Dr. Muhammad Ali Ehsan |
Before leaving the White House, former US President Barack Obama warned the incoming US (Trump) administration that ‘the most urgent threat to US national security would be North Korea’. Was he correct in his political and military assessment? Considering the fast deteriorating political and military relationship between North Korea and the USA it seems President Obama was absolutely correct when he pointed out North Korea as the immediate threat.
The most troubling question confronting the Trump administration today is “How close is North Korea in completing an intercontinental ballistic missile that can target US States?”
The cause of Obama’s concern was North Korea’s nuclear program and the 24 missile tests that North Korea had conducted (in defiance of UN security council resolution) in the year 2016 (one of them was from a submarine). The most troubling question confronting the Trump administration today is “How close is North Korea in completing an intercontinental ballistic missile that can target US States?”
Being unable to find a suitable and true answer to the question Trump and his security team is now in a deep huddle to figure out what to do and how to deal with Kim Jong Un, the 30-year-old North Korean leader whose displaying more nationalism and protectionism than President Trump himself does. The leadership of both countries, it seems, is ready to play ball and the world sits with its fingers crossed to witness the unfolding of one of the most dangerous political and military situations. While North Korea is throwing a direct challenge at it would, America find a way to combat this challenge? In the process, can it strengthen and emphasize the very idea of a world being a dangerous place if the ‘absolute policeman of the world’ is no more?
US concerns regarding North Korea
What are the options that the US government has at its disposal to deal with North Korea? Can a military option such as a preemptive strike against North Korea be a serious consideration? The answer to this question is an emphatic no. Such a choice would be an extreme end of a US policy that, although, will carry a taste of public satisfaction and assurance but the flames of war it will fan, will only gift a state of chaos in an already unstable world.
North Korea ruling party wrote that “our revolutionary forces are combat-ready to sink US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with a single strike”.
The threat i.e. North Korean KN-08, is an ICBM (under development stage) and is credited to have a range of 10000 to 13000 KMs (6200 to 8000 miles) – a range that puts the US East Coast including New York and Washington DC in the cross hairs of the missile’s aiming sight.
Chinese protested claiming ‘this deployment undermined the Chinese nuclear arsenal’.
Last month alone, North Korea fired four missiles into the Sea of Japan which the US assumed as a simulated attack on one of its bases. What followed was a war of words and some provocative military activities from both ends. First Rex Tillerson (on a visit to East Asia) said, “the time for strategic patience is over” which was followed by US President Donald Trump ordering the move of the US Aircraft carrier “USS Carl Vinson” to the waters off the Korean Peninsula (recent reports suggest it is yet to reach there). This was responded by Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of North Korea ruling party which wrote the next day that “our revolutionary forces are combat-ready to sink US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with a single strike”.
Considering the North Korean threat to be serious, the United States has already deployed the patriot Missile System in South Korea. It has further reinforced South Korean anti-missile defense by deploying THAAD (Theatre High altitude Area Defence) anti- ballistic missile system. Since the radars of the missile system can see deep into the Chinese territory, the Chinese protested claiming ‘this deployment undermined the Chinese nuclear arsenal’. THAAD missiles target the short and intermediate missiles in a descent mode (terminal phase at an altitude of 40 to 150 KMs), thus the Chinese disputed their very military use considering the close proximity of their deployment (Seoul) to the place of originating threat (Pyongyang). The Chinese concern is valid as Americans already have two batteries of THAAD more suitably deployed for engaging the North Korean fired ballistic missiles in Japan.
Errors made by the US
US President Trump’s campaign slogan was ‘America first’ but the rapidly threatening and developing circumstances in Korean Peninsula is indicative of the fact that ‘walking the talk’ is not as easy as it appears.
The military mistakes that the US governments have committed in the past in Iraq and Afghanistan suggest that the US needs to be careful, cautious, and methodical. It must ensure that whatever the case may be its military actions must not cross an important red line – ‘no military actions to act as anything more than a deterrent.’ The most important question for President Trump is: Had the US kept the option of dialogue and door of engagement open, would we have had Iraq and Afghanistan that we have today – that too after the price paid both in blood and money? Would we even have ISIS mushroom into a kind of threat that it has become?
The United States must first make use of all the non-violent tools at its disposal and must wait for their outcome. It has to continue to execute a long-term policy of ‘pressure and containment’ simultaneously leveraging China to play a more proactive role. China accounts for 85% of North Korea’s foreign trade. It also provides oil to North Korea through an oil pipeline – shutting down which can also be used as a bargaining tool to pressurize the regime. Besides this, there are many North Korean migrants that work in China a luxury that the latter can ill afford to provide to people of a country that threatens to fire nuclear missiles.
If the fight is inevitable you have to strike first, ” says President Putin who is alleged to ‘offset vulnerability at home with aggressive activities abroad’.
US President Trump’s campaign slogan was ‘America first’ but the rapidly threatening and developing circumstances in Korean Peninsula is indicative of the fact that ‘walking the talk’ is not as easy as it appears. America cannot afford to shun its international peacekeeping responsibilities and pull back. If it does that, it will only increase the possibilities of more instability and more wars.
The North Korean problem must not be handled in the way Russian President Putin wants. “If the fight is inevitable you have to strike first, ” says President Putin who is alleged to ‘offset vulnerability at home with aggressive activities abroad’. With President Putin around, the world does not need another ‘chest thumping’ President whose military miscalculations may result in an end game that the world may only remember as “an avoidable nuclear catastrophe”.
There are 28,500 American troops in South Korea. Add the American naval power and its enviable air power to it and one can make out that the threats to North Korea are not hollow.
If Trump administration can find out a way of bringing the North Korean leader to the negotiating table soon, it is fine, otherwise, the chances are we might be looking at Mr. Trump creating a bigger mess than his predecessors created in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Dr. Muhammad Ali Ehsan did his doctorate in International Relations from Karachi Univ; where he also teaches. His Ph.D. work is on ‘Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan’. He served for 25 years, in Pakistan Army, and remained an Instructor in Pakistan Military Academy. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.