Harry C. Blaney III
Donald Trump at press event today in while on vacation in NJ: “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States.” “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state and as I said they will be met with fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
This is an very scary preview of Trump’s view of how to “deal” with a contending and critical conflict situation that may escalate the trajectory towards catastrophic destruction rather than moving toward de-escalation. Words matter on both sides as do threats especially by those that have the power of nuclear weapons.
The background is of a long history of negotiations by the U.S. with North Korea whose formal name is Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Past negotiations and short lived agreements failing, have resulted with a dangerous stalemate created by both sides. Past administrations trying to open new talks with North Korea rejecting the pre-condition of stopping building and testing of these weapons.
Recent intelligence reports indicate North Korea is more advanced in both nuclear weapons and ICBM’s than assessed earlier. Thus indicating that North Korea was getting close to having its long range intercontinental missiles reaching mainland U.S. Most recently after a series of missile tests and threatening statements from North Korea President Kim Jong Un Kim, the United Nations Security Council acted this last weekend with new sanctions after North Korea carried out recently two intercontinental ballistic missile tests. The new sanctions it is predicted would reduce North Korea’s annual export revenue by about a third and hopefully hindering its ability to raise resources for added developing nuclear weapons and missiles.
Just after the threatening statement by Trump, North Korea President Kim replied by threatening the ability to strike the U.S. territory of Guam. What each side needs is to avoid being drawn into a very stupid tit-for-tat escalation – the last thing anyone with sense would want to see. We now have late tonight an added threat by President Kim.
Almost all experts, who are not dire war hawks on this issue, are saying this is an unnecessary escalation now which would be best approached by intensive diplomacy. Not by bluster and threats on either side. This means the need by top leaders to work to tone down that harsh rhetoric by all sides. For America, if neither the White House Chief-of-Staff General Kelly or the head of the NSC General McMaster, can tone down Trump. If on China’s side, they can’t accomplish that end, our already fragile world will be in even deeper perilous trouble. The last thing China wants is a war on their borders.
We need to work closely with South Korea as they have the most to lose with total destruction, given the alignment of North Korea forces on their border. This is not often understood by Trump.
What then are the paths forward? Alternative options include a preemptive strike, a response second strike….all of these would be catastrophic given any normal fairly known scenario for all sides and even for the world. It would be reckless beyond imagination. We can again try direct contact and direct negotiations which would be our first likely option if both sides were sane.
That is sadly not a sure thing. North Korea has said they will not give up their nuclear weapons of missiles under any conditions. We have said we would not talk unless they stood down on their nuclear and missile program. Thus our existing stalemate. Their goal is to get American forces out of South Korea. We are committed to staying and defending South Korea – and for that matter Japan. Yet there have been innovative diplomacy ideas, like we have worked on in the Middle East, to find some way to decelerate the conflict and create a more stable situation. Whatever outcome, both sides would need to see that this diplomacy would achieve better security and peace than the status quo.
My own thought should these options not work, is we try what is called close “indirect mediation or negotiations”close in the same hotel or city, via a third neutral but very able person(s) that both sides can trust. We have used this mechanism, as have others in talks, for example between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Henry Kissinger also has used a version of this approach. There is also the more clumsy long distant bilateral mediation or “good offices” where a mediator would fly from one capital to another back and forth trying different solutions, seeking common ground and some level of agreement. One other related inducement for both sides may be for North Korea to offer to temporarily “stand down” on any new work on weapons and the other interested parties to temporarily to not enforce the new sanctions that were recently imposed. We need perhaps also a “sticks and carrots” approach.
In any case, the sad part is that the first truly existential challenge Trump has faced has shown a level of recklessness, stupidity, and created greater danger to peace. All in a critical region that requires the greatest attention, patience, deep knowledge and expertise Trump is wholly lacking and unwilling to consult and use. Sad for us!
We welcome your comments!
