According to the best-informed US analysts, the response to North Korea’s further military escalation should consist in Japan’s and South Korea’s nuclear rearmament. It would be the response, but also the explicit justification, for North Korea’s rearmament. According to the US military decision-makers, however, the preventive conventional confrontation could be divided into four alternatives:
1) the launch of Tomahawk missiles from the land and sea borders, but certainly North Korea would respond immediately, by also using the approximately sixty tunnels in the territory of the South Republic and its underground military airports in the North.
2) Bombings on North Korea by Stealth aircraft which – as North Korea knows all too well – can carry nuclear warheads. Also in this case, however, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea could react by hitting the US bombers directly or by launching limited missile attacks against US installations in South Korea.
3) The US aircraft launch of some Massive Ordnance Penetrators (MOPs), the new “bunker buster” bombs penetrating and destroying tunnels, hardened targets or targets buried deep underground – an action coupled with that of the “electromagnetic railguns” that could be fired by some US ships. A Hollywood action movie scenario having two limits: the low reliability of the two new weapons and the fact that North Korea has not only hidden, but also visible bases.
Moreover, the visible bases can react to the US operations from the South or from the sea in a very short time, shorter than the duration of the US attack itself.
It is also worth noting the scarce trust the US military decision-makers have in the South Korean armed forces, never mentioned in these programs.
In North Korea, the US Presidency wants to hit mainly the structures producing and collecting nuclear weapons; the facilities to build and keep missiles; launch bases, especially the mobile ones; the nuclear submarine ports and the artillery stations near the Demilitarized Zone.
Hence let us do some accounting.
North Korea has ten major military bases; fourteen missile launch bases in addition to at least ten additional mobile bases already in operation; two bases for nuclear tests and sixty-four nuclear weapons already available.
Too many targets to enable the United States, and possibly South Korea, to carry out a limited action on the Demilitarized Line not triggering off a response at the highest level.
If the US forces’ operations are targeted they are irrelevant, while if they cause significant damage they are a real act of war.
As often repeated by Kim Jong Un, North Korea sees the US strategy in “peripheral” countries, now defined by the end of Saddam Hussein and Muammar al-Gaddafi.
Considering those examples, the North Korean leader does not trust the United States should they win a war against him.
Hence any attack on North Korea, albeit limited, would immediately trigger off the greatest possible reaction.
Furthermore, pending a US attack – also only counterforce and not counter-resource – North Korea could also attack, with conventional carriers, the South Korean areas the United States needs as bases.
Currently the US military installations in South Korea are twenty-seven, all in areas that can be hit by North Korean missiles with an acceptable degree of precision and accuracy.
According to the Western intelligence sources, with approximately sixty nuclear warheads available; a potential missile average range of 10,400 kilometres; 5,000 tons of nerve gas already stocked; 1,300 aircraft; 300 helicopters; 430 warships; 70 submarines; 4,300 tanks; 2,500 armoured vehicles and 5,500 multiple launchers, North Korea is by no means an easy opponent.
Obviously such a military build-up can safely sustain a second nuclear strike and launch a second nuclear salvo against the enemy even after a first nuclear attack from the United States and South Korea, as well as maintain sufficient conventional forces to be used after the exchange of nuclear strikes.
It is also worth adding that South Korea’s central Command has claimed it suffered a cyberattack in December 2016, which means that North Korea has all South Korea’s Command plans available and, we assume, even much of the US military planning involving South Korean forces.
As maintained in a recent Workers’ Party document, the North Korean nuclear forces are not a way to get money from “imperialists”.
As claimed by the North Korean single Party’s leadership, they are a way to reaffirm their independence until “imperialists” disarm their nuclear warheads “all over the world.”
Reading between the lines, this is the ideological rationale of the construction of missiles capable of reaching the US territory, so as to simultaneously threaten both the US allies in Southeast Asia and Japan and the United States itself.
As already seen, the layout of bases and the amount of warheads do not permit a US “surgical” action which, however, would be interpreted as the beginning of a real war.
In 2016, North Korea carried out over 20 missile launches. Strategically this means that North Korea wants to mainly implement the intercontinental and the submarine-launched ballistic missile sectors, in particular.
This is a way to increase the likelihood threshold for nuclear or conventional attacks and to create “double deterrence”, namely deterrence towards the US stations in the Pacific and on the US territory.
