North Korea – Spectre of the Cold War
Justice Michael Kirby addressed the Sydney Institute on the 21st June dealing with North Korea’s human rights record including comment on the case of Mr O F Warmbier. The ensuing discussion, while relevant to the specific issue, was unable to articulate a solution to the current geopolitical situation.
The overarching problem is the nature of the North Korean regime and the nuclear threat it poses. The Cold War between the Warsaw Pact and NATO (1945-90) did not erupt into a nuclear holocaust because NATO maintained an around-the-clock airborne nuclear armed vigil. It was a case of mutual deterrence . If the Soviet Union had released ICBMs, major Russian cities would have been annihilated by incoming NATO weapons.
Today a comparable situation is emerging should North Korea direct missiles towards American interests or South Korea it would probably be neutralised by airborne and submarine-based ballistic missiles.
America is in the difficult situation should a definite immediate threat become manifest. There would be a retaliation that would have to, simultaneously, destroy the armaments along the ‘demilitarised zone’ and identifiable missile launch sites. The urgent problem is how to prevent North Korea progressing to perfecting its delivery system. To expect China to accomplish this is to misunderstand the geopolitical situation. Although China supports the United Nations sanctions on North Korea, it does not push too hard due to concern over regime instability that could precipitate millions of refugees crossing the border into China. Furthermore, North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are partially diverting America from China’s increasing hegemony in the East and South China Seas. A wild card into this situation is that America might reach a clandestine agreement with China on the 9 Dash Line in return for neutralising North Korea’s nuclear delivery threat. This arrangement might be considered in conjunction with negotiating a more balanced trading relationship that would boost American export industries.
Lessons from the 1962 Cuban missile crisis could be useful. China, as a proxy Russia, might convince North Korea, as a proxy Cuba, to dismantle its nuclear capability under supervision, in return for development funds and a guarantee of national security. A sweetener for China might be that America would withdraw its B52 nuclear bombers from the region. Decisions would also involve Japan. North Korea is no Cuba but a ‘defuse’ mechanism might lie in this logic.
A frontal attack poses an unacceptable threat for America. To bring North Korea to nuclear impotence would require a simultaneously stepped military assault:
- stealth bombers must destroy anti-aircraft missile systems and command centres;
- the virtually instantaneous destruction of thousands of artillery pieces along the DMZ trained on Seoul and nearby cities harbouring some 24 million souls;
- the massing of an invasion fleet that could not be hidden from China or North Korea causing the latter to consider a pre-emptive strike.
There may be members of the International Community that have hoped for a modified French Revolution (1789) or a Bolshevik Revolution (1917) or preferably a Soviet implosion (1991). However, these alternatives may fade in the light of new relationships being developed in East Asia.
The President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, favours engagement with North Korea which could morph into a rapprochement between Pyongyang and Seoul. In addition there are deepening trading ties between China and South Korea. Should closer ties develop between the three nations there may be pressure on America to reduce its forces in South Korea. The Kim dynasty is only interested in its own survival not in the well being of the North Korean people. Ultimately, to ensure a safe haven, the current ruling elite might be accepted in China or be ensconced in an enclave in North Korea. Pure conjecture!!
Should the three East Asian nations form a closer association, then America might need to rethink its ‘Pivot to Asia’ policy and southern members of the ANZUS Alliance may have to review their relationship with East Asian nations.
JOHN HILL Current Affairs Flash Points towardsthefinalhour.com firstname.lastname@example.org