More Resources: Military Movements And The Prospect Of War

FOLLOWING OUR post on New Year’s Eve — which pondered whether 2013 had taken the world closer to Armageddon or not — this morning’s post is intended simply to share additional material with readers; the question is receiving considerable attention both in Australia and abroad, as comparisons between 1914 and 2014 are drawn: and a frightening incident off the Scottish coast shows how easily it could occur, even by miscalculation.

It’s not a very pleasant subject this one, to be sure, and — like most readers — I hope and pray it’s one that never advances in status beyond the hypothetical.

Even so, a failure to read the signs, sift the probabilities, or to evaluate the true state of international affairs is incredibly negligent, especially where governments, their advisors, relevant agencies and an investigative media are concerned.

Today, I seek to share some of what has been published — in Australia and beyond — over the past week; the objective isn’t to unduly frighten anybody, but given these matters are being postulated upon I feel it would be remiss not to continue to keep an eye on them.

Readers will know that a little over a week ago, I posted an article that in turn linked to an excellent piece by Tim Stanley, that originally appeared in The Telegraph in Britain; that piece theorised on the question of whether the world drew nearer to a nuclear apocalypse over the course of 2013.

Of course, for that to happen, their first must be a war, and it’s in this vein that I post the material to follow here today. As with my post on New Year’s Eve, I’m not going to comment to a great extent on these; the intention really is to provide additional material.

For those to whom the broad theme is of interest, however, most of these pieces are compelling reading.

First cab off the rank is the recent Brookings Essay, by Margaret MacMillan, entitled The Rhyme of History: Lessons of the Great War, an academic effort that draws distinct parallels between the pre-1914 world political environment, and the one that exists today.

This article — from http://www.news.com.au, of all places — contains some surprisingly good links to other pertinent material (and it is, I will confess, where I initially obtained the link to Dr MacMillan’s essay).

The Daily Mail‘s international affairs editor, Max Hastings, picked up the theme of one of the world’s present hot spots — tensions between China and Japan over a few uninhabited islands in the South China Sea — as a potential flashpoint for a conflict that could easily spiral out of control in this piece published in the Mail a week ago.

Even the Fairfax press gets in on the subject, in a rational and intelligent piece, touching on the same subjects but from the differential perspective of the economic drivers that may contribute to the ignition of any conflagration that might erupt.

Just in case anyone thinks I’m fearmongering for the sake of it, I also include this article — again, from the Daily Mail — which details a terrifying incident off the British coast, involving a Russian cruise ship with a full clip of nuclear-tipped SLBMs on board; the truly terrifying thing about it, as readers will see, isn’t even the fact that the Russians sailed enough nuclear hardware to blast the UK out of existence so close. It’s where the British naval response was parked, and had the Russians been on a live mission, it would have ended very badly, very quickly, with nary a shot fired in response.

This column is predicated on following politics and associated issues both in Australia and in the world around us, wherever they arise; that obviously covers military matters, although the bulk of what we discuss here involves the dour grind of retail and electoral politics, with a smattering of peripheral issues thrown in for good measure.

All that said, we will continue to observe matters that relate to any prospect of global military conflict, as we have done intermittently for some time.

I trust the materials included with this post are of interest to readers, and I will be keen for any feedback you may wish to offer — or any points in the attached articles that may merit further discussion within this forum.

 

World Wrap: Did 2013 Carry Us Closer To Doomsday?

AT THE END of another year, I am for once unashamedly deferring; 2013 has been a difficult year across the world, and whilst I am an optimist when it comes to world affairs, I am also a realist. Did 2013 bring the world a little closer to a nuclear apocalypse? Today we consider a piece by British-American historian Dr Tim Stanley, and his summation of the year behind us — and its messages for the year ahead.

For once I’m not going to say much; I know I threaten often to be brief, only to find a 1,500 word essay on my screen when I have finished. Today I seek only to share — it is New Year’s Eve, after all — and to offer a few thoughts and some opinion.

The article I am linking to today by Dr Stanley appeared yesterday in the UK in The Telegraph, and I have chosen to share it because it not only evaluates the state of global affairs through conservative eyes, but considers them through the dual prisms of two distinct (but complementary) threads of conservative thought.

I urge readers to read it: makes a lot of sense.

