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Whence goes North Korea?
North Korea has recently announced a willingness to:
- Meet in a summit of the Koreas
- Defer its nuclear and missile testing while seeking some form of negotiated agreement
- Stated a willingness to de-nuclearization in exchange for some form of non-aggression effort from the US.
The recently concluded Winter Olympics provided a scene changer and face saving opportunity for the North Koreans. Behind the screen of the Olympics the North Koreans could say that the atmosphere of détente offered by the South and the world conclave showed a different face of a world willing to talk to the Koreans. It might be that the continuing tightening embargoes and financial and trade isolation of the North was finally being felt. Those who oppose President Trump’s saber rattli9ng will be quick to jump on this position. They will also quickly seek a loosening of the military build-up and potentially the offer of lifting of trade restrictions to show good faith. To say that this is what the North Koreans are seeking would be an under-statement.
The North Koreans played a similar game with Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama with the desired results. The North Koreans have demonstrated a much longer view of history than past US administrations. The North’s bellicosity is reduced, promises made, military preparedness reduced and from Clinton energy and trade concessions made in exchange for what? Words? What concessions in reality were made? NONE!
A program of international inspections to verify the dismantling of certain production facilities—nuclear and missile technologies—is what is required for there to be a meaningful change in the situation on the Korean peninsula. Will the North Koreans agree to such terms? Will the South Koreans have the backbone to hang tough in demanding such terms in the face of numerous promises and possibly even the renewal of family visits? That would be tough for the South Koreans to do.
In short while the North Korean words sound good, we are a long way from a meaningful resolution to this almost 75 year old growing problem. This will require continued vigilance and as Ronald Reagan said: “Trust but verify.”
Behind the smoke screen?
President Trump’s tweets and what seem to be off the cuff remarks are providing a perfect smoke screen for the media that want to focus on what they think is outlandish rather than do good journalism and find out what is happening behind the smoke screen.
Behind the smoke screen and the bluster and the magician act that the President is using to focus attention there seems to be a lot going on. Hate for Trump, which the President thrives on, is allowing strategic activity that would remind one of the Kissinger days when the bureaucracy was busing doing busy work while real strategic moves and ground work were occurring behind the scenes.
National Security Adviser Lieutenant General H R McMaster
If one follows the National Security Adviser LTG H R McMaster there is not much to see until this last week. During the annual Munich Security Conference he seems to have emerged and has laid down several markers:
- Used the incontrovertible truth that Russia sought to sow instability in the US elect ion process as a background to say that it was impossible for the US to work with Russia on cyber issues.
- Called for action against Iran while scolding those states that traded with Iran for giving the terrorist sponsor a blank check
- Called for action against Syria for using chemical weapons again
In addition he orchestrated the current Olympics lowering of the volume with North Korea. One can readily see the North Koreans using the very fragile détente with South Korea coming out of the Olympics as an excuse for a “delay” in missile testing.
One can be sure that both LTG McMaster and Secretary of Defense Mattis, who has also adopted a low profile, are very aware of the trategic weapons growth by the Russians and Chinese and are laying long term plans to address the potential imbalances.
As the remarks in Munich indicate relations with Russia and the current sanctions will not improve until Russia makes a positive move in the Ukraine or elsewhere. In the meantime the nuclear modernization announced by the President will go on unabated. Is the ground work being laid for a new round of arms control negotiations in 2019?
If the naval armada that has gathered in the South China Sea as a deterrent to North Korea starts migrating towards the Persian / Arabian Gulf one can anticipate the screws being applied against Iran. Obviously Secretary of State Tillison and LTG McMaster’s trips to Turkey and discussions with the Saudis and Israelis have laid the groundwork for such actions. These discussions also have further provided the venue for a consensus on how to deal with the continuing Syrian debacle.
In the first year of the Trump Administration while working behind the Trump smokescreen Trump’s National Security Strategy (NSS), was put together by McMaster’s team. It champions a realpolitik worldview that puts American national interests first and sees the world as a competitive stage. “The United States will respond to the growing political, economic, and military competitions we face around the world,” the NSS states.
Additionally, it has a focus on “revisionist powers” China and Russia and “rogue regimes” North Korea and Iran as acting in ways that are against American interests. “China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity. They are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence. At the same time, the dictatorships of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Islamic Republic of Iran are determined to destabilize regions, threaten Americans and our allies, and brutalize their own people.”
The strategy development in which the entire national security apparatus –State, Defense, and Intelligence Agencies etc.—participated took a year. The media has given little attention to this strategy complaining that it is lacking in detail. One is now starting to see the details based upon that the interests and objectives that were clearly defined and agreed to across the government. In their most likely timeline now is the time for the deliberate but well thought out execution behind the smoke screen provided by the President.
It will be fascinating to see the media reaction as they see behind the smoke. Or will they given their Trump hatred?
Bloody nose attack?
Recently I have read in multiple publications the exact same article—verbatim. I guess some must think that because it is printed in so many publications that it must be true. Well, maybe. The articles say that the US is considering what is called a bloody nose attack against North Korea. What is a bloody nose attack you ask?
A bloody nose attack is said to be an effort to destroy the next missile that Kim Jun Un launches. The idea is to intercept the missile early in the launch phase. The goal is to show the North Koreans that the US is serious about its demands of limits on North Korean missiles and nuclear weapons. Many argue that such an attack is fraught with dangers,
- How will the North Koreans respond? Will they perceive this action for what it is a limited attack? If they do not perceive this or do not wish to perceive it those that are against the attack fear that they will respond massively against South Korea.
- What if the attempt fails? The prestige of the US will be greatly reduced, the pundits argue, and that of the North Koreans enhanced.
- What if the attack succeeds? The North Koreans will have been embarrassed and because of the loss of face will either retaliate or be more willing to negotiate since it had been shown that their missiles could be intercepted.
I should also note that several congressmen have reported that F-35s with heat seeking missiles could destroy any missile in the launch phase. Most of such reports do not link this to the time it takes the North to prepare a missile for launch or the ability of US intelligence to “see” the preparations and thus put the F-35s on station. (I have been amazed that this information was leaked, but maybe it is part of my fourth option below.
The media is reporting that the National Security Advisor supports the attack while the Secretaries of State and Defense oppose it. One almost never reads anything about the positions the LTG McMaster has supported. Such deliberations are usually one thing that remain secret in a leaky administration. This leads me to my fourth option.
The fourth option is a psychological warfare against the North designed to ratchet up the pressure. One could argue that the saber rattling and now the threats of a bloody nose attack are designed to force the North Koreans to seek alternative ways to lower the pressure. If one buys this strategy he could say: “Look it is succeeding.” The North Koreans have in fact held talks with the South Koreans that have reduced the pressure some. Possibly, in response to this, President Trump has stated his willingness to negotiate with the North Koreans.
Only time will tell how this will play out but the saber rattling psychological pressure may have worked. If it worked the next question is why previous administrations did not try such an approach? The answer probably has something to do with hutzpah and the willingness to go as far as necessary. We will see.