Furthermore Kim Jong Un is steadily in power and he is rapidly getting stronger.
Since his rise to power in 2011, the North Korean leader has “eliminated” at least seventy officials or military officers, in addition to a much larger number of them who have been “purged” according to the best traditions of Communist Parties in power.
Kim Jong Un’s policy line has been designed to combine military and economic development – the policy line the Workers’ Party has hoped since 2003, by supporting North Korea’s entry into the “knowledge-based economy” and the expansion of “light industry”.
This is the Korean translation of the Chinese model of economic reform after the Four Modernizations. It is the North Korean variation of Xi Jinping’s “great reform”, although the two countries are currently not in the best phase of their relations.
From a strategic viewpoint, China views for North Korea the implementation of three points, summarized in a principle that Xi Jinping plans to support with the utmost clarity and speed: “no war, no instability and no nuclear weapons” – a principle that after the 2013 tests has been reworded in the policy line of ” denuclearization, peace, stability and fast resumption of the Six Party Talks”.
I think that the Chinese policy is fully rational.
China does not want a strong nuclear power on its borders, even if it were a friendly country.
Certainly, North Korea is an excellent buffer State avoiding the contact between the forces of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the US forces in South Korea – a primary strategic target.
Nevertheless if the North Korean nuclear strategy gets global and capable of making both the US territory and some Pacific countries – with which China has and wants to maintain good relations – the target of a nuclear attack, the calculation of the Chinese strategic equation on North Korea gets complex and not necessarily positive.
Moreover, the Chinese ruling class is still divided on North Korea’s denuclearization. The Chinese decision-makers fear a collapse of the regime following the denuclearization and hence a crisis that would immediately affect China’s territory.
Hence it is exactly this ambiguity among the Chinese leaders which enables North Korea to keep on strengthening and upgrading its nuclear arsenal undisturbed.
Currently, however, the perceptions of the two main players, namely the United States and North Korea, are still to be changed in the light of a better understanding of both countries’ global strategy.
The United States and South Korea do not want to invade the North Korean territory.
The United States does not want new territories. It possibly wants “friendly” States not annoying it militarily, hosting their bases – and the United States already have nearly 800 bases around the world – not signing adverse commercial agreements and accepting the dollar in international transactions. Nothing else.
Or, more precisely, only the United States has no interest in following this military option.
And it is the country organizing South Korean forces.
Hence the United States has no interest in direct invasion. Indeed, the more North Korea extends its range of ICBMs, the more the United States feels threatened, in a region where it wants to maintain its hegemony. Therefore the United States can be really pushed to organize a preventive attack.
Probably said attack would end up as already described. In that case, however, two new factors should be assessed: North Korea’s comparative weakness faced with a long-range attack, which would certainly cause some serious damage, and the North Korean forces’ immediate reaction, which would not make the US attack easy.
Moreover, we must consider the reaction of the Russian Federation and China, which would surely strengthen their defences on the border with North Korea, in their maritime area, and would condemn the United States, as usual. Finally they would be strategically obliged to give again credit to North Korea’s nuclear and missile activities.
The United States must not always think that the leader of a country not accepting its hegemony is always “crazy.”
It did so with Hitler, who had some psychological disorders but was not crazy – otherwise we should think that the huge German masses who followed him were mad. The same holds true for Mussolini, who had syphilis but was not crazy, as well as for all the Third World leaders who did not accept the division of the world after the Second World War.
Like it or not, Kim Jong Un’s strategy makes both China and Russia enter the game. They are both interested in the denuclearization of the entire Korean peninsula – hence the United States must consider both countries’ possible moves, which do not depend on assessments regarding North Korea’s alleged “crazy” leader, but on objective analyses of the strategic interests on the field.
The first possible move could be to support Kim Jong Un and the second one – not ruling out the former one – would be a credible denial area on the sea, directed mainly against the US and South Korean operations.
Furthermore, considering Trump’s leadership problems at national level, he could seriously be tempted to carry out a military action that would set internal tensions aside and would also be the implementation, in foreign policy, of the principle “America First”.
If China and Russia do not make North Korea understand that the old brinkmanship theory is now over, something irreparable will probably happen.
Furthermore the United States currently understands nothing of what happens beyond its borders. Years of “exporting democracy” and Arab Springs have not enabled the US leaders to be updated on the political, cultural and social evolutions of the countries with which they come into contact.