There are a lot of the same subjects in Dr Stanley’s piece that we have touched on in this column: the benefits of globalisation and economic liberalism; the need to ensure wealth remains able to be created; the dangers of socialism; and some consideration of the value of conservatism, and why that noble school of thought applies as much today as it did in the days of Locke and Burke, and more recently expressed by the likes of Friedrich Hayek.

And Dr Stanley devotes much of his article to themes we talk about here whenever they are appropriate: specifically, the ever-volatile nature of global politics, and how easily a miscalculation could lead to trouble on an unprecedented scale; to be sure, these concerns cover much of his article, and I think it important to note that issues we have talked about here — the potential for military confrontation with Russia in Syria, the danger of North Korea, and the military adventures of China and their ramifications, to recall a few — are equally taken on by others in a mainstream context across the Western world.

Dr Stanley’s piece is written for a British audience, and conspicuously so, but it could as easily have been penned with Australian eyes in mind. Rather than pick it apart and talk about it in detail, I will be interested in any reader comments today: the discussion, such as it is, will flow from these, and I will involve myself in any debate that arises as those who do so peruse his article, and share their thoughts.

Is the glass half empty, or half full?

 

I should also like to take the opportunity to thank all readers of The Red And The Blue for their readership, loyalty and referrals during 2013 — in the full knowledge, of course, that many do not share my views, or the principles of conservatism that inform them. No matter: the brief here is to present issues for political discussion at the level of the “everyday Joe,” free (as far as restraint allows me!) of highbrow jargon or bogging down too far in advanced concepts that typically turn people off politics, and to get people talking about them. Our readership has increased by more than 350% this year, for which I thank you, and I ask you to invite those around you with an interest in the matters we talk about here to trial the site and to get involved in the conversation.

Politics is all around us, and not just confined to Canberra, or Spring Street, or the Melbourne Town Hall, or the equivalent of these where you live: it affects everything we do, and shapes our lives; in turn (and even if many fail to realise it), it is also directly shaped by each of us.

 

I trust all readers enjoy a festive New Year celebration tonight; be safe, and by all means drink (but leave one in the fridge at the end of the night for tomorrow, so to speak): my drop of choice at present is comprised of some fine beers from Bavaria (in breach of my usual red wine and Islay single malt habits) and I intend to enjoy several of them. Once the festivities are over, I look forward to picking our discussion up again later in the week.

North Korea: Excellent Horse-Like (Dead) Lady

THE SEQUEL to the “Excellent Horse-Like Lady” phenomenon in North Korea that we covered last year played out last week, with reports that the singer, and mistress of dictator Kim Jong-Un, was executed last week for filming a sex tape. It’s a troubling reflection on the North Korean junta.

I’m not going to spend long on this issue, but in light of the fact I poked fun at the North Korean smash hit “Excellent Horse-Like Lady” last year in this column I think it only right to appraise readers of the unfortunate ending the whole episode has met.

Reports around the world indicate that the lead singer of the band that recorded the song, Hyon Song-wol, has been executed, along with several associates, for apparently making a video of themselves having sex with each other and selling it.

This comprehensive report — from The Telegraph in the UK — is reflective of the information becoming available through news multiple channels.

The “crime” is puzzling from a uniquely North Korean perspective, as pornography and smut are commodities that are not just legal in North Korea, but extremely and openly popular with its citizens.

It is perhaps a reflection on the peccadilloes of members of the North Korean junta that an otherwise brutally hardline regime would tolerate something that is, typically, one of the first things censored out of existence and driven underground in such societies.

Even so, the brutal nature of the execution — Hyon was reportedly killed by rounds of machine gun fire; a previous execution was enacted using a mortar round — underlines the nihilistic violence that passes as everyday government business in this most repressed of states.

For those unfamiliar with the “Excellent Horse-Like Lady” story from its original run last July, the link I’ve posted to my article at the time, at the top of this one, is worth visiting (as is the “music” video I have linked that earlier article with as well).

But rather than laughing, this time I’m shaking my head…

It could only happen in North Korea.

BREAKING: “State Of War:” North Korea Ratchets Up Rhetoric To Boiling Point

NORTH Korea this morning announced that a “state of war” now exists between itself and South Korea, and that it will deal with each inter-Korea issue “accordingly;” whilst the latest rhetorical flourish is consistent with talk and no action, it raises the atmospherics of the standoff to boiling point.

