Why the North Korea crisis should scare you

Picture this – it actually did happen: 27 October 1962. A U.S. destroyer enforcing the blockade during the Cuban Missile Crisis detects a Soviet submarine and challenges it by deliberately dropping depth charges in the vicinity of the submarine to make it surface. Unbeknownst to the U.S. the submarine is armed with torpedoes that have nuclear warheads on them. If fired on, assuming the Commanding Officer and the next two most senior officers agreed, they would have fired one.

Had Vasiliy Arkhipov not disagreed, this would have instantly started World War 3.

The Cuban Missile Crisis fortunately ended the following day. But most people do not realise the U.S. was going to invade Cuba and that the operation for this would start on 29 October 1962. The Soviets had short range nuclear missileson Cuba pointed at the invasion beaches….

Fast forward to 1983: Cold War tensions are at dangerously high levels. The President of the United States has started a missile defence programme nicknamed “Star Wars”. The President of the U.S.S.R. is a paranoid death bed ridden man convinced America is going to start World War 3. Yuri Andropov had never been to the U.S. and knew nothing about America or Americans. But in these dangerously paranoid days he was convinced Ronald Reagan would give the order.

On 26 1983 Stanislaw Petrov was in his command bunker controlling the U.S.S.R.’s vast intercontinental ballastic missile arsenal when the most terrifying thing happened. The warning alarm for an incoming attack started to howl. He had 30 minutes to determine whether or not W.W.3. was starting and whether he needed to authorize a response. If he had to, there was a chain of command that had to be follow.

But there was something odd about this. Common logic dictated that if a nuclear attack is launched, you launch enough warheads so as to ensure no response is possible. But the satellite responsible for the warning had only picked up five. And ground based radar had detected none at all.

Common sense won the day. Petrov decided nothing was happening and ignored the alert.

On 1 November 1983 the N.A.T.O. alliance started Exercise Able Archer. This was a war on paper that would result in a mock nuclear attack. Unfortunately the U.S.S.R. picked up the transmission of signals regarding the exercise. Over the next ten days the mock war that existed only on paper gradually ratcheted up.

And so did the danger. Convinced war was coming the Soviet military machine began to mobilize. I.C.B.M. launchers began to be removed from their hiding places. Submarines and surface ships began to disperse. Bomber squadrons were put on rapid reaction alert.

And then, suddenly as it started, it ended. The communications went quiet. The officers involved went back to their regular day time roles. It was as if nothing had happened.

Go forward to 2017 and here we are again. Teetering of the abyss of nuclear war. This time on the Korean Peninsula. Dealing with a rogue maniac totally uncowed by America. Just like 1962 and 1983, only one shot fired in anger away from W.W.3.

Will we never learn?

The H-Bomb test that should not have been

The world should have seen this one coming. North Korea’s nuclear testing was always going to eventually result in a hydrogen bomb.

After seeing and reading what I did about the nature of an American thermonuclear weapon, it is what Kim has a achieved is a major advance in North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme. To be clear, a hydrogen bomb test has a many fold increase in the release of energy over a non-hydrogen bomb. We are no long talking about a device that can wipe out any New Zealand’s largest city. We are talking about a quantum leap in the increase in productive power.

When Kim Jong-il first achieved the ability to test a nuclear weapon at all in 2006, this was a major step backwards. It meant a nation that openly criticizes the world order and even its own Chinese allies now had a weapon capable of wiping out a small city. The devices being tested then were not big – at 12.5 kilotons they were a bit smaller than the device dropped on Hiroshima. Successive tests up to the one just over a week ago, only yielded relatively minor increases in destructive power – a 12.5 might have become an 20kt device. Destructive test, yes, but compared with the huge Tsar Bomba test by the U.S.S.R. in 1960, absolutely tiny.

Kim Jong Un has gone one better. In conducting Friday’s test, North ┬áKorea conducted a test about 20x bigger than the largest of the previous North Korean tests. At 250kt, we are taking about a nuclear warhead that could destroy Christchurch many fold over. Despite the worlds many attempts to curtail Kim, China continues to fund North Korea. The thing only propping up the regime is China.

