TRUMP AND A NUCLEAR NORTH KOREA AND THE LARGER STRATEGIC PICTURE:
Harry C. Blaney IIi
After the statements about what Trump might do to North Korea if it does not stand down on its nuclear weapon programs, there seems to be a great debate about Donald Trump’s foreign policy strategy and even if there is one. As with his missile strakes on Syrian the question is what is next and is there any strategic vision or even reflection?
As best we can discern is it remains just based on “transactional” and “intuitive” feelings. We need to remember this is the man who said he knew more than the generals and who is cutting by about 30% our diplomacy and global assistance budget.
Among the key issues we face we still do not have a clue what ends he want including dealing with China, confronting North Korean nuclear ambitions, fixing the middle East conflicts, keeping our alliances intact, and dealing with Putin’s Russia.
We do know that on climate change he has cut the budget for almost all US programs in to address this existential and disastrous reality. He would take us out of the Paris Accord the only effective instrument we have to gain global cooperation.
An editorial in the New York Times on May 17th entitled “Mr. Trump’s lose talk on Korea” noted that Trump’s approach is more likely to endanger some peaceful solution than solve peaceably the conflict with North Korea. There is real reason to question where are we going with this and to what end?
Both nuclear weapons and the idea of a “preemptive strike” and harsh threats on both sides are dangerous elements.. This is especially true when both side are led by somewhat unhinged leaders who like to demonstrate their powers and egoism. The time has come to bring us back to a more rational approach before we start a game of “chicken.”
Surely at some point the leaders of China, North Korea and America must recognize in this option for an aggressive “game” the only end is destruction of all sides This is the worst case outcome when in reality there is a “win-win” outcome if only we all can recognize the harsh reality of nuclear conflict. There should be a point where all sides can accept gains for all sides with a diplomatic solution where Kim Jong Un, president, Xi Jinping, and Donald Trump control their fears and their egos. Any leader must look closely at the risks of mistakes and stupidity by the other..
The path of a better outcome is North Korea gains a de-nuclearize North and South Korea, food to feed his people. China gains added stability and security on its borders and eliminates the danger of a war that would be a total disaster for it and removal of nuclear weapons North and South. America gets rid of a nuclear threat to allies like Japan and South Korea and not least to America. Trump gets to enlarge his ego.
East Asia Security Meeting in London: Anxiety Grows in Region? by Harry C. Blaney III
On Thursday, November 14th Chatham House (The Royal Institute of International Affairs) held an interesting meeting on “The Strategic Environment in East Asia.” The question addressed was first an assessment of the region’s key strategic issues and specifically the problem of North Korea, the relationship between China and America, and the strategic policy of the Japanese Prime Minister Abe. The second part of the meeting focused on the issue of the conflict over maritime conflict in the region especially in the South China Sea.
The perspectives were varied and the attendance of a strong contingent from Japan give the conference a good idea of the Japanese perspective and how that country viewed their security risks and their likely approach towards these risks. The Japanese government representative and those from a key “think tank” the Institute of International Affairs, noted a number of likely Japanese new initiatives related to foreign and security policy as well as strengthening existing alliances.
There appears to be a move towards altering the Japanese Constitution giving greater leeway for the Japanese government to undertake a more pro-active stance towards threats and future confrontations than is permitted by the strict “defense only” provisions in the constitution. Another question that will be coming up is what are the appropriate resources to allocate for their own defense forces. As with other nations there are limited funds and demands by sea, land, and air arms for added equipment and personnel. Nor least, is the indication that they want to reinforce their alliance with the United States and to get European powers like the U.K. to be more supportive of their ocean jurisdictional claims. The key phrase was that the U.S.- Japan alliance is a “core policy.” In many ways it was an affirmation of President Obama’s initiative of the “pivot to Asia.” But an “assertive” Japan still posses other problems for actors in the region.
The focus of the Japanese experts was the recognition that their security landscape has some major rising risks which need to be better addressed than has been the case up-to-now. They saw North Korea as a key unsettling force with a growing stock of nuclear weapons and also they were concerned with their relations with South Korea, which has to be a key partner on any solution to the future of the Korean Peninsula conundrum.
Yet the uncertainty of the direction and behavior of North Korea was seen as a serious problem and danger. They saw the U.S. bases in Japan as essential for the defense of South Korea. Another disturbing element was cooperation between North Korea, Iran, Israel, perhaps others, in military and nuclear equipment and arms. The conclusion was that in the current negotiations, “time was on the North Korean side” thus there was urgency in finding a solution.
