After the recent series of mishaps and underestimations since 28th July, America finally engaged in a periodic military drill with South Korea which has been considered by the North Korea as an invasion rehearsal. North Korea’s military said in a statement that it would launch an unspecified “merciless retaliation and unsparing punishment” on the United States over the Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills that began Monday for an 11-day run.
The tensions are common whenever North Korea tests any missiles or the US-South Korea engage in any form of military drills, but this time it escalated quickly. Though there hasn’t been a consensus among defence experts over the effectiveness of pressure, persuasiveness and pre-emptive strikes, the possibility of war is still on the table involving any debate on the solution. There has largely been discussions over how North Korea is still not a problem to American land. The US is very capable of defending any attack made by North Korea. But in the midst of the speech battles and power flexing in the pacific, one thing that the media, both in US and around the world, has continuously stressed is how expecting a North Korean reach to American soil is gross trepidation, but what they failed to cover was its reach to the South Korean soil. Kim’s missiles don’t actually need to hit America, any attack on South Korea can be equally damaging. And speeches like those by Trump, actually need to be reminded of this possibility. The possibility that North Korea just needs an excuse to start a war, they are just waiting to gather enough leverage.
Surprisingly, most of the US administration (Except for Trump’s “Fire and Fury”) has been really low key in handling things on their side. That is because any action now can only make things worse. If the reaction to the test on July 28th consisted largely of gestures and vague threats, that is because the options are either improbable (constructive talks with Mr Kim), feeble (tougher sanctions) or terrifying (pre-emptive military action). Now the sole aim is to keep going as per the routine and not indulge in any kind of dialogue or give Pyongyang any reason for aggression.
No matter which side you are on… Kim Jong Un’s side (but then how are you even reading this ? ) or America’s side, one thing is quite clear and that’s that no one wants a war…
- Kim Jong Un knows that there is no chance of him being victorious given the present state of both militaries and that is precisely why this battle since 28th of July has largely been a war of words and nothing else. It is quite clear to both North Korea and US that Kim’s missiles are in no mood of attacking US. at least not till they gain the ultimate leverage- Nuclear Power.
- On the other side, the US, currently, is quite busy dealing with its interior problems and is not very keen on indulging in any offshore ventures. Moreover, its previous efforts have shown that any attempt to overthrow a regime like this without any mechanism to support it in place can be recipe for the next budding extremist group. And in this case, the recipient would be directly the US of A coz keep in mind these are the people who’ve spent their entire lives exposed to anti-American propaganda. The enemy this time time won’t be west, but solely the Americans.
- Even though it seems quite obvious, I am just gonna say it. The world as a whole does not want this collision course either. We already have a lot of problems and uncertainties to deal with at the moment, with the middle east, an everlasting refugee crisis, and a slowed world economy that’s still under transformation, there is just no more room for any more addition.
…But its the tensions that everybody wants
Pyongyang and its regime is not that gullible and naive as most of the world thinks, the recent threats are a mere reminder of an age old rhetoric of hate America to its audience. North Korea has 4th largest military on earth. Kim Jong Un followed his father’s (and every other dictator’s) policy of military first. This huge expenditure is critical to the survival of his regime and he justifies it as the only possible way to protect them from a host of imminent invasions. Kim Jong Un is just following the textbook moves used by any and every dictator in the history. He knows that in order to justify his actions, he needs to keep this hatred alive. He knows that people only need a leader when they fight a war(supposedly) no war means no need for a leader. The secret recipe is to keep the anger alive in Korean minds, keep them busy with America and they won’t question the leadership. So, this constant micro threats are just a formula to stay in power. Pyongyang knows that it cannot fight a real war but there is actually no need of one to be honest. They just need to assure the people of it and the job is done.
Americans too know this, but they also know that they need some way to force Kim to give away his nuclear toys. But as mentioned before, there are very limited options available and most of them are either way too feeble or way too terrifying. Washington knows Pyongyang’s strategy of fidgeting till leverage but it also knows that war is not an option. The only option available to US is to keep the pressure on, without being too offensive at the same time, and hope that North Korea doesn’t call its bluff.
One of the key players in this scene that we are missing out is China, the middleman in the scene, who is probably in the worst position in this turmoil. US wants china to help from his side and impose stricter sanctions against the North whereas North Korea wants and considers him as an integral ally in his fight with the US. Now China needs to show at least some hostility towards Kim if it wants to show face internationally but at the same time he needs to keep reassuring North Korea – one of his closest allies – that If time comes, I’ve got your back. Its the real dilemma because choosing the sanction route means not just the loss of a close ally but also loss of huge trade as North Korea’s 90% trade comes from China. But if it supports Pyongyang, there is absolutely no way how it will explain the decision internationally especially given that it has been the leader against India’s nuclear policies. Also, a full fledged war means a loss of close ally along with unified Korea that is straight-forward pro-American and, not to mention, that the next day China will be sharing its borders with US troops and their nukes which would be the last thing China would want.
In such a scenario, the best bet could be (reaffirming the headline) to just hope nothing happens and the situation goes down just the way everyone expects it to go i.e; nothing more than a dialogue exchange. This way, it can go back to criticising North Korea globally while keeping its trade at the same time and keep reaffirming its promise to Pyongyang.
Another possibility would be to bring China into the centre of the frame instead of just the six party talks and convince it that a nuke free North Korea is better not just for US but for China too, or at least make China share some more responsibility of keeping Pyongyang under check. This is not a new idea in context of North Korea, it has been done in the history too during the Korean War. In the present context, a lot of effort has already been made and even now constant talks are being done at various levels in this context. But the response is still awaited.
In the end, it would be quite conclusive to say that the best option for everyone is to just let the things move as they are while continuing their efforts to pressurise North Korea on other fronts like stricter sanctions, constructive talks or outside help. But this is definitely an ambitious goal and certainly an uncertain one.