Saturday, March 30, 2013

Saber-rattling In The Korean Peninsula?

Is Kim Jong-Un merely sabre-rattling?

WASHINGTON, March 30 (Reuters) - The White House said on Saturday that it takes North Korea's latest saber-rattling threats seriously while cautioning that Pyongyang has a long history of bellicose rhetoric.

North Korea's latest bout of angry rhetoric included a vow that it is entering a "state of war" with South Korea a day after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signed off on an order putting its missile units on standby to attack U.S. military bases in the South.

"We've seen reports of a new and unconstructive statement from North Korea. We take these threats seriously and remain in close contact with our South Korean allies," said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council.

"But, we would also note that North Korea has a long history of bellicose rhetoric and threats and today's announcement follows that familiar pattern," she said.

I think we have seen this script too many times.  Whenever North Korea wants some concessions from the US and her allies, or from the UN, they have been known to raise nuclear tensions and the prospect of renewed war in the Korean peninsula. Whenever the crazed supreme leader of the isolated country does this saber-rattling, the world scrambles around and tries to listen to the demands made by North Korea—and for the most part, it is usually for some sort of aid. The positive thing about this I suppose, is that for 60 years, there has been an uneasy ‘peace’—an armistice really—between North and South Korea.

Sadly over the years, the proliferation of nukes, and the polarization of the active players in the region namely US, Russia, China, Japan, North and South Korea has made peace even more elusive. The entire region is on high alert and there is constant suspicion over the military exercises of power in the region. The region is really sitting on a proverbial keg of nuclear gunpowder, and all it might take is the sort of brash, careless talk that is now fashionable with North Korea to ignite a repeat of the Korean war of 1950-1953; only that this time, the conflict in the Korean peninsula would be over a hundred times more catastrophic than that fought 60 years ago. As a matter of fact, that war if or when it starts, might forever change the nature of the planet if it does not completely destroy it.

Therefore it is needless to mention that it is in everyone’s overall best interest that the fractious ‘peace’ currently observed in this region continues. If this is the case, must the world walk as though on eggshells whenever North Korea escalates her war rhetoric? How should the US and especially South Korea (who are mere minutes away from a possible North Korea-led nuclear assault on Seoul) treat the escalating language of war coming from North Korea?

North Korea, it must be pointed out, are not acting completely as though they do not understand that left alone North Korea cannot even begin to dream or hope of winning any possible nuclear war against the US. North Korea understands that in the region, or in the case of any possible regional warfare they are allied to Russia and China—two countries arguably next in line to the US when considering military might. North Korea likes her chances when partnered with Russia and China against The US, South Korea and Japan. And they are probably right to feel that way seeing as Japan had since the end of the Second World War voluntarily abstained as part of the terms of her surrender to the US, not to actively pursue a nuclear weapons program. This by no means suggests that Japan is altogether militarily weak or defenseless, but Japan could have far surpassed China by now in terms of its nuclear arsenal if it had actively pursued the acquisition of nuclear weapons over these years like China had done. If Japan were on par militarily with China, then Russia would have been more interested in curbing the verbal excesses of North Korea’s leader.

So, we find ourselves in a situation where the US, and possibly her allies all over the world, has to constantly reassure South Korea and Japan that they can count on their full and unalloyed support in the event of any nuclear showdown. It is therefore hardly surprising that the US has to be seen actively monitoring the region and carrying out exercises designed to show maximum preparedness and the ability to mete out decisive punishment to perceived enemies should Seoul or Tokyo suddenly find themselves under a North Korean-led surprise attack. It is also not surprising to discover that North Korea realizes that in any nuclear war against the US and her allies in the region, the element of surprise will be of immense benefit.

In other words, it is not for naught that North Korea is seriously working towards securing long range nuclear warheads that can strike strategic places on the US mainland. North Korea already has the weapons and the technology to decimate her neighbor to the South in mere minutes. But if it launches a sneak attack and inflicts massive casualties on South Korea and possibly parts of Japan without attacking the US military bases around the region or the US mainland, then they have no prayer for the sort of heavy-handed response the US will inflict in a counterstrike. North Korea therefore has to hope that after their initial wave of attacks on South Korea and Japan (and on US bases in the region), their long-range weapons systems will also inflict crippling damages to strategic places on the US homeland in order to break the will of the American people or to make the cost of the US response so massive that in the end, there’d be no clear winner. In the absence of such effective long-range nukes, North Korea has to hope that Russia and China will be sucked into the conflict so that they can use their vastly bigger and more powerful arsenals to inflict maximum damage. This is because we already know that the US (and her allies like Israel, UK, Australia, Germany, Italy and maybe France) has promised that any nuclear attack against South Korea and Japan by North Korea will be met with devastating force.

Having realized these tense geo-political realities, the real question is whether China and Russia will step up to the plate, in their own mutual economic and strategic interests, to curb the verbal excesses of the brash young North Korean leader. In as much as a lasting peace in the region or the reunification of North and South Korea remains a distant or remote possibility, the harsh reality is that the nuclear powers stand to gain precious little with the sort of internecine open nuclear warfare that North Korea envisions. South Korea and Japan have done their utmost best to live peacefully and comply with the desires of the United Nations. They have sought and currently maintain warm or favorable diplomatic relations with most countries of the world. They have shown the sort of mature restraint that enables dialogue. It is therefore necessary that these leaders come together with serious co-operation from China and Russia to map out a strategy to ‘pacify’ or ‘contain’ North Korea before we find ourselves, through North Korea’s hubristic miscalculations, staring smack-dab in the face of a nuclear Armageddon.

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