From the South they saw the rise of China and its increased more capable military forces as well as the growth of a new nationalism and assertive and even dangerous behavior or confrontation in this maritime disputed area. One presenter showed a chart of the number and types of Chinese navel vessels and comparted them to weaker or smaller forces of other key nations in the Pacific including the U.S.
There was considerable discussion of how to make a bridge or rapprochement with China and find a way not only to find a solution to the South China Sea differences, but more importantly, over the long run to seek a more fundamental arrangement with China over the next decade seeking a peaceful and cooperative relationship. Several speakers said that economic ties would be key between the second and third largest global economies.
One issue that was raised was the concept of ‘the inevitable confrontation/war between the U.S. and China.” This is another myopic and ideological driven idea by the war hawks of the “Chicago School” and neo-cons in America and also fueled in China by some of its military. It is a concept that was rejected by one wise speaker and certainly by this writer and has the danger of being a “self-fulfilling” prophesy. It serves only those who make a living from conflict.
One question that was raised by this writer, was how could the collective nations of the Pacific region work in a better concerted way to point the path not only to a productive and peaceful regional and global role for China, but create key incentives for China to be a responsible partner and see a deep and lasting stake in collective security and prosperity for the whole region and a sense of joint interest in maintaining peace.
Frankly, the meeting only reinforced the need for a more concerted and focused effort by regional actors to see a common interests. But to do that it is necessary to get the North Korean threat resolved favorably as it is a systemic dangerous disruption to an area wide reconciliation and understanding. Also some accommodation on Taiwan by all sides, an acceptable deal perhaps on some kind of joint exploitation of resources in the South China Sea, and not least a major expansion of trade between all Pacific powers. Helpful would be an agreement of restraint on military/nuclear weapons growth and competition.
What is interesting is that the Japanese have reorganized their national security decision making along the lines of the U.S. modal with even a process of policy papers called National Security Studies (NSS) much along lines established by Henry Kissinger for our NSC in the Nixon administration. But this is aimed for a whole new look at their security position and aimed at a more active security role in the region.
Not surprising, the Chinese have also just announced a reorganization of their own national security decision making machinery, making it more streamlined and tightknit. And it is clear that also they are having a major debate on their own future global role and new threat assessment. One would hope it will give the more calm and wiser heads more say over the militant military types that sometime have dominated the Chinese decision making in this area in the past.
But, America, as this blog has noted, is doing a “re-think” on both resources and strategic threats and options for a complex and changing environment. At the same time the British here in London carrying out a major re-examination of their strategic posture, force alignments, resources, and risks. The problem, as we will look at more in time here, is that it is being carried out when there is a forced major cut in funding which will necessitate some hard decision on personnel and equipment – not the wisest way to make strategic decisions, as we know in the U.S. with the Republican created “sequester”cuts. It is time for a more collective “re-think” rather than isolated limited studies as joint efforts, compatibility, and interoperability in tactics, communication, and training would help in a time of joint enforced “austerity” but a time of security uncertainty.
The on going, made for TV, North Korean crisis rattles on and there are now two main camps of thought. One is that Kim Jong-un is mostly “blister and threat,” but seeks some advantage from the allies rather than full out war. The other is that Kim is irrational and may just blunder into a real “war” by miscalculation. Some are arguing that stern and harsh responses are the way to deal with the North – a view of some South Korean officials and politicians and of our home grown American “war hawks.” The other is a view that we should “stand down” and do nothing that might provoke Kim Jong-un to commit foolish acts.
My own reading is that the Obama administration and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have what I will call a “precautionary and preparedness” strategy. Namely, to do what is necessary to put in place our military assets that are largely defensive and to not act in a preemptive and overly aggressive stance that might lead to unnecessary and dangerous escalation. Not a bad combination.
My hope in the meanwhile is that they are working the diplomatic tract with China, as I have suggested earlier, to clamp down the “upward trajectory of conflict.” Again, here China is the key as they can’t be anything but alarmed that a major conflict in the Korean peninsula would be a total disaster for them in strategic, economic, and political terms.
Right now my judgment is “just right” in terms of American moves and words……and hope that back channel intensive work is being done on all fronts. Here our allies in Japan, South Korea, and, yes, China on this issue, need to be using the same playbook. In time, with the right moves, the immediate round of escalation might ratchet down, but in the long-term we need to address North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat and we need to find some modus vivendi. This might take many years of work and lots of creative constructs to put this danger back into a safe bottle.
Headlines are everywhere, pundits shouting “danger” and editorial writers highlighting dangers, yet few have provided any clear action or policies that look productive in changing the trajectory of the madness of North Korea. Their only hope seems to be that this is just another round of “bluster” on the part of the inexperienced “New Leader’ Kim Jong-Un.