TRUMP AND A NUCLEAR NORTH KOREA AND THE LARGER STRATEGIC PICTURE:
Harry C. Blaney IIi
After the statements about what Trump might do to North Korea if it does not stand down on its nuclear weapon programs, there seems to be a great debate about Donald Trump’s foreign policy strategy and even if there is one. As with his missile strakes on Syrian the question is what is next and is there any strategic vision or even reflection?
As best we can discern is it remains just based on “transactional” and “intuitive” feelings. We need to remember this is the man who said he knew more than the generals and who is cutting by about 30% our diplomacy and global assistance budget.
Among the key issues we face we still do not have a clue what ends he want including dealing with China, confronting North Korean nuclear ambitions, fixing the middle East conflicts, keeping our alliances intact, and dealing with Putin’s Russia.
We do know that on climate change he has cut the budget for almost all US programs in to address this existential and disastrous reality. He would take us out of the Paris Accord the only effective instrument we have to gain global cooperation.
An editorial in the New York Times on May 17th entitled “Mr. Trump’s lose talk on Korea” noted that Trump’s approach is more likely to endanger some peaceful solution than solve peaceably the conflict with North Korea. There is real reason to question where are we going with this and to what end?
Both nuclear weapons and the idea of a “preemptive strike” and harsh threats on both sides are dangerous elements.. This is especially true when both side are led by somewhat unhinged leaders who like to demonstrate their powers and egoism. The time has come to bring us back to a more rational approach before we start a game of “chicken.”
Surely at some point the leaders of China, North Korea and America must recognize in this option for an aggressive “game” the only end is destruction of all sides This is the worst case outcome when in reality there is a “win-win” outcome if only we all can recognize the harsh reality of nuclear conflict. There should be a point where all sides can accept gains for all sides with a diplomatic solution where Kim Jong Un, president, Xi Jinping, and Donald Trump control their fears and their egos. Any leader must look closely at the risks of mistakes and stupidity by the other..
The path of a better outcome is North Korea gains a de-nuclearize North and South Korea, food to feed his people. China gains added stability and security on its borders and eliminates the danger of a war that would be a total disaster for it and removal of nuclear weapons North and South. America gets rid of a nuclear threat to allies like Japan and South Korea and not least to America. Trump gets to enlarge his ego.
East Asia Security Meeting in London: Anxiety Grows in Region?
Harry C. Blaney III
On Thursday, November 14th Chatham House (The Royal Institute of International Affairs) held an interesting meeting on “The Strategic Environment in East Asia.” The question addressed was first an assessment of the region’s key strategic issues and specifically the problem of North Korea, the relationship between China and America, and the strategic policy of the Japanese Prime Minister Abe. The second part of the meeting focused on the issue of the conflict over maritime conflict in the region especially in the South China Sea.
The perspectives were varied and the attendance of a strong contingent from Japan give the conference a good idea of the Japanese perspective and how that country viewed their security risks and their likely approach towards these risks. The Japanese government representative and those from a key “think tank” the Institute of International Affairs, noted a number of likely Japanese new initiatives related to foreign and security policy as well as strengthening existing alliances.
There appears to be a move towards altering the Japanese Constitution giving greater leeway for the Japanese government to undertake a more pro-active stance towards threats and future confrontations than is permitted by the strict “defense only” provisions in the constitution. Another question that will be coming up is what are the appropriate resources to allocate for their own defense forces. As with other nations there are limited funds and demands by sea, land, and air arms for added equipment and personnel. Nor least, is the indication that they want to reinforce their alliance with the United States and to get European powers like the U.K. to be more supportive of their ocean jurisdictional claims. The key phrase was that the U.S.- Japan alliance is a “core policy.” In many ways it was an affirmation of President Obama’s initiative of the “pivot to Asia.” But an “assertive” Japan still posses other problems for actors in the region.
The focus of the Japanese experts was the recognition that their security landscape has some major rising risks which need to be better addressed than has been the case up-to-now. They saw North Korea as a key unsettling force with a growing stock of nuclear weapons and also they were concerned with their relations with South Korea, which has to be a key partner on any solution to the future of the Korean Peninsula conundrum.
