seriously threaten the technological potential of our civilization, and there’s no telling what the aftershocks would be. The threat against Japan is much less severe, because they can only reach it with rockets, and those are basically irrelevant within the estimated duration of the threat (read: from the time they hit something with the first rocket, and the time American counterforce response arrives) unless they use a nuclear warhead. This is unlikely, but not impossible, and if they succeed in detonating a nuclear weapon over either Seoul or Japan, the genie will be out of the bottle. America would be honor-bound to retaliate in kind and use either nuclear-tipped cruise missiles or nuclear gravity bombs over DPRK, which will form a precedent for the use of nuclear weapons. After that precedent is set, it’s months before someone else decides to use nukes to solve his problem somewhere else. Essentially, it’s a very steep slippery slope.
The Americans cooked up the current situation themselves, by relying on sanctions in order to attempt to humiliate and strangle the nations they hate. The sanctions increase hardships and isolation, and this further antagonizes the said nations and makes them more malignant. The best way to defuse tensions is to normalize the relations with commerce and cultural influences. DPRK is very far gone on the path of isolation and it would be very difficult to reintegrate them with the rest of mankind. They are, however, very much used to making lots of noise and making someone bribe them so that they would shut up. It’s so much a pattern, I don’t think they have any other mode of international relations, which in itself is a reason for concern, because it indicates a very deeply pathological state of affairs.
There are several ways of treating the problem. If we accept that DPRK is a given, meaning that they are what they are and we need to treat them as such, we have a very bad problem, because non-aggressive means so far did nothing to alleviate the situation because they interpret them as their enemies’ weakness, sanctions only further pathologize them, ignoring them is not an option because DPRK is in a very desperate state and will resort to increasingly desperate measures in order to initiate some response. The only remaining option is war.
If we don’t take DPRK as a given, but instead understand that societies are inherently malleable and can be influenced by incentives of various kinds, and if we understand that China under Mao wasn’t all that different from where DPRK is today, and the difference is basically that, although China continues to give lip service to Chairman Mao, they basically follow a newly carved path which has more in common with Confucian meritocracy than with communism, and that they are communist in name only, it becomes apparent that even the most closed, pathological and genocidal dictatorship can be transformed into something much more positive, within a timeframe of several decades, if they are allowed to connect with the rest of the world via trade and industry.
A sensible approach would be for China to offer DPRK a path forward – trade with them, open factories there, open lines of communication, create bilateral ties of partnership, but first seriously threaten them with complete nuclear annihilation unless they cut their foolish posturing, and actually be willing to kill them all if they do not comply. I intentionally say “China”, because South Korea, America or Japan would have less chance of success. Another reason is that if the Americans attack them, they will retaliate against South Korea and Japan. However, if China attacks them, they have no immediate response, because they can’t really hold China hostage. In fact, if they destroy South Korea and Japan, China would welcome that fact very much because those countries are both economic and political competitors. So, this would be the way to stop them while minimizing the chance for a DPRK retaliation against the innocents.
Essentially, the best scenario would be for Americans to be so serious about wiping DPRK off the map, for China to decide it would be less harmful if they did it themselves, and if they were so serious about it that DPRK decides to opt for the path of cooperation and integration into the global community. However, in order for that to work, DPRK would need to know it has only two options, and that both are completely realistic, and no amount of bluffing will improve their position.
Another thing: people in the West act as if Kim Jong-un is the dictator in charge, which is ridiculous. In fact, he’s most likely a puppet installed by the military leadership. He was brought in, taught how to play a role, and he is more of a tool for controlling the populace, than a person in charge. The Western propensity for personalizing politics produced a potentially dangerous illusion that the person apparently in charge is the root cause of the problem. Instead, what needs to be understood is which fraction of the military controls the country, a deal needs to be made with this fraction, and Kim Jong-un needs to be taught to play a slightly different role, for which he already showed significant inclinations; he needs to be friendly with the West. In fact, I think he already made ouvertures in that directions, only to be mocked by the Western idiotic media, who didn’t understand his attempt to pull DPRK out of intellectual and civilizational isolation, and this mocking response forced him into a belligerent face-saving stance which would now be very difficult to change. Essentially, the West created the worst part of the current problem with DPRK simply because they decided to have fun bullying DPRK and its leader, which put him in a very bad position domestically, because if the West treated him so poorly, and he continued to treat the West in his normal friendly manner, it would locally be perceived as dishonorable, and obviously the military leaders would intervene in order to change his course. Essentially, by mocking him they forced him to go into a nuclear confrontation, which is a great example of dangers that stem from misreading other cultures. Now, the honorable way out would be to acknowledge his power and authority, but also to state that his belligerent stance will now have the consequence of a nuclear war within five minutes, and then offer a hand of friendship as an alternative. If there’s someone famous in the West who is perceived as friendly and positive in DPRK, that person could be used as a bridge to establish positive relations. If something is agreed with the military leadership, the DPRK propaganda outlets will prepare the populace for improvement of relationships with the West, but the Western propaganda outlets should play their part as well, and stop with their offensive bullshit, because DPRK populace is so indoctrinated into leader-worship, that any kind of offense to their quasi-religious figure is interpreted as an offense to the entire nation, similar to the way the Japanese treat their Emperor. This needs to be a dance of seduction, not a date rape, and I’m afraid that the Americans are inherently incompetent for this kind of diplomatic subtlety. The Chinese could do it, the Russians could do it, but the Americans should stay the hell out because their condescending attitude and their constant need to show everyone how much better their “way of life” really is actually created this unenviable situation, and is immensely unlikely to resolve it. This problem can only be solved by someone who speaks very softly and respectfully, smiles a lot, and has a habit of bowing in respect, but also wields MIRV ICBMs and is willing to use them at any given point. The charming ways of Putin and Xi show the way this is to be done, if at all.