Therefore, although currently there are three secret communication channels between the United States and North Korea, it cannot be said that the United States can truly understand the North Korean strategic logic.
Currently Russia and China could do without North Korea. They can leverage with the United States alone and do no longer need the North Korean “dragon’s snout”.
This is a disadvantage for Kim Jong Un. Both powers, however, do not yet understand Trump’s foreign policy and, in doubt, they could choose the most adverse variable vis-à-vis the United States
I am sure that Kim Jong Un knows this and also knows how to analyse this data.
China’s and Russia’s interest, however, is always to contain the United States in South Korea, as well as avoid military contact and, above all, prevent a denial area coming from South Korea.
Beyond this limit, both countries are no longer interested in North Korea’s nuclear power and capacity.
Hence the North Korean leader can rethink his nuclear and conventional strategy, by relating it – at least for a small part – to the Asian Heartland strategy.
Therefore the 2005 Six Party Talks should be resumed immediately.
With these fundamental policy lines and aims: a peace treaty between the two Koreas; North Korea’s denuclearization, but also partial denuclearization of South Korea, with a reduction of US forces stationed on the South Korean territory; economic and technological support to North Korea; establishment of normal diplomatic relations between North Korea, the United States and Japan; energy cooperation.
Importance of peace in Afghanistan is vital for China
There are multiple passages from Afghanistan to China, like Wakhan Corridor that is 92 km long, stretching to Xinjiang in China. It was formed in 1893 as a result of an agreement between the British Empire and Afghanistan. Another is Chalachigu valley that shares the border with Tajikistan to the north, Pakistan to the south, and Afghanistan to the west. It is referred to as the Chinese part of the Wakhan Corridor. However, the Chinese side of the valley is closed to the public and only local shepherds are allowed. Then there is Wakhjir Pass on the eastern side of the Wakhan corridor but is not accessible to the general public. The terrain is rough on the Afghan side. There are no roads along the Wakhjir Pass, most of the terrain is a dirt track. Like other passages, it can only be accessed via either animals or SUVs, and also due to extreme weather it is open for only seven months throughout the year. North Wakhjir Pass, also called Tegermansu Pass, is mountainous on the border of China and Afghanistan. It stretches from Tegermansu valley on the east and Chalachigu Valley in Xinjiang. All of these passages are extremely uncertain and rough which makes them too risky to be used for trade purposes. For example, the Chalagigu valley and Wakhjir Pass are an engineering nightmare to develop, let alone make them viable.
Similarly, the Pamir mountain range is also unstable and prone to landslides. Both of these routes also experience extreme weather conditions. Alternatives: Since most of the passages are risky for travel, alternatively, trade activities can be routed via Pakistan. For example, there is an access road at the North Wakhjir that connects to Karakoram Highway.
By expanding the road network from Taxkorgan in Xinjiang to Gilgit, using the Karakoram Highway is a probable option. Land routes in Pakistan are already being developed for better connectivity between Islamabad and Beijing as part of CPEC. These routes stretch from Gwadar up to the North.
The Motorway M-1, which runs from Islamabad to Peshawar can be used to link Afghanistan via Landi Kotal. Although the Karakoram highway also suffers from extreme weather and landslides, it is easier for engineers to handle as compared to those in Afghanistan.
China is the first door neighbor of Afghanistan having a common border. If anything happens in Afghanistan will have a direct impact on China. China has a declared policy of peaceful developments and has abandoned all disputes and adversaries for the time being and focused only on economic developments. For economic developments, social stability and security is a pre-requisite. So China emphasizes peace and stability in Afghanistan. It is China’s requirement that its border with Afghanistan should be secured, and restrict movements of any unwanted individuals or groups. China is compelled by any government in Afghanistan to ensure the safety of its borders in the region.
Taliban has ensured china that, its territory will not use against China and will never support any insurgency in China. Based on this confidence, China is cooperating with the Taliban in all possible manners. On the other hand, China is a responsible nation and obliged to extend humanitarian assistance to starving Afghans. While, the US is coercing and exerting pressures on the Taliban Government to collapse, by freezing their assets, and cutting all economic assistance, and lobbying with its Western allies, for exerting economic pressures on the Taliban, irrespective of human catastrophe in Afghanistan. China is generously assisting in saving human lives in Afghanistan. Whereas, the US is preferring politics over human lives in Afghanistan.
