Opinion: “Speak softly and carry a big stick”

Jared Strubel is a junior political science major and columnist for the Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]

Ever since 40,000 American servicemen died on the Korean Peninsula during the Korean War from 1950-1953, relations between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the United States have been icy. The United States continues to stand by its commitment to the Republic of Korea (South Korea) with the permanent stationing of around 30,000 soldiers, marines, and airmen in South Korea; the North maintains a force around 1 million strong.

While this may seem lopsided, North Korea’s forces are not nearly as modernized as the United States military. The United States also has the international community overwhelmingly on its side, with the United Nations backing economic sanctions against North Korea. The rest of the world deplores North Korea’s human rights abuses and call for an end to their development of nuclear weapons. 

This gives the U.S. a prime position to negotiate. Simply because they hold such a superior military position does not mean we should ignore the potential for a diplomatic solution. The U.S. should be flexible and show their diplomatic prowess as well. I laud the accomplishments of the Obama administration in their flexibility, opening up negotiations and thawing relations with Iran and Cuba. Coming from the breakthrough of recent Iran nuclear deal, an agreement was reached with a power that had been our adversary for so long, and pursued similar goals to that of North Korea; we can continue to show the power of the pen over the sword. Even though a war with North Korea could be won, any opportunity to save lives and bring political change peacefully should be acted upon.

Small clashes on the border between North and South are not uncommon. There have been incidents of artillery shelling border towns, ships being torpedoed, and even shots fired from border guards to the opposite side. It is not uncommon for civilians or military personnel to defect to the South. This makes the border an unpredictable and tense place.

When a peace negotiation begins, the North leaves the table or has ridiculous demands, such as the complete removal of U.S. troops from South Korea, which severely undercuts hospitable conditions for diplomacy. This justifies the need for a comprehensive U.S. policy, which includes maintaining military support for South Korea while keeping faith in the international community and the values of peaceful coexistence between sovereign states.

The U.S. needs to continue to stand by South Korea, a longtime ally and partner. The U.S. should maintain our position of strength, yet not fear entering diplomacy to attempt a peaceful solution. As the historic, progressive president Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” This is how the United States must deal with the North Korean regime.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Kent State College Democrats as an organization.