Members of Congress mostly Republicans like Peter King have said that they did not regard the North Korean statement as an “empty threat.” Defense Secretary Hagel also said they were taking seriously the threatening statements of North Korea. The U.S. military has “on station” in the Korean region both two nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers and stealth F-22 fighter jets, among the most advanced in American inventory.
North Korea in response said that US action had “entered the reckless phase of actual war.” With each day the harsh war rhetoric seems to get higher and higher rather than diminish.
Recent developments in the region include that the U.S. Navy has deployed the USS John McCain, a guided-missile destroyer normally based in Japan that is capable of shooting down ballistic missiles, closer to the Korean Peninsula. The North Koreans on their part have announced they will reconstruct an old and dismantled nuclear reactor, which could be used to produce more weapons grade fissile material….the news was that the plant could produce enough material for one bomb a year.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, Joint Chiefs chairman, said the U.S. would “unequivocally” defend itself and allies from North Korean attacks. In addition, they spurned the regime’s claims that Washington was upping tensions.
The question of the day is what allied strategy is likely to result in a calming of the tensions, and in particular seek ways to “contain” and mitigate the North Korean nuclear capability. One strategy or option is to work the diplomatic tract via the multilateral existing path, which includes China, Russia, Japan and the U.S. The hope would be after the “bluster” from the North there might be some modus vivendi or formula that would return to a more rational calculation on the part of North Korea. This could be a long-term effort.
Yet, the country with the most leverage over North Korea is China. China denies that it has much leverage, yet it also has the greatest stake should kinetic warfare break out between the two Koreas. For China, it would be a major disaster, which it must want to prevent as they see that a “real war” would destroy the “buffer” between it and American and South Korean forces and fighting, once started, no nation might have any power to stop it.
Also, it raises questions about the rationality of the North Korean leadership since the idea of “restraint” seems not now to be in their vocabulary. China also is the main source of food and other supplies to the North and it has an intelligence presence in the North and thus is likely to have a better understanding of the situation in Pyongyang. Thus the path to a solution may run through Beijing.
This is a time for visits to Beijing, Tokyo, Seoul, and perhaps even Russia by both Secretaries Hagel and Kerry. Perhaps also a “third tract” high level peace mission with official blessing might also be a useful instrument to employ, but it would have to have the backing of China and implicit North Korean agreement.
All of this is taking place when we are already focused on another “nuclear crisis” namely of the Iranian nuclear efforts and there is evidence that both North Korea and Iran have been helping each other to develop a strategic nuclear capability, which if continued would be a turning point in strategic security around the world. Thus a strong effort to address these questions needs to be on the table when there is a substantive negotiation between Iran and the Group of 5 plus 1. Here the spread of critical nuclear technology is a “must” solution item for those seeking a more secure and stable strategic balance. A rethinking of the “sanctions” issue against North Korea and Iran may be needed if diplomatic outreach fails.
The Heritage Foundation is holding in mid-March a meeting with the improbably, but typical title “U.S. Foreign Policy Adrift.” You can easily guess what that is all about and the following quote from their announcement tells it all:
“Even before taking office, President Obama began laying out in his public statements the tenets of a doctrine, that if enacted, would enable his Administration to remake America as one nation among many, with no singular claim either to responsibility or exceptionalism. These tenets include a more humble engagement with the world and more reliance on others as well as treaties and international organizations to deal with global crises and threats to U.S. security. Nevertheless, in the past four years the world has hardly become more stable or less dangerous: Al-Qaeda connected terrorism is commence the rise, the Middle East is in chaos, North Korea remains openly defiant, and Russia and China challenge the U.S at every turn.”
If you are wondering if this meeting might be a worthwhile way to spend your time, my suggestion is that you can skip it as it is the same old cold war mongering, “war party,” and neo-con claptrap.
But, what is interesting is that Heritage has clearly not done any thinking about the significant changes to the geopolitical and security landscape of the last forty years. They are playing the same old tune now as if the Soviet Union had never gone away. Remember, it was their blind clamoring for irresponsible war in Iraq with tragic consequences for all. They are now still selling war, more war and yet more war. Now it is Iran, North Korea, and we know not what may be next?
Let’s for the fun of it look at each of their key statements above:
The first silly statement is that: The Obama “Administration [wants] to remake America as one nation among many, with no singular claim either to responsibility or exceptionalism.” They use the word “responsibility” as if going to war unilaterally was a legitimate “responsibility.” The use of this word is an effort to legitimatize what is really irresponsible and dangerous behavior of America, which has proven costly and counterproductive in the global arena.
