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No Good Options to Solve North Korea Crisis, ODU Expert Says

By Noell Saunders

North Korea's latest missile test launch, which experts say proves the country could strike Alaska, could pose a grave threat to global stability, said Old Dominion University political science and foreign policy researcher Regina Karp.

North Korea's hunger to develop a nuclear-armed ballistic missile capable of striking the United States has prompted the U.S. military and Congress to examine strategies to counter the threat.

There's no easy answer, Karp said. But she said the best approach would be to build a coalition with other countries.

"The situation is potentially very dangerous because there are no good options," said Karp, the director of Old Dominion's Graduate Program in International Studies. "So it comes down to which of the bad options are realistic. It can very easily escalate, causing hundreds of thousands of casualties, which nobody wants."

North Korea said its missiles can hit anywhere in the world with a nuclear warhead, but Karp doubts that. Referring to North Korea's leader, she said, "Kim Jong Un wants to be able to directly threaten the United States. So far, it's a test launch, so it doesn't mean it has operational capability, which could take a few years."

President Trump has sharply criticized the launch, but has not said how his administration will respond. Karp said the U.S. government should tread lightly in its comments and actions.

"We don't know enough about the North Korean leadership to be sure that our messages of de-escalation are actually going to be understood," she said.

Karp also raised concern about Trump's use of Twitter. "When you have 140 characters to play with, I think it's very dangerous to try to build policy on that kind of medium."

The United States, she said, should join other countries to form an international coalition to address large issues such as nuclear proliferation, international terrorism and climate change.

"These kind of problems can't be solved by one country alone. It's critical to understand that. Every problem that's important to the United States is a problem that can only be solved as part of a coalition," she said.

China, Japan and South Korea are key players in the game. Karp said the United States needs to continue to work with them.

"China thinks North Korea is useful at keeping the United States at bay. It's very old-fashioned geo-strategic thinking, and therefore it's in China's interest that the North Korean regime survives," she said. "To be able to maneuver, navigate and influence the politics of the region is in America's strategic interest. A very important pillar in that strategy is a relationship with South Korea."

Rather than military action, Karp recommended re-establishing the "six-party talks." Those talks, created in 2003, included the United States, South Korea, North Korea, China, Japan and Russia. The goal was to find a peaceful way to persuade North Korea to phase out its interest in building up its nuclear capabilities. But the country walked out of the talks in 2009.

"It's the only game we can play," Karp said. "It's a good framework because it brings in all the stakeholders, and that's important."

Karp added: "Japan and South Korea feel very threatened. Even if the United States is not directly interested, it has an obligation to back its allies."

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