BELLICOSE miscreant state North Korea has ordered its “strategic” rocket forces and long-range missiles readied for war; it comes amid a long period of belligerent rhetoric from the DPRK, and threats to inflict nuclear strikes on a growing list of targets. The real threat, however, may be China.
One simmering issue we’ve kept an eye on over the past couple of months — and which was pushed into the background to some extent by the nonsense the Australian Labor Party has been up to — is the perennial problem of North Korea and its recent, and increasingly strident, threats of nuclear war against the USA.
I wanted to make comment on the matter tonight, coming as it does after news today that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has ordered what seems to be his country’s nuclear and conventional rocket forces to what the Americans call Def Con 2, or one step short of a state of active warfare.
Apparently the move is in response to a fly-by of nuclear-capable US bombers that took place today as part of joint US-South Korean military drills that are being staged off the South Korean Coast, and which are scheduled to continue until 11 April.
Whilst South Korea’s defense ministry said it saw no sign of imminent military action by North Korea, the development continues a deeply disturbing trend on the part of the North to escalate tensions in its “confrontation” with the United States.
As I have said before in this column, one of the great dangers — and unknowns — when talking about North Korea is the extent of its grip on reality; for example, it seems genuinely persuaded of the view that armed with a handful of relatively low-yield nuclear weapons it is a superpower in its own right, and the military equal of the USA.
Over the past month or so, too, it has been developing and adding to a list of countries and targets that are supposedly in line for an atomic strike: first it was Washington, then South Korea, and then a few weeks ago, Japan; as part of today’s call to arms, Guam and Hawaii are now on the list, and as I have said before, its threat to hit mainland America is most likely made with Los Angeles in mind, owing to its relative proximity across the Pacific.
It is true that most military experts do not believe North Korea possesses the ICBM capability to hit the US mainland — yet — and there is dispute over whether or not it has mastered the miniaturisation technology required to allow it to fit warheads to its MRBMs and short-range missiles, which also calls into question its ability to hit Guam or Hawaii.
Yet the DPRK’s local enemies, real or perceived — South Korea and what it calls the “puppet regime” that governs it, and Japan — are probably right to be worried; and even if the North lacks the long-range missile capabilities to lob one at LA, it could just as feasibly pack a warhead in a shipping container, and sail it somewhere in the US where it wasn’t expected — and detonate it in a port.
One of the biggest worries with this situation is that having endlessly ratcheted up the level of tension and hostility in his own ranks, Kim risks an errant commander taking matters into his own hands, and start shooting if some incident occurs; unlike established nuclear-armed states like Russia or China, the DPRK is not known for advanced control systems and other measures to safeguard against accidental, unauthorised or rogue launches.
But the greatest worry of all could turn out to be China, the North’s only (and steadfast) ally; the British newspaper The Guardian is carrying an article in which the Chinese seem to be doing what they do best, which is to protect the DPRK and to attempt to manipulate Western responses to allow the North to continue its reckless behaviour unchecked.
The Chinese Foreign Minister quoted in the article said that
“Actions such as strengthening anti-missile [defences] will intensify antagonism and will not be beneficial to finding a solution for the problem…China hopes the [USA] will proceed on the basis of peace and stability, adopt a responsible attitude and act prudently.”
And this is the problem with China when it comes to North Korea or, indeed, to the myriad of territorial disputes it is itself engaged in with other neighbouring countries around the South China Sea rim, and Japan.
Under the cover of seemingly peaceful rhetoric, the message to the US is clear, emphatic, and unmistakable: if you’re thinking about responding to anything the North does — don’t.
It’s a problem because even China doesn’t really know exactly what its volatile, fractious ally might do; and as I have pointed out, the potential for a war to start as the result of a miscalculation or misinterpreted event is real, high, and growing.
If the DPRK were to follow through on its threat to hit any or all of the targets it has bandied around with an atomic bomb, it is virtually certain that American nuclear retaliation against Pyongyang would be immediate, and overwhelming.
In that eventuality, the Chinese would most likely show their hand — one way or the other.
It’s one thing to lecture the US — whether in defence of its errant ally or not — in rhetoric preaching peace, but oozing confrontational and menacing undertones.
The Chinese game of military poker it plays, especially with the US, is no benign exercise.
It would be another matter altogether to be faced with a nuclear conflict on its doorstep, even if in response to aggression from the DPRK, and to sit back and do nothing after its posturing and its prescriptive diplomacy, and especially in light of its wilful militarisation and expansionist outlook — in the Asia-Pacific region at least.
Were such a conflict to occur, all bets would be off as to how China might respond.
And in turn, it’s why North Korea’s behaviour is so dangerous.
It might play well to ordinary North Koreans — the few with TVs or radios, that is, or electricity to power them — but the machinations of Kim Jong-Un are tantamount to poking Uncle Sam in the eye with a bloody big stick; push it too far, and he might — to use the US vernacular — “kick their ass.”
As ever, we’ll keep an eye on this, and hope China finds some way to bring the belligerent brat on its doorstep to heel.