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Ill Omen for Asia: America’s North Korea Nuclear Conundrum
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I consider North Korea to be America’s stalking horse for its China strategy.

If I’m right, things aren’t looking too good.

I have a piece up at Asia Times, Will We Have to Nuke Asia in Order to Save It?

It reviews the recent excitement over the fifth North Korean nuclear test and addresses the fact that the DPRK’s busy bomb-and-missile makers have eroded the US deterrent to the extent that South Korea believes it needs to upgrade its pre-emptive threat (not retaliatory response, mind you) to a war crime (razing Pyongyang with a conventional strike):

Seoul has already developed a plan to “annihilate” Pyongyang in a massive bombing campaign if the North shows signs of a nuclear attack, the Yonhap news agency quoted an unidentified South Korean military source as saying Sunday.

The plan, known as “Korea Massive Punishment & Retaliation” (KMPR), was revealed after the Defense Ministry briefed the National Assembly last week on the subject, Yonhap said.

Using colorful language reminiscent of North Korean state media, the report said that Pyongyang would be “reduced to ashes and removed from the map” if signs of an imminent attack were uncovered.

“Every Pyongyang district, particularly where the North Korean leadership is possibly hidden, will be completely destroyed by ballistic missiles and high-explosive shells as soon as the North shows any signs of using a nuclear weapon,” the report quoted a source as saying.

“The KMPR is the utmost operation concept the military can have in the absence of its own nuclear weapons,” the source added.

With this level of violence being proposed as the new baseline, and South Korea’s anxieties about its non-nukishness reaching new heights, it’s not surprising that the US has to raise the ante with the threat of a tactical nuclear strike to maintain credibility as South Korea’s protector.

With “nuclear capable” B-52s over the Korean peninsula to show our resolve, nukes are back in Asia (as I predicted back in April: backpat for China Hand!), President Obama’s dream of salvaging his Nobel Prize for non-proliferation by renouncing first strike is in tatters and…


…and in case you’ve noticed, the conventional US deterrent is apparently unable to bring to North Korea, a battered and sanctioned state with an economy the size of Ethiopia’s, to heel.

What’s that say about the credibility of the US deterrent in Asia?

Not good things. Believe me.

First off, the temptation for Japan and South Korea to go nuclear is getting stronger.

That means in order to forestall the proliferation of nuclear weapons among our allies in Asia and the concomitant erosion of the US leadership position, the US has to adopt more aggressive measures to claim the initiative in North Asian security and pre-empt the Japanese/ROK nuclear option.

The most logical but most destructive endgame for keeping US on top is for it to forcibly de-nuclearize North Korea, either by lighting off WWIII with an invasion or trying to force the PRC into doing it for us.

Good Luck With That.

In my piece, I make under-appreciated point that the PRC is just as worried as anybody else that North Korea will drop a nuke on it in retaliation for regime-change shenanigans, so I’m not expecting anything particularly aggressive from China along the lines of forcible counter-proliferation.

Not a lot of really attractive options, in other words.

The implications for U.S. PRC policy of a failure of the North Korea deterrence are not particularly heartening. If perceptions of the effectiveness of the US military and the efficacy of US leadership continue to erode, the US will have to get more aggressive in its security strategy to retain the initiative in Asia, and not just the Korean Peninsula.

If trends continue, it seems to me the US will have to compensate for its decreasing military advantage by migrating from a relatively stabilizing military deterrent/containment strategy to a more aggressive, results-oriented China-collapse strategy to convince Asia it’s got the chops to stop the PRC pandadragon in its tracks before it’s too late.
How aggressively the US deals with the strategic challenge of nuclear North Korea will be a useful harbinger of its intentions for the PRC.

(Republished from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: North Korea, Nuclear Weapons 
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  1. 5371 says:

    Yes, such leaks by the South Koreans seem very silly. Since North Korea has no conceivable way in any foreseeable future of shutting down nuclear retaliation with a nuclear first strike, the deterrence umbrella covering the South Koreans would be ironclad if they didn’t tear away at it themselves with statements like this.

  2. Rehmat says:

    I believe Iran, Venezuela and Cuba should follow North Korea deterrence to keep American vultures away from their lands.

