Former CIA officer, top-rated Korean language speaker and Columbia University senior research scholar Dr Sue Mi Terry sums up the North Korean situation in the clearest way possible. No good US options, no good US intelligence on Kim Jong Un, a newly arrogant Pyongyang.
Dr Terry recently told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the bald truth. North Korea already has nuclear weapons and 10,000 artillery tubes aimed at Seoul. There is no pre-emptive strike possible. There’s nothing anyone can do. The only hope is that Mr Kim is smart enough to stay away from nuclear war, knowing that it would take him and his people down just as much as anyone else on the planet.
Unpalatable though it may be, that’s the truth of the matter.
As Dr Terry said, no one knows how to read Mr Kim or predict his actions because no one (outside of North Korea) has met him. The only two people who’ve met Mr Kim and could speak to the wider world are American basketball player Dennis Rodman and a Japanese sushi chef who knew the North Korean leader when he was a child. Apparently, the young Mr Kim’s playlist was: Whitney Houston, German pop and the North Korean national anthem.
Then again, there’s North Korea’s growing self-confidence. Dr Terry described a meeting in Sweden a few months ago between delegates from the US, Japan, China and South Korea and representatives of North Korea. The idea was to explore the grounds for resuming the six-party talks that collapsed in 2009. But Dr Terry and the others left more pessimistic than when they had arrived.
She said that it was clear the North Koreans were inflexible and umabiguously certain of nuclear capability. She discerned a new derision towards South Korea, which the North thought to be an unequal interlocutor and “puppets” of the US. Dr Terry got the sense that Pyongyang would only talk to the Americans, if at all.
But about what?
Sitting across the table from North Korean officials in Sweden, Dr Terry heard the terms for peace in our time: accept us as a nuclear state, then we will talk about a peace treaty or fight. We are ready for either.
What this means is that nuclear war isn’t inevitable, not if there’s a peace treaty to end the Korean War, legitimize the North Korean state and remove all US forces from the Korean peninsula.
There you go then. It might stick in the craw of US officials, but that’s the only option.