Obama’s approach, which has clearly increased American true responsibility and leverage in the world in the past four years, is to try to work with others on common goals and solutions. Its objective is specifically to do so in ways that does not foolishly commence massive unilateral military intervention and expand conflicts and the consequences of casualties both of our own and of civilians – it is in my words trying early “collective preventive diplomacy.” It is diplomats and international organizations and allies on the ground rather than American boots as a preferred option. This is ‘smart power’ not “stupid power.” It does not mean a “never” on the use of military force as Obama has made clear. The Libyan intervention was a good example of this new multilateral approach, with our help especially in taking out Gadaffi’s air arm and defense capabilities and helping our NATO and other allies with logistics and intelligence…..with few U.S. military on the ground. Our allies carried out the bulk of our military action both in the air and on the ground.
The second silly and even dangerous statement is: “These tenets include a more humble engagement with the world and more reliance on others as well as treaties and international organizations to deal with global crises and threats to U.S. security.” This is an insidious effort to equate cooperation with and in international organizations or cooperation with our allies by getting their participation as a sign of weakness. It is clearly just the opposite. The irony is that GOP Congressional types have long criticized our allies for not carrying more of the defense burden, but now that Obama has succeeded in forming coalitions of others to work with us, they see it as a “weakness.” Hypocrisy is probably the right word for this. In fact, this is an added strength for American leadership, which as the military uses the word, is a “force multiplier.” This clearly is not a concept the right wing security types know much about.
Finally, their statement that: “Nevertheless, in the past four years the world has hardly become more stable or less dangerous: Al-Qaeda connected terrorism is commence the rise, the Middle East is in chaos, North Korea remains openly defiant, and Russia and China challenge the U.S at every turn.”
Here lies, more lies, and dammed lies are in this statement. Before Obama took office we were engaged in two costly and long-standing wars. One of “choice,” that was a total disaster in Iraq. The other was dragging on in the incompetence of the Bush II administration for more than a decade and will now largely end in 2014. We had not yet gotten neither Bin Laden nor his network and lost the chance to kill Bin Laden in the Tora Bora mountains at the start of the war by committing troops to Iraq and neglecting Afghanistan where the 911 terrorism leadership was based. Obama developed a new approach in Afghanistan that included going after the Al-Qaeda’s network with much success to where it has been on the run and in disarray rather than on “the rise.” The Middle East was in trouble for decades and the new changes were inevitable and the outcomes still uncertain and the spark of democracy in some countries still newly alive. Obama’s administration is in fact highly involved in this as exemplified in the recent trip by Secretary Kerry to the region, taking with him new initiatives and policies.
As for North Korea, China and Russia these have been challenges for decades, including in the 1970s under Henry Kissinger when I worked on his Policy Planning Staff. At least Kissinger reached out to China and established relations and thus opened the path to real dialogue and some cooperation. China under Obama has been helping us on a recent vote on Syria and now on support in the Security Council on North Korea. Russia agreed with Obama on the New START treaty, voted for action in Libya, permits us to transit into Afghanistan, and cooperates both on terrorism issues and we hope on Iranian nuclear problems. Both China and Russia have been “problems” for decades (see our earlier blogs), but the Heritage types do not say that Nixon, Reagan, Ford, Bush I and II were “weak” on American leadership.
In sum, let’s see the world as it is, note that intractable problems won’t be solved by more wars, and that “preventive diplomacy,” peacemaking, and creative multilateral cooperation are signs that “smart” power is back in the White House. Challenges will persist, even beyond the Obama years one can bet, but we are not in a more dangerous world for working on these dangers creatively and with care rather than trying to blindly bomb them.
More and more reports are coming out of Moscow that President V. Putin is intent on a salami slicing process of deep repression and authoritarian Soviet style rule. His actions have included repression against NGOs in Russia that take money from abroad and those that don’t, the passing of legislation that limits freedom of expression, including the protests against them, criticism of the Kremlin, and the clamping down on freedom of the press. The goal is a top down government from the Kremlin.
In the realm of foreign affairs the probation of adoption by American families of orphans, along with indications that Putin is perhaps in an angry mood toward America and the West, seems to be pursuing a series of policies that are at cross purposes with those of the U.S. and of other Western democracies.
Now, news comes out that further legislation aimed at cutting the ties of Russians with the outside world are in the process. These may include a ban on Russian officials having connections abroad, such as wives and children living or being educated outside of Russia and the former Soviet Union. Putin has also closed down local broadcasting by VOA in Russia. Corruption is endemic and tolerated especially if it is by Putin’s favorites.
Beyond these moves is a decidedly strong trend towards the kind of extreme xenophobia and the suppression of anything that smacks of “Western” or the culture of and civic support for real “democracy.”
