but trump may have a degree of suicidal bravado

Why Kim Jong-Un’s Strategy Makes Sense
Federico Pieraccini, Strategic Culture, Aug 11 2017

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In the last four weeks, NK seems to have implemented the second phase of its strategy against SK, China and Pindostan. The NK nuclear program seems to have reached an important juncture, with two tests carried out at the beginning and end of July. Both missiles seem capable of hitting the CONUS, although doubts still remain over Pyongyang’s ability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead to mount it on an ICBM. However, the direction in which NK’s nuclear program is headed ensures an important regional deterrent against Japan and SK, and in some respects against Pindostan, which is the main reason for NK’s development of ICBMs. Recent history has repeatedly demonstrated the folly of trusting the West and suggests instead the building up of an arsenal that poses a serious deterrent to Pindo bellicosity. The fate of Gaddafi remains fresh in our minds. It is no mystery that from 2009 to date, NK’s nuclear capacity has increased in direct proportion to the level of distrust visited on Pyongyang by the West. Since 2009, the six-party talks concluded, Kim Jong-un has come to realize that the continuing threats, practices and arms sales of Pindostan to Japan and SK needed to be thwarted in some way in the interests of defending the sovereignty of the DPRK. Faced with infinitely lower spending capacity than the three nations mentioned, Pyongyang chose a twofold strategy: to pursue nuclear weapons as an explicit deterrence measure; and to strengthen its conventional forces, keeping in mind that Seoul is only a stone’s throw away from NK artillery. In little more than eight years, this twofold strategy has greatly strengthened the ability of the DPRK to resist infringement of its sovereignty. In contrast to the idea commonly promoted in the Western media, Pyongyang has promised not to use nuclear weapons first, reserving their use only in response to aggression against itself. In the same way, a preemptive attack on Seoul using traditional artillery would be seen as intolerable aggression, dragging Pyongyang into a devastating war. Kim Jong-un’s determination in developing conventional and nuclear deterrence has succeeded in establishing a balance of power that helps avoid a regional war and in so doing, contributes to the strengthening of overall security in the region, contrary to what many believe.

The reason that Pindostan continues to raise tensions with Pyongyang and threaten a conflict is not out of a concern for the protection of her Japanese or SK vassals, as one may initially be led to think. Pindostan has a central objective in the region that does not concern Kim Jong-un or his nuclear weapons. Rather, it is driven by the perennial necessity to increase forces in the region for the purposes of maintaining a balance of military force (Asian Pivot) and ultimately trying to contain the rise of the PRC. One might even argue that this strategy poses dangers not only to the entire region but, in the case of a confrontation between Washington and Beijing, the entire planet, given the nuclear arsenal possessed by Pijdostan and the PRC. In this respect, the triangular relationship between China, NK and SK takes on another aspect. As always, every action is accompanied with a reaction. The statement that Beijing would prefer to get rid of the DPRK leadership is without foundation. Central in the minds of Chinese policy makers is the threat of a Pindosi containment that could undermine their economic growth. This strategic planning is well-known in Pyongyang, and explains in part why the DPRK leadership still proceeds with actions that are not viewed well by Beijing. From the North Korean point of view, Beijing derives an advantage from sharing a border with the DPRK, which offers a friendly leadership not hostile to Beijing. Pyongyang is aware of the economic, political, and military burden of this situation, but tolerates it, receiving the necessary resources from Beijing to survive and develop the country.

This complex relationship leads the DPRK to carry out missile tests in the hope of gaining many benefits. First of all, it hopes to gain a regional, and possibly a global, deterrence against any surprise attacks. Secondly, it forces South Korea to have a symmetrical response to DPRK missile tests, and this strategy, coming from North Korea diplomacy, is far from improvised or incongruous. In recent years, South Korea’s response has come in the form of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, designed to intercept missiles. As repeatedly explained, it is useless against NK rockets, but poses a serious threat to the Chinese nuclear arsenal, as its powerful radars are able to scout much of China’s territory, also being ideally positioned to intercept (at least in theory) a responsive nuclear strike from China. In a nutshell, THAAD is a deadly threat to China’s strategic nuclear parity. From the point of view of the four nations involved in the region, each has different aims. For Pindostan, there are many advantages in deploying the THAAD: in increases pressure on China, as well as concludes an arms sale that is always welcomed by the military-industrial complex; it also gives the impression of addressing the DPRK nuclear problem adequately. SK finds itself in a special situation, with the former president now under arrest for corruption. The new president, Moon Jae-in, would prefer dialogue rather than the deployment of new THAAD batteries. In any case, after the latest ICBM test, Moon required an additional THAAD system in the Republic of Korea, in addition to the launchers already there. With no particular options available to conduct a diplomatic negotiation, Seoul is following Faschingstein in a spiral of escalation that certainly does not benefit the peninsula’s economic growth.

