For years, the Hermit Kingdom of North Korea has been a thorn in the side of the United States, South Korea, Japan and even to an extent North Korea’s main enabler, China. The highly unpredictable and rash actions by North Korea’s enigmatic dynasty of authoritarian dictators have at times rattled, distressed, and shocked the leadership of Western powers for decades.
But with its latest moves, the world’s most possibly isolated and extreme regime may have pushed a bit too far and angered President Trump, South Korea or both enough to make the case for military action.
Although it’s acknowledged that North Korea has an active nuclear weapons program and has had several successful nuclear weapons tests, it’s estimated that the country possesses a dozen or so working nuclear warheads.
North Korea has bragged that it’s working on long-range missiles that will one day be able to carry a nuclear warhead to the East Coast of the United States. This is not the case at the current moment, and there’s even some debate about whether North Korea’s nuclear bombs will fit into the nose cone of its existing missiles, despite photos that the Kingdom has claimed show North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un posing with a nuclear weapon small enough to do just that.
Besides its nuclear tests and its medium-range missile tests (four of which landed unarmed missiles in the sea uncomfortably close to the main island of Japan recently), the Hermit Kingdom in 2016 managed the launch of a satellite. This, Western analysts say, was a cover for the development and testing of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) technology, a violation of UN Security Council resolutions that President Trump has said he will not allow.
“It won’t happen!” tweeted the president recently in reference to North Korea’s pronouncements that the country is in the final stage of development of such weapons. Trump, who considers North Korea the U.S.’s “greatest immediate threat,” has had limited conversations with China’s leaders, in which he reportedly told them, “You gotta work on North Korea.”
For some time, China has been the key to getting North Korea to ease up on its provocative rhetoric and actions. China has long been a buyer of North Korean coal and other exports from the rogue nation, as well as providing it food and energy aid.
China has traditionally always feared the collapse of its smaller neighbor, which could lead to a disastrous tide of Korean refugees fleeing into the Chinese state and even worse, a unified Korea that would be allied with the United States.
China has protested the upcoming deployment of an American Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system in South Korea which could potentially shoot down North Korean ICBMs.
But on the other hand, China has been getting the sharp end of the stick from the Kim Jong-Un government via North Korea’s recent missile tests, which took place during the Chinese government’s annual People’s Congress and angered Chinese leaders.
Making matters worse all around is the recent assassination (almost assuredly attributable to North Korea) of Kim Jong-Un’s half-brother Kim Jong Nam in Malaysia. Security camera footage shows two women at Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport smearing a poisonous substance on Nam’s face, causing him to collapse and die just hours later.
This seemingly unprovoked attack comes on the heels of reported executions of a number of North Korea’s top government officials including other relatives of Kim Jong-Un in what some veteran North Korea watchers have termed a “consolidation of power.”
Allegedly, many of the execution methods in these cases were brutal, including the use of wild dogs and anti-aircraft weapons to murder the offenders, some of whom were accused only of falling asleep at meetings led by Kim or embarrassing him for his lack of intimate knowledge about military affairs.
For countries such as China and the U.S., the Malaysian assassination may be the last straw as far as patience with the North Korea’s international antics. Some sources have speculated that Kim Jong Nam may have been a potential new “leader-in-waiting” to assure a smooth continuation of government for North Korea if a “decapitation strike” were to be launched.
It’s been reported in the Wall Street Journal that several weeks ago Deputy National Security Advisor K.T. McFarland called a meeting of U.S. defense officials to ask for new proposals to present to President Trump regarding what should be done about the world’s most unpredictable nation.
McFarland reportedly asked for plans and concepts that were significantly “outside the mainstream,” which could indicate that active plans for a military strike may be being drawn up. Said the Journal, “U.S. officials have underscored the possible military dimensions of their emerging strategy in recent discussions with allies, according to people familiar with the talks.”
Whether the U.S. is merely rattling its saber or is serious about dealing with Kim Jong-Un in a way that is final and irrevocable is an open question. But as always, the capacity for North Korea to commit national suicide — say, via an atomic strike on Seoul — should not be underestimated.
For the U.S., China, Japan and other Asian nations, this is the “between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place” quandary that has always made the use of military force too risky to actually consider.
Of course, just one nuclear bomb would not destroy all of Seoul, no more than it would New York City. But surely, it would change the world in ways that we probably cannot anticipate and could create the risk of military confrontation or escalation elsewhere in the world that we would not wish to invite.
At the end of the day, diplomacy is surely the more favored option; fortunately, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is due to visit Japan, China and South Korea in the coming days. But the tortured history of diplomacy with two-faced North Korea has proven that up until now, U.S. leaders have been taken for a ride by North Korea’s three successive Kims time and time again.
We can only hope that without taking too much risk, President Trump can end this streak of mediative weakness once and for all.
~ Facts Not Memes