Now that Mr Jong Un has such a powerful device, we need to play very carefully. around this issue. China could invade North Korea to prop up the country, except that this would likely start WW3 or some sort of larger conflict at risk of spiralling into WW3.

Kim Jong Un will keep testing nuclear weapons and making refinements. The fact that he has made the ones he said he would in 2017 without regard to increasing U.N. sanctions or the international community, tells me we have reached a dangerous cross roads.

Where we go from here puts millions of lives on the line as well as the global economy, human rights for millions and millions of people. Kim Jong Un does not care, but the West – for obvious reasons – do not have that luxury.

North Korean vs U.S. brinkmanship steps up a notch

At 1236 hours local time, North Korea tested another nuclear weapon, its sixth and easily its largest. With a yield of about 100 kilotons, this test was about 5x more powerful than the device dropped on Nagasaki and about 10 times larger than most of their previous tests.

This represents a significant escalation in the game of nuclear brinkmanship that is going on. It means North Korea have a warhead now capable of destroying a city larger than Christchurch or Wellington.

United States President Donald Trump now has a serious problem on his hands. He warned North Korea that it would face fire and fury unlike anything it has seen before if it continued to play the current high risk game of brinkmanship. Today North Korea essentially said to Mr Trump “I dare you to. Go on. I DARE YOU!”.

Neither side will want to be seen to be backing down. The range of options for containing North Korea has failed one option after the other. Probably every single sanction that has been put in place has been ignored by the successive Kim regimes. It has been offered carrot (aid/easing of sanctions/South Korean economic co-operation and so forth), in return for giving up its nuclear weapons programme, enforced by the stick (normally a tightening of sanctions).

The options for President Trump are limited. If he tightens sanctions further, North Korea will most likely simply ignore them and probably test another weapon or continue other provocative acts, such as firing more missiles. The fact that this happened just days after North Korea fired a missile across the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, triggering civilian warning systems shows that the regime cares not one jot.

Normally there is a rule of thumb that can be applied to this. If the people of South Korea, and in particular Seoul are not worried, then nor should we be. But a missile fired across the island of a sovereign neighbour and now the biggest nuclear test the world has seen since the end of the Cold War might change that.

However one nation holds the key cards in this dangerous game: China. The Peoples Republic can crash the North Korean regime by exerting overwhelming economic and diplomatic pressure if it chooses to. To some extent China needs the regime to survive as much as the regime needs China. Without the North Korean regime there is no buffer between China and the democratic South Korea. China has spent a massive amount of time and resources maintaining its regime and has an appalling human rights record, perhaps only exceeded by North Korea. But China’s economy could not survive without its huge trade with the United States. Thus increasingly China is becoming the nation to watch, perhaps as much as North Korea and the United States.

Here in New Zealand we can do two things:

  1. Be extremely grateful for the distance between us and the Korean Peninsula
  2. Vote for a Government that actively encourages all parties to pull their heads in

Other than that, buckle in for a roller coaster ride I don’t think most people want to be on.

Stay out of North Korean crisis, Bill

On Friday, Prime Minister Bill English said that there is a possibility that if the United States and North Korea went to war New Zealand would offer help to the United States.

I found this quite disturbing. A Prime Minister prepared to offer military help in one of the most dangerous parts of the world North Korea and the United States both appear quite happy to unnecessarily ratchet up tensions. North Korea has systematically ignored United Nations resolutions and sanctions do not appear to slow it down – indeed the most recent ones only seem to have poured more oil on the fire.

There are only three circumstances under which I will ever support the use of armed force:

  1. New Zealand is physically attacked – self defence is a natural right of any nation or person
  2. The United Nations Security Council mandates the use of armed force – such as when it did in 1990 against the Iraqi occupation forces in Kuwait
  3. One of our smaller neighbours or Australia is physically attacked by another nation

A lot of wars fought in the modern age have highly questionable reasons for starting, or are the resumption of hostilities from past conflicts. New Zealand should not have a role in either of these cases unless one of the above three scenarios is tripped.

Prime Minister Bill English cannot just direct New Zealand Defence Force personnel to attack another nation. Before any such directive is given, he must inform Parliament, which must then hold a vote. I believe that such a vote should not be a case of a simple majority, but require say at least 60% of Parliament to support the cause.