Yet the uncertainty of the direction and behavior of North Korea was seen as a serious problem and danger. They saw the U.S. bases in Japan as essential for the defense of South Korea. Another disturbing element was cooperation between North Korea, Iran, Israel, perhaps others, in military and nuclear equipment and arms. The conclusion was that in the current negotiations, “time was on the North Korean side” thus there was urgency in finding a solution.
From the South they saw the rise of China and its increased more capable military forces as well as the growth of a new nationalism and assertive and even dangerous behavior or confrontation in this maritime disputed area. One presenter showed a chart of the number and types of Chinese navel vessels and comparted them to weaker or smaller forces of other key nations in the Pacific including the U.S.
There was considerable discussion of how to make a bridge or rapprochement with China and find a way not only to find a solution to the South China Sea differences, but more importantly, over the long run to seek a more fundamental arrangement with China over the next decade seeking a peaceful and cooperative relationship. Several speakers said that economic ties would be key between the second and third largest global economies.
One issue that was raised was the concept of ‘the inevitable confrontation/war between the U.S. and China.” This is another myopic and ideological driven idea by the war hawks of the “Chicago School” and neo-cons in America and also fueled in China by some of its military. It is a concept that was rejected by one wise speaker and certainly by this writer and has the danger of being a “self-fulfilling” prophesy. It serves only those who make a living from conflict.
One question that was raised by this writer, was how could the collective nations of the Pacific region work in a better concerted way to point the path not only to a productive and peaceful regional and global role for China, but create key incentives for China to be a responsible partner and see a deep and lasting stake in collective security and prosperity for the whole region and a sense of joint interest in maintaining peace.
Frankly, the meeting only reinforced the need for a more concerted and focused effort by regional actors to see a common interests. But to do that it is necessary to get the North Korean threat resolved favorably as it is a systemic dangerous disruption to an area wide reconciliation and understanding. Also some accommodation on Taiwan by all sides, an acceptable deal perhaps on some kind of joint exploitation of resources in the South China Sea, and not least a major expansion of trade between all Pacific powers. Helpful would be an agreement of restraint on military/nuclear weapons growth and competition.
What is interesting is that the Japanese have reorganized their national security decision making along the lines of the U.S. modal with even a process of policy papers called National Security Studies (NSS) much along lines established by Henry Kissinger for our NSC in the Nixon administration. But this is aimed for a whole new look at their security position and aimed at a more active security role in the region.
Not surprising, the Chinese have also just announced a reorganization of their own national security decision making machinery, making it more streamlined and tightknit. And it is clear that also they are having a major debate on their own future global role and new threat assessment. One would hope it will give the more calm and wiser heads more say over the militant military types that sometime have dominated the Chinese decision making in this area in the past.
But, America, as this blog has noted, is doing a “re-think” on both resources and strategic threats and options for a complex and changing environment. At the same time the British here in London carrying out a major re-examination of their strategic posture, force alignments, resources, and risks. The problem, as we will look at more in time here, is that it is being carried out when there is a forced major cut in funding which will necessitate some hard decision on personnel and equipment – not the wisest way to make strategic decisions, as we know in the U.S. with the Republican created “sequester”cuts. It is time for a more collective “re-think” rather than isolated limited studies as joint efforts, compatibility, and interoperability in tactics, communication, and training would help in a time of joint enforced “austerity” but a time of security uncertainty.
We welcome your comments!
The on going, made for TV, North Korean crisis rattles on and there are now two main camps of thought. One is that Kim Jong-un is mostly “blister and threat,” but seeks some advantage from the allies rather than full out war. The other is that Kim is irrational and may just blunder into a real “war” by miscalculation. Some are arguing that stern and harsh responses are the way to deal with the North – a view of some South Korean officials and politicians and of our home grown American “war hawks.” The other is a view that we should “stand down” and do nothing that might provoke Kim Jong-un to commit foolish acts.
