- - Wednesday, September 20, 2017

North Korea is too close to crossing the red line — deploying nuclear missiles that can destroy a U.S. city — and President Trump must take military action.

Even if Pyongyang froze its nuclear program in place, it now has the technology and resources to advance to that lethal capacity on short notice — and it’s not going to give that up.

The regime believes that such a capability is essential for ensuring its territorial integrity — that’s absurd.

The United States and South Korea have little to gain from reunification of the peninsula. Moving the Demilitarized Zone to a land border with China puts the latter’s troops within eyeball range of American GIs — hardly a recipe for stability.

Seoul doesn’t need the cost of feeding 25 million North Koreans and re-educating them to live as civilized participants in the global economy. China enabled and guaranteed the security of the menacing regime that has emerged in the North and wants a buffer state — fine, then those should be Beijing’s burdens.

China has repeatedly suggested “freeze for freeze” — a U.S. offer to suspend joint military exercises with South Korea in exchange for a suspension of North Korea’s nuclear development — but things have gone too far for the United States to accept the status quo.

It would leave Pyongyang with the option of invading the South and quickly deploying the capacity to nuke Seattle if America comes to South Korea’s aid. The United States could have used its naval power to impose heavy penalties on Russia when it seized the Crimea, but that would have risked nuclear war.

The mere fact that Washington would let matters get to the point that North Korea can strike Japan or the South Korea, when National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster has uncategorically stated the United States has military options but has not acted, will eventually cause both allies to conclude they need independent nuclear deterrents.

Already, South Korea has asked Washington to reintroduce tactical nuclear warheads that could be used alongside conventional weapons, reversing Seoul’s policy of seeking a non-nuclear peninsula.

Japan and South Korea obtaining independent nuclear weapons would encourage other Asian nations to do the same and effectively end the U.N. nuclear nonproliferation regime.

U.N. sanctions won’t work. Most of North Korea’s export revenues and oil come from China, and Beijing has repeatedly demonstrated duplicity regarding full enforcement of sanctions and has much to gain from pinning down U.S. attention with a continuing crisis in North Korea.

Along with President George W. Bush’s and President Barack Obama’s appeasement of Beijing’s trade policies and aggressive actions in the South China Sea, America’s continuing petitions to the U.N. when the institution cannot offer a solution makes America look weak to nations of Asia and the Pacific. China is trying to pry those loose from commercial and security alignment with America and present its authoritarian models for governance and economics as better than Western prescriptions for stability and prosperity.

Moreover, North Korea has endured long periods of isolation-inflicted famine and economic deprivation. Only sanctions that wholly cut off its sources of petroleum and cash to power and pay its military could be expected to move the situation — China and Russia simply won’t back or enforce such measures.

Their refusal to approve sanctions at that level in the Security Council as well as their welcome mat for North Korean slave labor — Pyongyang rents it citizens for projects and receives their wages directly to help finance its nuclear program — lay bare the base motivations and moral depravity of Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin.

Instead of fully enforcing sanctions against the North, Beijing has turned the screws on South Korea — orchestrating an embargo on its goods in China, severely curtailing Chinese tourism in South Korea, and harassing car manufacturer Kia and other South Korean businesses that invested in good faith in the Middle Kingdom.

At this point, China’s suggestions must be taken as self-serving and only worth the mere courtesy international diplomacy requires — a polite listen and reiteration that without North Korea dismantling in whole its nuclear program, the Yanks are coming.

Years of appeasement by Presidents Bush and Obama leave Mr. Trump in much the same position Winston Churchill inherited from Neville Chamberlain.

Churchill refused to bargain with Hitler, and Mr. Trump should do the same.

• Peter Morici is an economist and business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.

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