For the most part New Zealand has pursued the right course in diplomacy. Up to 11 September 2001, the conflicts New Zealand was involved in were generally ones where a U.N. mandate was sough and given – the American led liberation of Kuwait from Iraq; the East Timor peace keeping operation.

If North Korea tries to strike the first blow, I expect that the war would short and bloody. North Korea would attack Seoul in the hope that the huge civilian casualties (about which it cares not a jot). As the attack on Seoul begins, a massive South Korean and U.S. military response will begin as well. But this however is highly improbable. North Korea knows its regime would be finished inside a day if it made such a move as China has signalled it will stay neutral in the event of a North Korea military attack.

If the United States attacked North Korea pre-emptively as U.S. President Donald Trump suggests it might be prepared to do so, there is a very high risk of a direct superpower confrontation. China has said it will use armed force to protect North Korea if the U.S. attacks. In 1950 they did just that when the North Korean regime was only days or a couple of weeks away from being annihilated by the United Nations force.

What have we to gain from being involved militarily? Nothing much. Despites North Korea’s contempt for international law, its obsession with nuclear weapons and being able to use them how would we – an army with two not fully manned light battalions, a pair of frigates and no air combat wing – be able to realistically help anyway, even if New Zealanders DID want to help?

North Korea vs United States: Everyone should read their history

The history of the Korean peninsula dates back thousands of years. The history of South Korea an North Korea stems back to the aftermath of W.W.2. when only Soviet Union and the United States had troops to disarm the Japanese forces on the peninsula. In the rapidly deteroriating post-W.W.2. geopolitical climate war time friends had become cold war rivals. The geopolitical climate had changed much for the worse and everyone needed to be careful.

It is highly improbable that North Korea will risk any further than it already has, the security of its regime. I am talking about a regime that has gone to extreme lengths to suppress its opponents. People in North Korea understand the phrase “Yodok Prison Camp” or Kwan-li-so No. 15″ in the same way Germans and understood the phrase “Prinz Albrechtstrasse” during the era of Hitler – a person enters and is generally never seen or heard from again.

The North Korean regime is unique not only in its sheer ruthlessness – Kim Jong Un – had a relative, General Jang Song Thaek executed with anti aircraft fire, even though he was a relative – it is not in the least bit afraid to violate international law. This it might be said is also done with a degree of callousness that suggests only a regime change or some sort of assassination attempt would put Kim Jong Un out of business.

So how does that affect the international situation with North Korea?

Before we look at the options for knocking off the North Korean regime, we need to remember a couple of things:

  1. China has said to North Korea and the U.S. respectively that if North Korea attacks the U.S., China will stay out of the conflict. It has also said – which should concern the bellicose U.S President Donald Trump – that it will not ignore a U.S. attack on North Korea

    Effectively this is a warning to both sides China is not in it for either side, though it definitely prefers a non-democratic state on its land border.

  2. China invaded North Korea in October 1950 to stop the North Korean regime as it was then from being rolled by the United Nations operation. Whilst China is quite irritated by Pyongyang’s refusal to give up nuclear weapons, it will not ever compromise the security of its own one party state, and if that means invading a second time – Korean history for the last several hundred years is littered with Chinese invasions – no one should be surprised.

Will Pyongyang give up its nuclear weapons. I think we know the answer to that very well. Kim Jong Un has seen United Nations sanctions at work and no one wants to challenge him directly. Having a suiperpower in its corner helps Kim immensely even if China is growing impatient with the regime in North Korea. Kim does not seem to be put off in the least by U.S. warnings. On the contrary, one might try to argue he is saying “Bring it on!”

I think the message going into the weekend and beyond as we watch the latest round of sabre rattling is that signs of impatience, frustration and the potential for an accidental missile discharge is not so unlikely as to give them no further consideration.Kim Jong Un is so far up the proverbial creek without a paddle that the only thing for him to do is go further. He will not admit defeat and always look for a way to blame other countries for something that is very much a break down of north Koreans ability to do the job their Dear Kimmy requires.

We need to be careful. North Korea is easily provoked. It would not take much to accidentally trigger an international incident where one side or the other open fire prematurely. The problem is once the shooting starts, where will it stop?