The US has destroyed Afghanistan during the last two decades, infrastructure was damaged completely, Agriculture was destroyed, Industry was destroyed, and the economy was a total disaster. While, China is assisting Afghanistan to rebuild its infrastructure, revive agriculture, industrialization is on its way. Chinese mega initiative, Belt and Road (BRI) is hope for Afghanistan.
A peaceful Afghanistan is a guarantee for peace and stability in China, especially in the bordering areas. The importance of Afghan peace is well conceived by China and practically, China is supporting peace and stability in Afghanistan. In fact, all the neighboring countries, and regional countries, are agreed upon by consensus that peace and stability in Afghanistan is a must and prerequisite for whole regions’ development and prosperity.
Shared Territorial Concern, Opposition to US Intervention Prompt Russia’s Support to China on Taiwan Question
The situation around the island of Taiwan is raising concerns not only in Chinese mainland, Taiwan island or in the US, but also in the whole world. Nobody would like to see a large-scale military clash between China and the US in the East Pacific. Potential repercussions of such a clash, even if it does not escalate to the nuclear level, might be catastrophic for the global economy and strategic stability, not to mention huge losses in blood and treasure for both sides in this conflict.
Earlier this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that Moscow continued to firmly support Beijing’s position on Taiwan as an integral part of China. Moreover, he also underlined that Moscow would support Beijing in its legitimate efforts to reunite the breakaway province with the rest of the country. A number of foreign media outlets paid particular attention not to what Lavrov actually said, but omitted his other remarks: the Russian official did not add that Moscow expects reunification to be peaceful and gradual in a way that is similar to China’s repossession of Hong Kong. Many observers of the new Taiwan Straits crisis unfolding concluded that Lavrov’s statement was a clear signal to all parties of the crisis: Russia would likely back even Beijing’s military takeover of the island.
Of course, diplomacy is an art of ambiguity. Lavrov clearly did not call for a military solution to the Taiwan problem. Still, his remarks were more blunt and more supportive of Beijing than the standard Russia’s rhetoric on the issue. Why? One possible explanation is that the Russian official simply wanted to sound nice to China as Russia’s major strategic partner. As they say, “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Another explanation is that Lavrov recalled the Russian experience with Chechnya some time ago, when Moscow had to fight two bloody wars to suppress secessionism in the North Caucasus. Territorial integrity means a lot for the Russian leadership. This is something that is worth spilling blood for.
However, one can also imagine that in Russia they simply do not believe that if things go really bad for Taiwan island, the US would dare to come to its rescue and that in the end of the day Taipei would have to yield to Beijing without a single shot fired. Therefore, the risks of a large-scale military conflict in the East Pacific are perceived as relatively low, no matter what apocalyptic scenarios various military experts might come up with.
Indeed, over last 10 or 15 years the US has developed a pretty nasty habit of inciting its friends and partners to take risky and even reckless decisions and of letting these friends and partners down, when the latter had to foot the bill for these decisions. In 2008, the Bush administration explicitly or implicitly encouraged Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili to launch a military operation against South Ossetia including killing some Russian peacekeepers stationed there. But when Russia interfered to stop and to roll back the Georgian offensive, unfortunate Saakashvili was de-facto abandoned by Washington.
During the Ukrainian conflicts of 2013-14, the Obama administration enthusiastically supported the overthrow of the legitimate president in Kiev. However, it later preferred to delegate the management of the crisis to Berlin and to Paris, abstaining from taking part in the Normandy process and from signing the Minsk Agreements. In 2019, President Donald Trump promised his full support to Juan Guaidó, Head of the National Assembly in Venezuela, in his crusade against President Nicolas when the government of Maduro demonstrated its spectacular resilience. Juan Guaido very soon almost completely disappeared from Washington’s political radar screens.
Earlier this year the Biden administration stated its firm commitment to shouldering President Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan in his resistance to Taliban advancements. But when push came to shove, the US easily abandoned its local allies, evacuated its military personal in a rush and left President Ghani to seek political asylum in the United Arab Emirates.
Again and again, Washington gives reasons to conclude that its partners, clients and even allies can no longer consider it as a credible security provider. Would the US make an exception for the Taiwan island? Of course, one can argue that the Taiwan island is more important for the US than Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ukraine and Georgia taken together. But the price for supporting the Taiwan island could also be much higher for the US than the price it would have paid in many other crisis situations. The chances of the US losing to China over Taiwan island, even if Washington mobilizes all of its available military power against Beijing, are also very high. Still, we do not see such a mobilization taking place now. It appears that the Biden administration is not ready for a real showdown with Beijing over the Taiwan question.
