Let me say right off the bat that I am not an expert on foreign policy so I could be way off base here but it seems to me that there are three possibilities for the current standoff between the United States and North Korea.

1) At some point, there is a war between the United States and China that absolutely no one wants.

2) The current stalemate which started almost 65 years ago continues with no end in site but with occasional flare ups. or

3) Everyone admits that 1) is a distinct possibility and that 2) is getting tiresome and takes steps to avert it.

The Korean War ended in 1953 but with no permanent peace treaty. Since then the two sides have faced off across the border, ready to resume hostility at a moment’s notice.

North Korea would love to reunite the Korean Peninsula, through force if necessary. However, they know that any military action would involve full-scale war with the United States and would alienate China. North Korea is economically dependent on China and China and the United States are economically dependent on one another; creating a sort of economic Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). A war between the two countries would almost immediately cause an economic cotastrophe in both.

South Korea would also love to reunite Korea but seems to want peace more than anything.

China would love for the situation to improve but won’t accept the United States military or a strong ally of the United States on the Chinese border.

The United States would love for the situation to end; would love to be able to withdraw its forces and would love to reunite the Korean Peninsula. The US knows, however, that war with North Korea means war with China.

The rest of Asia, and the world really, would love for the situation to end but primarily lives in fear of it escalating.

So, it seems to me that the first step in resolving the situation involves everyone acknowledging that it’s a stalemate and that there is no solution in the foreseeable future. A permanent de-escalation of the situation could look something like this:

The US accepts that North Korea is now a nuclear power, as suggested by former US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Next, as suggested by former Canadian national security analyst Stephanie Carvin he US and the world shifts focus to making sure that North Korea doesn’t become a nuclear arms dealer and nuclear weapons consultant to other countries and terrorist organizations.

China is already recognized as a nuclear power. If we accept that North Korea is essentially a Chinese satellite, and China agrees to take steps to ensure responsible behavior by the North then nothing has changed substantially in terms of geopolitics.

So, China agrees to ensure the safety of Korean nuclear weapons by having personnel at all North Korean nuclear facilities. China and North Korea both agree that North Korea will not sell or trade nuclear technology or secrets and that North Korea will not launch a nuclear first strike or any military action against South Korea. Finally, China agrees to put a symbolic military force on the border between North and South Korea.

The United States agrees to reduce its forces on the Korean border to a smaller, mostly symbolic, UN led force and agrees not to launch a military first strike against North Korea (nuclear or otherwise).

The UN, along with the US agrees to remove all sanctions against North Korea, allowing the North Korean economy to grow so that it doesn’t feel the need to sell nuclear technology. The UN additionally strengthens the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agreement and declares any steps by any nation to develop a new nuclear program to be an act of war against all the members of the UN.

I know that there are many who will oppose ending the sanctions but the reality is that they have never worked, and have done no harm at all to the North Korean regime. It is possible that we can accomplish more through engagement than we’ve been able to through isolation. It has worked before.

Finally, all parties agree to recognize the current boundaries of North and South Korea and to begin good faith negotiations toward a lasting peace treaty to finally put a formal end to the Korean War.

Again, I’m no international relations expert but it seems to me that by acknowledging and formalizing the current standoff and admitting that it isn’t going to change soon, we can calm things down, give all sides some peace of mind and ensure that there won’t be any fighting in the foreseeable future, because if there is everyone loses.