Clearly, we have followed this issue quite closely; and whilst I restate — again — my belief that the bluff and bluster from North Korea will come to nothing in terms of military conflict, it would equally be unsurprising if it did.

Declaring that the “longstanding situation of the Korean peninsula being neither at peace nor at war is finally over,” through a statement posted on the KCNA website I provided a link to last night, the DPRK declared that all matters between North and South Korea will now be dealt with “according to wartime protocol.”

The statement went on to warn that any military “provocations” from South Korea and/or the United States would result “in a full-scale conflict and a nuclear war.”

And since we last discussed the situation on the Korean peninsula at length, Russia has now weighed in, predictably echoing the posturing from China, which advocates a general cooling of tensions on all sides but failing to either admonish nor reprimand the DPRK for wilfully escalating tensions in the first place.

It bears remembering that North Korea has, on numerous occasions withdrawn from the armistice that brought the Korean War to a ceasefire, cut its links with the South, and/or decreed that a state of war exists between North and South.

The problem however is that the rhetoric on this occasion has gone far further than it ever has and, ominously, there are specific and explicit threats of nuclear strikes against defined targets being thrown around by the DPRK like confetti.

Despite the bluster and the sinister rhetoric, the real risk is that North Korea is painting itself into a corner, with nowhere else to go except into battle; and even if its threats of nuclear apocalypse prove meaningless (as is overwhelmingly probable), even a minor confrontation with the South risks developing into a wider and messier conflagration.

For the interest of readers, I include a link to another excellent article providing more analysis of the situation here; this is from the New York Times.

We will — as ever — keep a close eye on this as it continues to develop.

Interesting Links On The North Korea Situation

JUST to follow up on the articles I have posted on the escalating tensions between North Korea and its “hated enemies” — the USA, the South Korean government, and Japan — I’m posting a couple of links tonight which readers may find of interest.

Whilst acknowledging the dangers — and not least given North Korea and its incendiary rhetoric have gone far further than the usual empty bluster it engages in — I still think the most likely outcome of the rising crisis on the Korean peninsula is that nothing will happen.

Even so, any country or regime promising “all out nuclear war” on anyone — especially when it’s three of our biggest trading partners in Japan, South Korea and the USA, the latter also being the owner of thousands of multi-megaton nuclear weapons — needs to be taken seriously to the extent they are monitored, their words and actions analysed, and contingencies prepared for even if such preparations are never acted upon.

It is for these reasons that I have written the occasional article on the present flare-up between the DPRK and everyone else — even if the latest round of belligerent bluster proves to be nothing more, I think it’s important to cover it, given we talk about events in other parts of the world too.

With this in mind, I wanted to share a good article from the BBC World News agency, which you can access here; this article also has some links to other material of interest about North Korea, its threats, and reaction and analysis — including from the South.

I note that it also links to an obituary for dead DPRK leader Kim Jong-Il, father of present leader Kim Jong-Un; it may amuse/interest/perplex/disgust readers to know that one of the favourite articles I have written and published in this column over the past two years was my own obituary for Kim Jong-Il; you can access that article here.

(And knowing I get quite a bit of traffic from readers in South Korea, I hope our friends in the South enjoy it too — the guy caused you enough trouble over the years).

Finally, for those who have either not heard of it or never been able to find it, I wanted to share a link to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) website — the official North Korean “bulletin board” for posting propaganda, threats and seriously weird stuff for the benefit of the outside world. You can access that little gem here.

The site is hosted by an internet server in Japan, which is no real surprise given the internet is really the preserve of the ruling elite in North Korea — even if Japan is a starring member of the DPRK’s murderous hit list.

Somehow, the mangled English the translations feature really add something; as readers will see, much of the ranting that is published on this site has a distinctly surreal feel about it anyway, but the broken sentences and words mismatched to their intended meaning take the experience to another level altogether.

I trust readers will find the material included in these links to be of interest and — whilst not detracting from the potential gravity of the situation on the Korean Peninsula at present — some amusement as well.

 

Pyongyang: We’ll Nuke South Korea, Japan, Guam, Hawaii And Mainland USA

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.

A Nuclear Strike On LA? Pyongyang Would Glow In The Dark

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.