My own reading is that the Obama administration and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have what I will call a “precautionary and preparedness” strategy. Namely, to do what is necessary to put in place our military assets that are largely defensive and to not act in a preemptive and overly aggressive stance that might lead to unnecessary and dangerous escalation. Not a bad combination.
My hope in the meanwhile is that they are working the diplomatic tract with China, as I have suggested earlier, to clamp down the “upward trajectory of conflict.” Again, here China is the key as they can’t be anything but alarmed that a major conflict in the Korean peninsula would be a total disaster for them in strategic, economic, and political terms.
Right now my judgment is “just right” in terms of American moves and words……and hope that back channel intensive work is being done on all fronts. Here our allies in Japan, South Korea, and, yes, China on this issue, need to be using the same playbook. In time, with the right moves, the immediate round of escalation might ratchet down, but in the long-term we need to address North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat and we need to find some modus vivendi. This might take many years of work and lots of creative constructs to put this danger back into a safe bottle.
Headlines are everywhere, pundits shouting “danger” and editorial writers highlighting dangers, yet few have provided any clear action or policies that look productive in changing the trajectory of the madness of North Korea. Their only hope seems to be that this is just another round of “bluster” on the part of the inexperienced “New Leader’ Kim Jong-Un.
Members of Congress mostly Republicans like Peter King have said that they did not regard the North Korean statement as an “empty threat.” Defense Secretary Hagel also said they were taking seriously the threatening statements of North Korea. The U.S. military has “on station” in the Korean region both two nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers and stealth F-22 fighter jets, among the most advanced in American inventory.
North Korea in response said that US action had “entered the reckless phase of actual war.” With each day the harsh war rhetoric seems to get higher and higher rather than diminish.
Recent developments in the region include that the U.S. Navy has deployed the USS John McCain, a guided-missile destroyer normally based in Japan that is capable of shooting down ballistic missiles, closer to the Korean Peninsula. The North Koreans on their part have announced they will reconstruct an old and dismantled nuclear reactor, which could be used to produce more weapons grade fissile material….the news was that the plant could produce enough material for one bomb a year.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, Joint Chiefs chairman, said the U.S. would “unequivocally” defend itself and allies from North Korean attacks. In addition, they spurned the regime’s claims that Washington was upping tensions.
The question of the day is what allied strategy is likely to result in a calming of the tensions, and in particular seek ways to “contain” and mitigate the North Korean nuclear capability. One strategy or option is to work the diplomatic tract via the multilateral existing path, which includes China, Russia, Japan and the U.S. The hope would be after the “bluster” from the North there might be some modus vivendi or formula that would return to a more rational calculation on the part of North Korea. This could be a long-term effort.
Yet, the country with the most leverage over North Korea is China. China denies that it has much leverage, yet it also has the greatest stake should kinetic warfare break out between the two Koreas. For China, it would be a major disaster, which it must want to prevent as they see that a “real war” would destroy the “buffer” between it and American and South Korean forces and fighting, once started, no nation might have any power to stop it.
Also, it raises questions about the rationality of the North Korean leadership since the idea of “restraint” seems not now to be in their vocabulary. China also is the main source of food and other supplies to the North and it has an intelligence presence in the North and thus is likely to have a better understanding of the situation in Pyongyang. Thus the path to a solution may run through Beijing.
This is a time for visits to Beijing, Tokyo, Seoul, and perhaps even Russia by both Secretaries Hagel and Kerry. Perhaps also a “third tract” high level peace mission with official blessing might also be a useful instrument to employ, but it would have to have the backing of China and implicit North Korean agreement.
All of this is taking place when we are already focused on another “nuclear crisis” namely of the Iranian nuclear efforts and there is evidence that both North Korea and Iran have been helping each other to develop a strategic nuclear capability, which if continued would be a turning point in strategic security around the world. Thus a strong effort to address these questions needs to be on the table when there is a substantive negotiation between Iran and the Group of 5 plus 1. Here the spread of critical nuclear technology is a “must” solution item for those seeking a more secure and stable strategic balance. A rethinking of the “sanctions” issue against North Korea and Iran may be needed if diplomatic outreach fails.