Ultimately, the PRC sees an increase in the number of THAAD carriers close to the country, and the DPRK is growing in its determination to pursue a nuclear deterrent. Indeed, the strategy of Pyongyang is working: on the one hand, they are developing a nuclear weapon to deter external enemies; on the other, they are obligating the PRC to adopt a particularly hostile attitude towards South Korea’s deployment of THAAD. In this sense, the numerous economic actions of Beijing towards Seoul can be explained as a response to the deployment of the THAAD batteries. China is the main economic partner of SK, and this trade and tourism limitation is quite damaging to SK’s economy. This tactic has been used by NK for the last several years, and the results, in addition to the recent economic crunch between the PRC and SK have indirectly led to the end of the reign of the corrupt leader Park Geun-hye, an ever-present puppet in Pindosi hands. The pressure that the DPRK applies to bilateral relations between China and SK increases with each launch of an ICBM carrier, which is the logic behind these missile tests. Pyongyang feels justified in urging China to step up actions against Seoul to force it to compromise in a diplomatic negotiation with Pyongyang without the overbearing presence of its Pindosi master pushing for war.

The main problem in the relations between SK, China and NK is represented by the Pindosi need to prevent a rapprochement between these parties. As already stated, Pindostan needs the DPRK to justify its presence in the region, aiming in reality at Chinese containment. Pyongyang has been isolated and sanctioned for almost 50 years, yet serves to secure China’s southern border in the form of a protected friend rather than an enemy. This situation, more than any UNSC sanction to which the PRC adheres, guarantees a lasting relationship between the countries. Beijing is well aware of the weight of isolationism and economic burden on NK, which is why Beijing is symmetrically increasing pressure on SK to negotiate. In this situation, Pindostan tries to remain relevant in the regional dispute, while not having the capacity to influence the Chinese decisions that clearly rely on other tactics, specifically putting pressure on SK. In military terms, as explained above, Faschingstein can not start any military confrontation against the DPRK. The consequences, in addition to millions of deaths, would lead Seoul to break relations with Faschingstein and seek an immediate armistice, cutting off Pindostan from negotiations and likely expelling Pindo troops from its territory. Ultimately, there is no SK ability to influence the political process in NK while they continue to be flanked by Pindostan in terms of warfare (very aggressive joint exercises). The influence Faschingstein can exert on Pyongyang is zero, having fired all cartridges with over half a century of sanctions.

The bottom line is that Pindostan cannot afford to attack the DPRK. Pyongyang will continue to develop its own nuclear arsenal, with Beijing’s covert blessing in spite of its officially continuing to condemn these developments. At the same time, SK is likely to persevere with a hostile attitude, especially in regard to the deployment of new THAAD batteries. Sooner or later, Seoul will come to a breaking point as a result of further restrictions on trade between China and SK. As long as Seoul is able to absorb Chinese sanctions, little will change. What will lead to a major change in the region will be the economic effect of these restrictions that will eventually oblige Seoul to consider its role in the region and its future. Seoul’s leadership is aware of three situations that will hardly change, namely: Pyongyang will never attack first; Beijing will continue to support NK rather than accept Pindostans on its border; and Faschingstein is not able to bring solutions but only greater chaos and a worsening global economic situation to the region. In the light of this scenario, time is all on the side of Beijing and Pyongyang. Eventually the economic situation for Seoul will become unbearable, bringing it to the negotiating table with a weakened and certainly precarious position. Beijing and Pyongyang have a long-term common goal, which is to break the bond of submission between SK and Pindostan, freeing Seoul from Washington’s neocon programs to contain China (on a Russia containment model). Indirectly coordinated work between Beijing and Pyongyang is hardly understandable to Western analysts, but examining every aspect, especially with regard to cause-and-effect relationships, these decisions are not so incomprehensible and even more rational in a broader viewing of the region and its balance of power. On the one hand, Seoul sees the DPRK offering peace, stability and prosperity based on a framework agreement between Seoul, Pyongyang and Beijing. This would also particularly benefit SK trade with China, eventually returning to normal relationships between countries, with important economic benefits. The alternative is an alliance with Faschingstein that would completely eliminate the economic benefits of a healthy relationship with Beijing. This could even potentially lead to a war involving millions of deaths, fought on SK soil and not in Pindostan, which does not offer any solutions to SK either in the short or long term. The only thing Faschingstein is offering is a fixed presence in the country, together with a stubborn anti-Chinese policy that would have serious economic consequences for Seoul. As paradoxical as it may seem, Kim Jong-un’s rockets are much less of a threat than is Seoul’s partnership with Faschingstein in the region, and in fact seem to offer Seoul the ultimate solution to the crisis in the peninsula.

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