Tension between North Korea and the United States

T
he tension between the United States and North Korea is still mounting. In fact, in mid-May, some North Korean executives accused the US intelligence services of having made an attempt on Kim Jong-un's life. Allegedly the operation started with CIA selecting a North Korean citizen, who had already had contacts with the South Korean intelligence services, and who had to use highly poisonous chemical substances against the North Korean leader.

In addition, the attacker was supposed to have had links with a Chinese company, namely Qingdao Nazca Trade Co.

It is also likely that the attempted assassination of the North Korean leader may be the result of an internal struggle for power in the country, but obviously - at a time of very high international tension - the North Korean propaganda lays emphasis only on the United States.

However, the new South Korean President Moon Jae-In - a human rights lawyer - has repeatedly stressed that he plans to work with President Donald Trump. Nevertheless he has also stressed that he is anyway open to negotiations with North Korea without any conditions, which is certainly not what the United States wants from him.

Nor does it seem to us that the United States is building an effective strategy for dealing with North Korea and solving the tension regarding the North Korean nuclear missile system.

The issue can be solved neither with the rhetoric of "human rights" and the improbable and universalistic spreading of bipartisan democracy, as is usually the case with the US Democrats’ Presidencies, nor with a substantial block of relations with the countries of the "axis of evil", possibly pending a very dangerous military operation which, however, will never come.

This is the latest typical attitude of the Republican Presidencies.

As is well known, the operations for assassinating the political leaders disliked by the United States were blocked by Congress in the 1970s, but nothing prevents direct actions against enemy Heads of State from being still carried out, with the collaboration of the intelligence services.

This is the sign of a severe conceptual and political mistake: a political system never depends solely on its leader, but it is a complex structure that is rapidly recreated if the supreme leader falls.

Saddam's Iraq was not "bad" because Saddam Hussein was an evil man. Iran is not a member of the "axis of evil" because it is led by some extremely cruel Shiite Imams - not to mention the fact that Iran is not the world sponsor of Islamic terrorism, which is indeed strongly supported by the traditional US Sunni friends.

Psychologism and personalism are two very serious mistakes for those who want to deal seriously with global strategy and foreign policy.

Moreover, Fidel Castro’s assassination designed by CIA would have not destroyed the Cuban Communist regime, but would have made it even more radical vis-à-vis the United States.

Currently, however, which are the real strategic direction, consistency and aim of the North Korean nuclear system?

This is the only question we really need to ask, both to start realistic negotiations and to understand the geopolitical goals of the North Korean military system.

As to biological weapons, the relevant North Korean structures are the three Biological Research Institutes, included in the network of the National Academy of Sciences, as well as an Institute for Medical Research within the National Defence Academy.

Besides these three Institutes, there are as many as sixteen specialized bodies dealing with the various fields of research on and for bacteriological weapons.

With specific reference to chemical weapons, they are currently estimated at 5,000 tonnes of material.

The bodies involved in this defence sector are supposed to be 25-50, employing at least 5,000 people.

Finally, as to nuclear weapons - the best known part of the North Korean military apparatus - the institutions and political organizations controlling them are, manifold, complex and interdependent, as is often the case with North Korea.

According to a source of the South Korean intelligence services, North Korea’s nuclear sites are approximately one hundred, while other sources talk about 150 entities and sites linked to North Korea’s nuclear-military research with a total of 9,000-15,000 employees.

The Research Institutes involved in North Korea's nuclear project are 13, while the uranium currently available is estimated at 26 tonnes extracted from at least 10 mines.

Other sources talk about 33 kilos of Pu-239 and 175 kilos of enriched uranium, which should be the equivalent of 6-9 Pu-239 weapons and 13-18 enriched-uranium warheads.

Too few to be a global threat, as some US analysts believe, but enough to keep South Korea in check and, above all, Japan and the US bases in the South Pacific region.

Currently North Korea has thirteen different types of missiles, with the latest ones (Pukguksong 1 and 2, Hwasong-12, 13 and 14) that can reach targets up to 12,000 kilometres from the launch site.

Hence another future goal of the North Korean missile system is to put the North American Western territory - hence the US Pacific coast - under strategic threat.