There seems at the same time, a trend by Putin, to increase defense/military spending at the expense of the funding of domestic needs like health care, which is already appalling. Also, Putin has instituted his stronger control over the regional governments at the expense of local autonomy.
In the background, there is a growing resentment by the middle class of Putin’s policies and a desire for a more open society. In the end, it will be the citizens of Russia that will likely move the regime or rid it of its authoritarian overlay. Meanwhile, this increasingly corrosive overlay of society is accompanied by public cynicism or even support. There are signs of a more open debate of resentment and opposition to the authoritarian and corrupt elements. My guess is that this desire for a modern and open society will in the end carry the day, but at a very high cost to the Russian people who have waited centuries for some sense of dignity and real civil rights.
The question for America and its allies is what can be done, if anything, to persuade Vladimir Putin and not least the Russian people that both repression at home and belligerence abroad is not in their own interests? The Russian Federation now faces not only years of possible reaction, but also possible loss of inward investment, and a possible loss of its main revenue if either oil or gas prices fall or non-Russian supplies are supplanted from other regions.
The first thing that should not be done is to overreact ourselves mindlessly and preemptively act in ways that would only reinforce Putin’s obsessions and other right wing nationalists and play into their hands in creating an isolated and besieged Russia. This would give “rational” to the Kremlin to adapt authoritarian acts to “defend” its sovereignty and “Security” interests.
Those in America who wish to isolate Russia and make them a forever “enemy” and recreate a new “Cold War” are as much a danger to wise policy and the integration of Russia into the community of responsible nations. These “neocom” right wing “war hawks” wanted a mindless war with Iraq, they wanted us to confront China rather than engage them and push the “inevitable” coming conflict with China, and now they want to do the same with Russia.
What is needed instead is a wise long-term strategy of encouraging cooperation and confidence of the Russian people and also, especially of the growing better educated elite and middle class to recognize that Putin trajectory means only greater poverty of its people, less growth in modern technology and knowledge, and will destine Russia forever to be backward and solitary.
Our first step must be to once again reassert to the Russian people that we desire partnership and collaboration for the benefit of both our nations and to continue our “reset” dialogue with Russian leaders even when it seems almost hopeless to persuade them of its efficacy to their own interests. We need to devise a comprehensive agenda of useful initiatives and to hold out its benefits and break down the walls of communication between our society and theirs – even over the heads of the current regime if necessary.
Obama will be visiting Russia in the fall for a G-20 meeting and before that meeting there needs to be a major focused effort to engage in the kind of diplomacy, which reconnects our two nations and emphasizes those areas of mutual interest. Also, there should be an emphasis on a “full court press” of public diplomacy and the use of what many call “third tract” “back door” and a quiet effort to reach Russian citizens directly with the theme that America is not their enemy, but rather that together we can have the kind of cooperation that respects Russian’s real interests. The issues to be addressed early on in a quiet way include missile defense in Europe, Iran’s nuclear weapons, Syria, North Korea, our exit from Afghanistan, trade opportunities, investment and above all nuclear weapons and non-proliferation. That short list illustrates the still importance of the reasons behind the original “reset.” Secretary Kerry and President Obama now need to put enough attention and energy into this necessarily long-term strategy, which for a host of reasons is of the greatest importance to global security for everyone.
North Korea can make concessions to a visiting ex-president without losing face. This was dramatically illustrated when Jimmy Carter persuaded Kim Il Sung to freeze his nuclear weapons program—in June 1994, setting the stage for the formal nuclear-freeze agreement known as the Agreed Framework in October. Now Carter is revisiting Pyongyang for the first time to explore a compromise leading to the resumption of US-North Korean denuclearization negotiations and to seek the release of a captured American.
The White House has adopted a rigid stance, insisting that Pyongyang take denuclearization steps as a precondition for dialogue, and more importantly, resisting bilateral negotiations prior to the resumption of the six-party denuclearization discussions conducted by the Bush administration.
The Obama administration is missing a perfect opportunity. The present rigid US policy undermines the moderates in the Pyongyang leadership who were moved into key positions by Kim Jung Il at the recent Workers Party Congress. Not only his sister, Kim Hyong Hui, his brother-in-law, Chang Sung Taek, and his favorite son, Kim Jung Un, but more important, Kang Sok Ju, long the leading advocate of improved relations with the United States, who was promoted to Deputy Prime Minister. When I proposed the concept of a nuclear freeze to the late Kim Il Sung in a meeting with him on June 9, 1994, it was Kang Sok Ju, then Deputy Foreign Minister, who persuaded Kim in my presence to accept the proposal. Continue reading →