WASHINGTON – Vice Adm. John Bird (Ret.) of the U.S. Navy said North Korea is in “defense posture” right now and developing nuclear weapons for “regime survival.”
Comparing the situation the U.S. face with North Korea to Iran, Bird said Iran would be “more aggressive” if it acquires nuclear weapons. He argued that Iran poses a greater threat to the U.S. than North Korea.
“We have to be careful of drawing too many comparisons because these are totally different countries, a different ideology. I would argue that in the case of Iran, in many ways, them having nukes is more dangerous than North Korea,” Bird said on a conference call last week held by the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA).
“My personal belief is North Korea is in a defensive posture, which is to say they have nuclear weapons to ensure regime survival and Kim [Jong-un] is of the belief that if he has nuclear weapons he survives, and that is why he is never going to give them up voluntarily irrespective of the deal made,” he added.
Bird, former commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, said the U.S. would be successful if there was a military confrontation with North Korea but that it would put a strain on the U.S. military.
“While we would be successful in a campaign against North Korea, and again I am making the assumption the PRC [China] does not get involved, it would be a huge tax on our military and take much more than the forces that are currently stationed in the western Pacific to manage the crisis,” he said. “And then with it beyond the South Koreans, you would have a great humanitarian crisis, which is a great fear of the PRC, of the 20 million or so North Koreans who would also be fleeing. So there is no easy military solution to the North Korean problem, notwithstanding the nuclear issue or the intervention by the PRC. If the PRC gets involved, it becomes a mess so ugly it is hard to describe – and it’s hard to know how that would play out.”
Stephen Rademaker, former assistant secretary of State in the Bush administration, said the longstanding U.S. position toward North Korea has been complete “verifiable disarmament.”
Under Kim Jong-un’s regime, Rademaker said the North Korean position has been that they are not going to disarm, so U.S. diplomatic options are limited. Rademaker said he does not think President Trump is prepared to “retreat” from the U.S. position of full disarmament and enter into negotiations with North Korea about limiting their nuclear capability instead.
“They’ve written in their constitution that they are a nuclear-armed state. They’ve told us every way they can that if our objective is to get them to give up nuclear weapons there is nothing to talk about – that they do not intend to give up nuclear weapons,” said Rademaker, senior advisor at JINSA’s Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy. “We would have to persuade them to back off that position or reenter into a negotiation about limiting their nuclear capabilities.”
Bird said Kim would only give up nuclear weapons if he becomes willing to give up his entire regime.
“It’s going to take a very strict regime of sanctions, support from the PRC and, quite frankly, it may take some sort of strong diplomatic efforts with the PRC by the U.S. to get them to effect the change, and that’s the only way it’s going to happen in my mind,” he said. “And that change might be some discussion, and I’m not the guy that’s come up with this idea, but many thoughtful people have said reintroduce tactical nukes into the western Pacific, making signals if Japan no longer considers the U.S. nuclear buildup adequate and is in going their own way – those sort of things will pique China’s interest.”