Although there exist US and South Korean military forces specialized in   disrupting the sites for weapons of mass destruction, technically the distribution of nuclear, bacteriological and chemical resources in North Korea is such as not to facilitate the success of the debunking operations in the North Korean sites.

Operations that would be very difficult also in the event of the North Korean regime collapsing.

Just think what could happen with infiltrations from South Korea to destabilize the North Korean sites.

Hence, should North Korea collapse, the only solution for stabilizing the peninsula lies in China’s Armed Forces and policy.

In case of North Korea’s implosion, China wants only three things: regional stability, as well as the creation of a buffer State between its own territory and South Korea (which would probably also implode) and, ultimately, the denuclearization of the entire Korean peninsula, with the subsequent expulsion of US forces from South Korea.

This would result in the rapid acquisition of most North Korean nuclear and bacteriological-chemical structures by the Chinese military forces.

The Sino-Korean border is long and China could set up refugee camps and, above all, military bases to go deep into North Korea.

Certainly, the tension between North Korea and China is now palpable - hence, in the future, China may not be the ideal broker between North Korea and the West.

However, while the bilateral situation between China and North Korea is worsening, the one between Kim Jong-un’s regime and Russia still seems to be good, if not excellent.

The United States is wrong in not considering important the role played by Russia in the North Korean system, while it has long been asking for the Chinese support to settle the Korean issue with a good agreement.

All three powers, namely China, the United States and the Russian Federation, have a clear interest in denuclearizing the entire Korean peninsula.

Furthermore these three countries regard the North Korean nuclear proliferation as dangerous because it creates instability and triggers off further proliferation in other South Asian regions.

However, it would be enough to start negotiations with North Korea based on the acceptance of the status quo, enabling IAEA inspectors to return to North Korea for their nuclear monitoring activity and finally organizing economic and humanitarian support for the North Korean population - not to mention the definition of a series of industrial and financial projects to redress the North Korean economy and put it back on track so that the country could be stabilized permanently.

North Korea should accept the block of any further nuclear or biological-chemical weapons; a nuclear, biological and chemical cooperation treaty with China and Russia; a peace treaty with South Korea and the official recognition of the current borders between North and South Korea.

Moreover, according to Russia, the North Korean issue must be solved immediately to avoid nuclear proliferation, as well as the US military presence in South Korea and in the other Pacific Asian regions, and finally making economic cooperation between Russia and South Korea more effective.

As we already know, both Russia and China want the denuclearization of the entire peninsula, but only in a peaceful manner and through political negotiations.

Obviously, China intends to avoid any regional military clash on its borders, which would have catastrophic consequences for its economic and geopolitical projects - just think of the new Silk Road designed by Xi Jinping.

For Russia, military tension between the two Koreas or between North Korea and Japan would certainly be a severe danger, but not such as to directly threaten its territory.

In fact, if the shield represented by North Korea were to disappear, China would have the US Army on its borders, with all the obvious consequences this entails.

Furthermore, if North Korea imploded, China would have to be directly involved in the creation of a buffer State to avoid both South Korea's contagion and the direct confrontation with the US forces.

For Russia, military tension between the two Koreas would mean a further worsening of the confrontation with the United States in other Pacific regions. Russia mainly wants to resume the six party talks, while Putin is likely to send a special envoy to North Korea in the near future.

Hence, while President Trump does not explicitly rule out the military solution to the North Korean issue, neither Russia nor China will be of any use.

Indeed, Russia will see in the new South Korea only the expansion of the North American strategic network, which it considers the main danger to its strategic autonomy.

However, not even North Korea wants to prompt a US intervention and, in fact, in its leaders’ texts and speeches, it emphasizes the use of missiles to block the Japanese actions and, above all, those starting from the Guam US base.

Hence, reopening the six party talks, with a new format attaching priority to Russia’s and China’s participation; reaffirming the legal acceptance of North Korea and opening up the North Korean regime to the Chinese, European and Russian economies.

Giancarlo Elia Valori

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa

Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York.

He currently chairs "La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa", he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board.

In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: "A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of "Honorable" of the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France

 

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