President Trump is right. His speech at the United Nations was his third act of Reagan-like statesmanship, after the historically accurate, morally rooted and inspirational speeches in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and Warsaw, Poland. This time, he pointedly spoke for those who cannot speak in Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, and suppressed people around the world. It was a tour de force, and it’s hard to disagree with any word. Once again, Ronald Reagan would be nodding.
Most immediately, although the president thanked many and elevated democracy over oppression, he began with North Korea. So let’s focus once more on North Korea. Here is the seminal fact: Under no credible scenario can North Korea be allowed to launch a conventional- or nuclear-armed ballistic missile.
At this moment, a world unified must call on China to stand up — and intercede for the values shared by all mankind. Here is why China must act to support Mr. Trump. All scenarios are arresting, and reaffirm the spirit of Mr. Trump’s speech.
Scenario One: North Korea attempts an armed ballistic launch on the United States, whether Guam, Hawaii, or Mainland. Logic and data analytics indicate America would then destroy North Korea’s launch capacity, and establish credible deterrence by destroying North Korean military and civilian infrastructure, likely leadership. No amount of regional damage will deter such a reaction.
Scenario Two: North Korea launches some version of the same on Japan or South Korea. Since the American response to such an attack determines how other potential adversaries judge American resolve, and whether they pursue ballistic or nuclear capabilities, as well as the credibility of American alliances, response must be identical. North Korea — along with its leadership and infrastructure — will be destroyed.
Scenario Three: Some fully-armed “up to the line” attack is initiated by North Korea, aiming to demonstrate an ability to hit America or its allies with an armed missile. The response, fully justified under international law, must be to destroy the offending North Korean military and civilian infrastructure, likely leadership, whether or not that armed missile is also destroyed.
Scenario Four: Reckless unarmed launches of intermediate and long range missiles, as well as underground nuclear tests, continue. At some point, indeterminate but soon, the perceived risk will outweigh any advantage in waiting. American and allied nations will both assure they are protected defensively, with confidence growing over time, and will decide to preempt any armed launch by destroying military and civilian infrastructure, and likely North Korean leadership.
In all four scenarios, North Korean leadership is either destroyed — along with governing structures, social order and sustainable economic underpinnings — or so damaged and undercut as to be ineffective, leading to a sudden end of all global player ambitions, and significant outpouring into China of tens of millions of refugees.
In all four scenarios, North Korea clearly loses, but so also does China. They confront massive disorder on their border, new and robust requirements to sustain the border, and they must order and tamp down internal and regional chaos. And that assumes South Korea and Japan do not also respond decisively, or face their own social disorder or damage.
China would face international condemnation with dramatic security and economic impacts, for failure to exercise the power it possessed economically, diplomatically and militarily, to support and preserve the international community — as Mr. Trump highlighted. China would end up militarily mobilized overnight, and face internal, border and regional chaos.
Collecting on China’s hefty international debt holdings would become impossible. A disrupted international security and economic order would create a series of rolling regional and global crises, which would likely make China the least stable major economy within the U.N. Security Council, and the United States the strongest.
Where does all this vector? The answer is not a mystery, except to those who look away from it, do not believe it, or feel they are somehow immune to the logic of history, to the human and international imperatives of self-preservation.
Logic and data point to this: China must see its short- and longer-term self-interest as aligned with those who are calling for a halt to North Korea’s reckless advance into nuclear and ballistic adventurism. Mr. Trump was right to lead his best speech with this issue. Now China must act. The world is watching.
• Robert Charles is a former assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement in the George W. Bush administration.
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