The Afghanistan war (2001-present) is not the longest war in American history. The United States has been at war in Korea since 1950. An armistice was signed in 1953, putting an end to large-scale military conflicts, even though sabotage, artillery duels, raids and unprovoked attacks continue. No truce treaty has ever been signed. A state of war — undeclared and unofficial because the "Korean War" is officially known as a United Nations "police action" — has existed ever since.
Attention has turned to this unending war recently because of North Korea's launch of an ICBM and its possession of nuclear warheads. Generations of American presidents have attempted to rein in the Kim dynasty that has ruled North Korea for three generations without result. North Korea continues to pursue a highly militarized, very aggressive and extremely dangerous policy of confronting and threatening the United States, South Korea and Japan. Offers of food for its starving population, fuel oil to fuel industries and other assistance have not resulted in policy change in North Korea.
Author Mark Bowden's cover story in this month's Atlantic offers four options for dealing with North Korea, each of them fraught with catastrophic dangers and slim chances of success. The options range from a pre-emptive strike to take out North Korea's leadership along with its missiles and nuclear warheads to an acceptance that North Korea isn't going to change and can't be defeated without a war so intense that it threatens civilization and humanity. Bowden concludes that there are no good options and worries that President Trump, nearly as bombastic and unpredictable as North Korea's Kim Jong Un, could misjudge the situation and unintentionally start a war that would kill hundreds of millions in North Korea, South Korea, Japan and the United States.
Start with this premise: Diplomacy is preferable to war. North Korea might be uninterested in more food, more fuel or more cash, but it might be interested in a truce that ends the nearly 70-year state of war. Offer that as an incentive to halt ICBM development and deployment and an end to nuclear weaponry and cross-border raids. In exchange, vow to reduce U.S. presence in South Korea, sign a treaty between the two Koreas (without merging the two), increase trade and visits between North and South Korea, reduce the size of both nations' military, and "normalize" relations between North and South.
Kim might not agree to these provisions, but they can be a starting point for negotiations. The other impetus in this negotiation would be the certainty that, even if Kim develops a substantial nuclear threat, any use of nukes would result in a counter-attack that would turn the northern half of the Korean peninsula into a radioactive and burning wasteland — the equivalent of the "Mutually Assured Destruction" that avoided nuclear devastation during the Cold War.