If the US does not put its whole weight behind the Taiwan island, the latter will have to seek some kind of accommodation with the mainland on terms abandoning its pipe-dreams of self-determination and independence. This is clear to politicians not only in East Asia, but all over the place, including Moscow. Therefore, Sergey Lavrov has reasons to firmly align himself with the Chinese position. The assumption in the Kremlin is that Uncle Sam will not dare to challenge militarily the Middle Kingdom. Not this time.
From our partner RIAC
Russia-Japan Relations: Were Abe’s Efforts In Vain?
Expanding the modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward.
One year after the end of Shinzo Abe’s long period of leadership, Japan has a new prime minister once again. The greatest foreign policy challenge the new Japanese government led by Fumio Kishida is facing is the intensifying confrontation between its large neighbor China and its main ally America. In addition to moves to energize the Quad group to which Japan belongs alongside Australia, India, and the United States, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has concluded a deal with Canberra and London to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines which in future could patrol the Western Pacific close to Chinese shores. The geopolitical fault lines in the Indo-Pacific region are fast turning into frontlines.
In this context, does anything remain of the eight-year-long effort by former prime minister Abe to improve relations with Russia on the basis of greater economic engagement tailored to Moscow’s needs? Russia’s relations with China continue to develop, including in the military domain; Russia’s constitutional amendments passed last year prohibit the handover of Russian territory, which doesn’t bode well for the long-running territorial dispute with Japan over the South Kuril Islands; and Russian officials and state-run media have been remembering and condemning the Japanese military’s conduct during World War II, something they chose to play down in the past. True, Moscow has invited Tokyo to participate in economic projects on the South Kuril Islands, but on Russian terms and without an exclusive status.
To many, the answer to the above question is clear, and it is negative. Yet that attitude amounts to de facto resignation, a questionable approach. Despite the oft-cited but erroneous Cold War analogy, the present Sino-American confrontation has created two poles in the global system, but not—at least, not yet—two blocs. Again, despite the popular and equally incorrect interpretation, Moscow is not Beijing’s follower or vassal. As a power that is particularly sensitive about its own sovereignty, Russia seeks to maintain an equilibrium—which is not the same as equidistance—between its prime partner and its main adversary. Tokyo would do well to understand that and take it into account as it structures its foreign relations.
The territorial dispute with Russia is considered to be very important for the Japanese people, but it is more symbolic than substantive. In practical terms, the biggest achievement of the Abe era in Japan-Russia relations was the founding of a format for high-level security and foreign policy consultations between the two countries. With security issues topping the agenda in the Indo-Pacific, maintaining the channel for private direct exchanges with a neighboring great power that the “2+2” formula offers is of high value. Such a format is a trademark of Abe’s foreign policy which, while being loyal to Japan’s American ally, prided itself on pursuing Japanese national interests rather than solely relying on others to take them into account.
Kishida, who for five years served as Abe’s foreign minister, will now have a chance to put his own stamp on the country’s foreign policy. Yet it makes sense for him to build on the accomplishments of his predecessor, such as using the unique consultation mechanism mentioned above to address geopolitical and security issues in the Indo-Pacific region, from North Korea to Afghanistan. Even under Abe, Japan’s economic engagement with Russia was by no means charity. The Russian leadership’s recent initiatives to shift more resources to eastern Siberia offer new opportunities to Japanese companies, just like Russia’s early plans for energy transition in response to climate change, and the ongoing development projects in the Arctic. In September 2021, the annual Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok did not feature top-level Japanese participation, but that should be an exception, not the rule.
Japan will remain a trusted ally of the United States for the foreseeable future. It is also safe to predict that at least in the medium term, and possibly longer, the Russo-Chinese partnership will continue to grow. That is no reason for Moscow and Tokyo to regard each other as adversaries, however. Moreover, since an armed conflict between America and China would spell a global calamity and have a high chance of turning nuclear, other major powers, including Russia and Japan, have a vital interest in preventing such a collision. Expanding the still very modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward. The absence of a peace treaty between the two countries more than seventy-five years after the end of the war is abnormal, yet that same unfinished business should serve as a stimulus to persevere. Giving up is an option, but not a good one.
From our partner RIAC
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