    On Friday, Iranian president Sheikh Hassan Rouhani handed over the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) rotating presidency to his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro for the next four years at NAM’s 17th summit in Margarita Island, Venezuela.

    It was a slap on the face of Jewish Congresswoman Debbie Wassersman Schultz who sponsored two resolutions Friday seeking to sanction Venezuela and Nicaragua, urging Caracas to release political prisoners, and urging international financial institutions to end loans to Managua until it holds fair presidential elections….

    • Replies: @The Plutonium Kid
  3. haha, trying to collapse the prc? in 2016+? with a 10 trillion gdp? almost 20 trillion ppp? this is no longer 1850, where we have guns n they were still using iron age weapons.

    good luck.

  4. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    China should be faulted for stupidity in allowing North Korea to develop nukes (or not acting aggressively to prevent it from happening) and soon second strike capability from NK submarines.

    The reasons often cited for China’s relatively hands off policy towards North Korea sound like either a minor annoyance or nonsense.

    1. NK is a guard dog for China (a guard dog doesn’t go on its own attacks and draw the nemesis nearer to the house).
    2. NK instability would create millions of refugees. (Refugees can be housed and fed in large camps at the expense of 0.1% GDP before they are returned.)
    3. NK regime change would bring a United Korea under US control up to the Chinese border. (More likely someone needs to pay for integration which would be many more times the cost of unification of East Germany which was economically not too far from West Germany, and as only China can pay for a trillion dollars worth of construction in NK, part of the bargain with SK would be pushing the US military out of the peninsula.)

    The far more interesting critique in the disaster of NK nuclear weapons is how Chinese foreign policy manage to get it so wrong? Their blunder in opening the possibility of nuclear war in the region is of more self destructive consequence than any foreign policy blunder of the US (e.g. enabling ISIS, the Iraq War, even Libya considering the refugee wave to Europe.)

  5. Rehmat says:

    If you change China with United States and North Korea with Israel – your rant would be more realistic.

    • Replies: @Quartermaster
  6. Renoman says:

    Just leave them alone, don’t go poking at them, what’s to gain? They are a very poor Nation, they need trade and money to sustain themselves, attacking the neighbors and causing a huge War won’t get them anywhere. I don’t blame them for wanting nukes it’s the only thing that will give them any sort of a secure sovereignty but don’t worry about them.
    Nuclear War is not something anybody wants [except perhaps a few neocon idiots] just let people live their lives without fear of a US invasion. How hard can that be, there’s no money or oil or anything else worth invading them for, besides that would just provoke China which surely no one thinks is a good plan.
    Maybe offer them a big boatload of food twice a year to stop this nonsense, food makes quite an impression on the hungry.

    • Replies: @Quartermaster
  7. I don’t have a map handy, but just off the top of my head, I’m pretty sure Beijing is one of the few capitol cities that North Korea could successfully drop a nuke atop of. Its amazing how no one (other than you, apparently), seems aware of the possibility the PRC finds that potential to be absolutely terrifying. North Korea & China are both “communist allies,” and that’s the end of the discussion, for 99 percent of Anglophone commentators. Weird.

  8. @Rehmat

    If your anti-Semitism didn’t blind you to reality, you wouldn’t making such stupid statements.

    • Replies: @Rehmat
  9. @Renoman

    Food aid has been tried. The NORKs took it and behaved for short while, then went back to thumbing their nose at the world.

    China has been idiotic allowing the NORKs to obtain a nuke capability. You may keep a rabid dog chained for awhile, but sooner or later its insanity will turn on you. But, China isn’t acting wisely in most areas of their political life these days.

  10. Rehmat says:

    Listen idiot – can you define the so-called ANTISEMITISM?

    I like Israel-born Gilad Atzmon and UK-born Paul Eisen’s definition, which goes like: “In the good-old-day, the people who hated Jews were called ANTISEMITE. Now an ANTI-SEMITE is one who is hated by the Organized Jewry for criticizing Israel and the SIX MILLION DIED myth.

  11. @Rehmat

    Yeah, ‘cuz the world can never have enough nukes. /sarc

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