Thursday, 8 December 2016

North Korea will be Trump’s first problem

What will be the first thing to go bump in Donald Trump’s opening four years? North Korea is my pick. The US strategy of “strategic patience” is leading inexorably to one end point: either North Korea builds a nuclear weapon or the US forcibly intervenes.

By the end of Mr Trump’s first term, North Korea will be able to reach Seattle with a nuclear weapon on board an indigenously produced intercontinental ballistic missile. It probably wouldn’t be a clean shot due to technical issues. But then again, what kind of odds is Washington comfortable with when it comes to Pyongyang?

How did we get here? We’re here because Korea is of our making. North Korea is not the inverse of revolution, it is the product of revolution – exported overland during the Age of Revolution from the West, through Moscow by the socialist activist and journalist John Reed.

Korea was a successful and flourishing nation before the West’s ideas entered the peninsula. If anything of Korean culture remains after the devastation of the 20th century, it is the culture of the Joseon Dynasty. This empire wanted to preserve Korea as Korea, adopting a policy of isolation similar to the Tokugawa in Japan and the Qing in China.

But they all failed, or we'd have a Japan, China and Korea that actually is Japanese, Chinese or Korean in anything other than language, writing and genetics. In other words, an actual non-American civilisation. Instead, after a century of violence, largely through bizarre games that no one understands yet, we end up with an American puppet state in the South and a Communist prison state in the North.

North Korea appears to be at war against the entire civilised world. At least, the entire international community would love to replace its regime, which is pretty much the definition of "at war." If Washington doesn't try the Korean equivalent of "Qaddafi must go" or "Assad must go," it's only because it doesn't think it will be obeyed. And if Pyongyang has deliverable nukes compliance will become much more difficult.

The Anglo-American tradition created the monster of revolution and unleashed it on the world. We still export this monster, of course, and it just burned down the entire Middle East. No wonder the regime daring to oppose the universal revolution – and actually preserving some of itself – became looks a bit insane.

In a world willing to tolerate the Joseon Dynasty, the Joseon Dynasty would still exist. It died because it couldn't secure itself against a hostile world. Revolution created North Korea, but the state has an obvious desire to evolve into something like the Joseon Dynasty – the general process of recovering from revolution.

If Americans actually cared about North Koreans, rather than using them as rhetorical pawns, or drooling about their chances of causing yet another revolution or civil war, Washington would see the easiest way to let North Korea heal is to acknowledge the Kim dynasty as what it is: a monarchy.

So rather than exporting revolution, if US foreign policy respected, supported and secured its sovereign peers following classical international law, the fun-loving Kim family would have no need for prison camps. Instead, the Kims believe – probably correctly – they won’t survive without being a nuclear power.

Emperor Gojong
North Korea’s problem now is if it relaxes its grip it explodes. The international community can solve this problem by removing the Kims by force, or accept and support them in their stabilisation efforts. Consistent with Washington’s current definition of acceptable risk, it will soon be in range of nuclear-tipped missiles. The question is: what is the definition of acceptable risk?

Washington could be tougher on the North Koreans. For instance, if its satellites spot a Taepodong ICBM preparing on the launch pad, the Americans would destroy it. Or the CIA could act covertly to break the hold of the regime on the population. The Anglo-American tradition is exporting revolution, after all.

Washington could also change its definition of risk to accept North Korea as a nuclear power. But this would come with unacceptable concessions for the US – namely, its troops would have to leave Pyongyang alone. And if that is what Washington wants, it would have already happened. So that’s a dead-end too.

Another option is to goad the Chinese into acting as the bad cop. After Pyongyang’s last missile test, the US sent the THAAD (terminal high altitude area defence) missile defence system to South Korea. It drove the Chinese crazy because the fans of the radars sweep in most of Manchuria.

So taking this one step further, Washington could station its nuclear weapons to South Korea, give THAAD to Japan or send its nuclear-capable ships through the Yellow Sea more frequently. China would need calm convincing that these aggressive actions aren’t directed at them and maybe then Beijing would get the message that their North Korean toothache is getting really bad.

Of course, none of this would be necessary if Washington just stopped exporting democratic revolution and accepted classical international law. I don't see anyone proposing this, which means America doesn't care very much about the North Koreans at all. So expect a North Korean bump in the night, and expect Pyongyang  to be blamed for the whole ordeal.

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