North Korea’s successful pursuit of a nuclear device and a ballistic missile has alarmed Washington, forcing it to search, somewhat aimlessly, for an effective response.
Once, U.S. policymakers had the luxury of time to pursue negotiations. Then, the indications were that Pyongyang needed several decades to acquire the knowhow and technical expertise to build the atomic bomb, acquire the launching vehicle, and master the ability to miniaturize the bomb to fit it onto a ballistic missile.
Despite the political isolation and economic hardship, North Korea has doggedly pursued its nuclear plans and now surprised the world to have built the atomic bomb, possibly mastered its miniaturization, and manufactured the missile to propel it to distant locations.
The rest of the world may think Kim Jong Un crazy to spend his country’s meager financial and economic resources on something the majority of other nations have come to reject. Yet, from his own point of view, Kim Jong Un seems to be quite clear-minded and calculating.
Like many illegitimate Third World leaders, Kim Jong Un is convinced that the U.S. is determined to gradually topple each and every unfriendly government in countries of the Third World. He sees himself as such a target.
How can he forget Saddam Hussein’s absurd attempts to disprove the murderous nature of his regime in that tumultuous court he was prosecuted? He probably remembers with fear in his heart, when Muamar Gadhafi, his face bloody, his eyes exuding terror, his voice trembling as he, after having brutalized and killed many of his people for forty years, repeatedly asked his captors, “What have I done to you?” Kim Jong Un must shudder when he remembers how young resistance fighters forced up a stick into Gadhafi’s anus before killing him.
Once his country is recognized as a nuclear state, Kim Jong Un is convinced he would have moved beyond, what he believes, is America’s plan to topple his regime and forcefully unify the two Koreas into a single pro-American state.
Russian President Putin, who grew up under a dictatorship and has dictatorial inclinations himself, understands a dictator’s preoccupation. That is why he recently observed that the North Korean leader would rather see his subjects eat grass than give up his nuclear program.
Besides, from an economic point of view, Kim Jong Un rules over a better-off North Korea than his father and grandfather did. While still a poor country, North Korea has, to a degree, a self-sustaining economy that compares not badly with some other poor countries, enabling his regime to better endure periods of economic pain. For example, North Korea’s per capita GDP of $1,700.00 compares very well with Afghanistan’s $560.00 and even bests those of Pakistan ($1,470.00), Bangladesh ($ 1,360.00), Myanmar ($1,250.00) and is only slightly less than that of economic powerhouse India ($1,730.00).
Since President Trump met Chinese President Xi Jinping and, according to Trump himself, found in Xi a real friend, he has been reassuring the American people that China would employ its political and economic influence over Pyongyang, persuading it to abandon its nuclear program. No doubt, China has an overwhelming hold over North Korea’s economy. It supplies 90% of North Korea’s energy needs and purchases 75% of that country’s exports. But would it exert the necessary pressure to do Washington’s bidding?
Washington reacted emotionally for having succeeded in getting a unanimous vote at the United Nations’ security council. In view of an overwhelming worldwide support for doing something to counter the madness of Kim Jong Un, China possibly felt obligated to support the sanctions to avoid appearing the odd man out. In view of its past disinclination to support such measures in regards to North Korea, its vote should be considered more as window dressing than a sincere decision to abide by the resolution.
President Trump’s expressions of hope that China would help achieve the objective was based on emotions and without taking into account China’s interests as Chinese leaders understand them.
From China’s point of view, there is no incentive to reign in North Korea’s nuclear program. It may consider Pyongyang’s nuclear ambition as an irritant but does not fear it. It sees no reason why a nuclear-armed North Korea would turn its nuclear arsenal against it. It may actually look at it favorably, believing it would prevent it from having to live with a unified, pro-American Korea at its border. Chinese leaders may also speculate that the North Korean nuclear menace could neutralize Japanese political and economic ambitions for the region, freeing the field for China to do as it wishes.
Even if China preferred bargaining away its minor economic interest in North Korea for better relations with the U.S., its largest trading partner, the idea of a flood of refugees that the potential collapse of Pyongyang’s regime would set off would force it to reconsider. Considering the 1.4 billion people Chinese leaders are responsible for, their concern is understandable.
Washington should pause and think whether Beijing, despite announcing several positive measures regarding the implementation of the sanctions, would really execute those measures. Beijing knows that in the remote Chinese-North Korean border region, verification would be difficult if not impossible.
Russia, the other country with a border with North Korea, would also have a role in the success or failure of the sanctions. While the Russian representative at the United Nations voted for a water-down version of the sanction proposal, President Putin sounded ambivalent when he declared that sanctions would not succeed. Russia then received the North Korean foreign minister who, on his way from New York back to Pyongyang, made a stop, not in Beijing, but in Moscow. And recently, Russia announced that the Russian state-owned company TransTele would provide Pyongyang with new internet connections. This was possibly done, in the event China, which so far has been supplying internet services to Pyongyang, would terminate that facility.
Even if sanctions were carried out by all parties and severely hurt North Korea, it presumably wouldn’t change Pyongyang’s position. North Korea has doggedly carried on with its nuclear plans for decades in the face of sanctions, almost perfect isolation, and broad international condemnation. To Kim Jong Un nothing is more important than ruling over a country that is recognized as a nuclear state. He is convinced that that would mean his and his regimes survival.
No matter how we look at the problem, the U.S. appears to have run out of diplomatic options. Missing the danger early, when it was easier to put an end to it, the U.S. now appears to have no other choice but to employ force. As the military theoretician Carl von Clausewitz has observed, war is the realization of a policy that can only be accomplished through force.
My suggestion is that Washington policymakers stop talking about the matter and take a few hours of intensive thinking. If they agree that there is nothing diplomacy can do to force Pyongyang to cease its nuclear program, they could pick between the following two choices:
One, they could forget what Pyongyang does and let things run their course. After all, Israel, India, and Pakistan built the bomb. The world didn’t do anything about it and, so far, nothing unfortunate has happened.
Two, if Washington concludes that this case is different and could put the United States in existential harm, the U.S. must, and as sad as this sounds, go to war.
In waging war, there will always be human suffering. But to avoid a human disaster, the war must be secretly planned with South Korea and Japan. While I am not a military man and what I now say might be complete rubbish, I could visualize a painstakingly planned, tightly coordinated, three-pronged, surprise air attack could succeed without major loss of civilian life. The operation should be of short duration, beginning at dawn and ending before dusk.
The South Korean Air Force would be charged to destroy the large cannons north of the Armistice Line that are trained upon Seoul and the densely populated Gyeonggi Province surrounding Seoul.
The U.S. Air Force would destroy Pyongyang’s nuclear and rocket manufacturing facilities. In deference to the pacifist constitution of Japan, its Air Force would fly over North Korea and attack only North Korean military units if they were activated for counterattacks.
Except for Russia and some paranoid Third World countries, such a short, and decisive action could find approval among the majority of nations.
Nasir Shansab has maintained homes, business interests and dual citizenship in both the United States and Afghanistan for the past three decades.
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