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article imageOp-Ed: Kim Jong Un challenges Trump with a slap in the face

By Paul Wallis     Nov 29, 2017 in Politics
Washington D.c. - “It will never happen”, “We won’t allow it to happen”, it’s happened. The Trump administration has obviously not managed to deter North Korea (DPRK) from its nuclear goals.
The North Korean missile test yesterday is a straight out challenge to America. Whether the missile can hit the United States or not, it’s scored a bullseye on American diplomacy and prestige in Asia.
Donald Trump has vowed to take care of it, but how? With what? On what basis? It’s very unlikely the DPRK will ever launch a nuclear attack on the US, but at what point does the US have a viable, plausible, reason for any military action?
The obvious, and apparently totally unsuccessful, alternative option is “more sanctions”. Existing sanctions have obviously not prevented major recent upgrades of the DPRK’s nuclear program. They’ve gone from multiple misfires to launching a whole different class of missile in record time. The sanctions option is at best cosmetic.
So – How did North Korea develop these weapons?
The tale of North Korea's development of nukes is pretty patchy at best in terms of hard information. It relates directly to sanctions and other measures against North Korea, too. Exactly how North Korea managed to develop all this technology would be worth investigating. It’s beyond credibility that this small, impoverished country would develop nukes from start to finish.
North Korean state television brought out Ri Chun-Hee  a senior broadcaster who only appears for sig...
North Korean state television brought out Ri Chun-Hee, a senior broadcaster who only appears for significant developments, to announce the landmark
The technology had to come from somewhere. (It's also unlikely that nobody knows where all this tech came from; but let's stick to the script of feigned global ignorance for now.)
There’s a distinctly Russian flavour to the overall North Korean missile arsenal. Soviet-style mobile launchers, for example, date back to the 1970s. The new, highly efficient missile systems are much more modern. They’re also more demanding systems, requiring logistics and backup systems to operate.
That would seem beyond the classes of systems the DPRK very visibly deploys for the cameras. In fact, the entire known North Korean military is of a very different vintage, and far less modern. So it’s not that wild a leap of logic to assume that these systems, and the supports, are relatively recent acquisitions.
Who would benefit from North Korea’s ownership of weapons capable of threatening Japan and America? The answers are more or less knee jerk reactions – China and Russia. The problem with that theory is that it’s a type of brinkmanship that even Mao and the Soviet Union only ever managed successfully in Vietnam, in the face of Nixon's vacillating policies and massive public discontent in the US.
The old Cold War theory is a catspaw – A proxy war or situation to affect the other side. Vietnam, Afghanistan, and other wars are good examples. If North Korea is a catspaw, it’s a very irritating one, and it’s scoring a few points now.
Interestingly, the Russians have been talking about North Korea a lot lately. They’ve officially condemned the missile test, a standard commentary. China has stuck to its overall not-very-impressed response. North Korea isn’t much use to the Chinese, despite history. The relationship is less than cordial, at least on face value.
Can North Korea really hit the US?
Maybe, maybe not. The experts think the North Korean missile was fitted with a dummy warhead much lighter than the payload of a true ICBM. That’s not much comfort for the South Koreans, the Japanese, or anyone else in range, though.
Any such attack would definitely be national suicide for North Korea. It’s highly unlikely that Kim Jong Un is prepared to make such a mistake. He’s even less unlikely to throw away a major diplomatic victory. He’s won a round against Trump, and he knows it, in the face of the US and the UN.
The train wreck of US diplomacy, explained.
The US now has some fence mending to do regarding its treaty obligations to South Korea and Japan. Having made a commitment to stop North Korea from developing this capacity and failed, dismally, these partners will be asking what happens next.
America has two basic choices about what to do about North Korea. It can face off with North Korea in a near-war or actual war scenario. Alternatively, it can try all the possible back door approaches to attack the regime. It is extremely unlikely that any instant move to a hot war environment would be recommended. There’s no sound basis for military action, and any such action would take time to implement in the face of serious risks.
That also means that America’s strongest and surest cards can’t be played. The US military could easily defeat North Korea, nukes or no nukes, but the attack option is obviously the last resort. There’s nothing for North Korea to fear, if they’re not going to be actually attacked.
The back door approach is very complex, not sure, and not quick. Regime change would be hard to achieve. Even an assassination could simply produce another leader, not a regime change. There’s certainly no guarantee the North Korean military and political heavyweights would allow a real change from the system that puts them in power.
Economic measures may or may not work at all. If the DPRK can source whole nuke systems, it can also source food and materials outside the sanctions framework. These measures are also hardly likely to do much damage to a country which has been under sanctions in some form for many years.
So what’s new with you?
In point of fact, the missile test hasn’t really changed the military situation on the ground at all. It’s the political scenario which has changed, and for the US, very much for the worse. Being outwitted by North Korea isn’t a great look. Particularly when the US has been trying to hard to make North Korea and Kim Jong Un look ridiculous, and that attempt has backfired so badly.
Mr Trump may find that this is only the beginning of a very difficult situation which can get a lot worse. China is unlikely to tolerate any moves by the US right on its doorstep. Russia is also next door, and hardly likely to be helpful if any military scenarios play out. The UN is unlikely to permit any military action in its name. If North Korea decides to flaunt its nukes in America’s face, the road back to credibility for the US in Asia will be very bumpy indeed.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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