WE’RE not going to waste much time on this, but it needs to be said; North Korea has threatened to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the USA following recent successful tests of a ballistic missile and a nuclear bomb. The prospect may be remote, but Pyongyang would be levelled if it tried.
Three weeks ago, following the successful test of an atomic bomb by North Korea in defiance of international sanctions, I posted an article which highlighted the risks the DPRK’s conduct posed to regional and world security in an already volatile environment.
And specifically — to quote myself in part — I said:
“North Korea is a state that is immune to the repercussions of its actions…it is run by a junta obsessed with obtaining a nuclear strike capacity (and)the intent to use it…any nuclear attack launched by the DPRK’s resident despot Kim Jong-Un on South Korea, Japan or the US would likely result in the instant nuclear annihilation of his country.”
I think it’s fair to state that the last thing anyone wants (aside, perhaps, from the North Koreans) is a nuclear conflict of any description — ever.
And I sincerely think that the latest outbreak of belligerence from the DPRK — ostensibly over joint US-South Korean military exercises it claims are “a prelude to nuclear war” and over the imposition of ever-more sanctions, which even China is supporting — is just that: belligerence.
The capacity to behave like a spoilt brat strapped into a high chair throwing a tantrum is a quality that has remained constant throughout the Communist dynasty of the Kim family, and I daresay latest despot Kim Jong-Un is simply carrying on the tradition.
But as I also pointed out in that article, North Korea’s perspective — or even its “reality” — is difficult to ascertain or quantify, but it does very much seem that the ability to nuke a couple of US cities would be regarded in the DPRK with the belief it is a superpower.
This is where the real danger lies in the whole North Korean equation; it is impossible to know whether anyone in the regime truly realises that the behemoth it plays its deadly game of “footsies” with — the United States — owns thousands of operational nuclear warheads, all of them reliably deliverable, and most of them exponentially larger in terms of yield than anything Pyongyang might possess for the foreseeable future.
But just as the constant ratcheting of tensions is a mainstay of North Korean dialogue with the outside world, those who pay attention to its rantings have noticed the shift this week.
The rhetoric is growing bolder, less restrained, and it’s significant that China — usually a soft touch when it comes to the DPRK, and a brake on the internationally sanctioned punishments meted out to it — agreed to the draft sanctions unanimously endorsed last night by the United Nations Security Council.
Even today — and again, to retaliate over the US-South Korean military exercises currently taking place, which it does whenever such manoeuvres are held — the North not only announced it would abandon the armistice that ended the Korean War (which it always does), but followed that up with a specific threat to “exercise the right to a pre-emptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors.”
My point is that nobody really knows whether there is some tipping point at which the DPRK will go over the edge and do something really stupid or, if there is, what that point might be.
What we do know is that with his father now dead, current leader Jong-Un certainly can’t be accused of senility, even if he’s just as paranoid as Jong-Il was.
There are also signs, and has been for some time, that China is growing weary of defending its problematic neighbour and ally from the retribution the rest of the world seeks to enact on North Korea for its nuclear mischief, nuclear proliferation, and its nuclear blackmail.
In short, the point is approaching where it is no longer a game — if, indeed, that’s what the DPRK thinks it has been playing at.
It may very well be that the North Korean leadership has been repeatedly appraised of the facts about the USA’s military capabilities, and particularly its stockpiles of strategic and tactical nuclear warheads.
Kim Jong-Il probably listened. The early evidence suggests that Kim Jong-Un doesn’t.
It’s entirely plausible that North Korea is now run by somebody who thinks his half-dozen comparatively piddling nuclear weapons are a match for Uncle Sam’s, which could literally blow North Korea away hundreds of thousands of times over.
I should point out that I don’t think the risk of anything developing from this is particularly high. But it’s there, no less, and that risk is probably higher than it was a few weeks ago.
Were it to happen, though, the most likely target would be Los Angeles: short of smuggling a warhead into a harbour or port, say, in a freight container on a ship, LA is the only major US city theoretically able to be impacted by the DPRK’s nuclear arsenal in its current form, and given its apparent current delivery capabilities.
And were it to happen, North Korea would simply vanish five minutes later in the mother of all retaliatory strikes.
The resulting crater, however, would glow in the dark for decades.
For whilst Barack Obama has spent four years busily reducing America’s capacity to defend itself, even he knows that to leave a nuclear strike unanswered would leave the US dangerously exposed to other aggressors, and bring a global nuclear war ever closer.
I think at some point China’s patience with the DPRK will finally run out, and when it does, it will seek some type of accommodation with the US in return for allowing Korea to be reunified under the South’s democratic system and administered from Seoul.
Such an accommodation is likely to involve a shopping list of all of the disputed territories in the South China Sea that China lays claim to, over the objections of Japan, Vietnam, Russia, the Philippines, and the reunified Korea itself.
And if that occurs, it will be a whole new ball game altogether.