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.

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?

New Zealand impotent in North Korean crisis; U.S. needs to be careful


As the world watches nervously the situation on the Korean Peninsula, with North Korea’s incandescent rhetoric, and the United States and South Korea showing a united front against the regime, a two island nation in the South Pacific is wondering what use it could be in the situation. And at the same time, hoping that the United States does not forget or deliberate exclude the one nation that can settle the issue decisively – and possibly without war:

CHINA.

So let us look at why China is central to the whole situation There are four reasons. Each is a good reason not even the U.S. can ignore.

China (1): China invaded North Korea in October 1950 to prop up the regime when it looked like falling. I would be willing to guess that if the United States too unilateral action against North Korea, the Chinese would in the first instance mass a huge number of troops on the North Korean border – possibly upwards of 500,000 with supporting armour and support from the People’s Liberation Army Ground Force and People’s Liberation Army Navy.

China (2): President Xi Jinping is a Chinese Trump. China is an adversary in many respects because Xi wants to make China a world power again too. Mr Xi has a vision, though, which is reinforced by domestic and foreign policy. He wants it to have naval reach it did 500 years ago. How Mr Xi would react to an attack on North Korea is unclear, but the implications of his vision are clear: China will not sit by and have its influence eroded by anyone including America.

China (3): China’s Communist regime will do absolutely anything to ensure that there is not any more democratic nations on its land border, especially on the Korean Peninsula. China’s human rights record is shocking because in order for the Chinese Government in its current form to survive, they must have control of citizens across an ethnically, culturally and – if it were permitted to be expressed politically diverse geographical region. Why do you think they spend almost as much on cracking down on dissent, crushing protests, jailing people, maintaining a Great Firewall of China and executing people?

To maintain control.

China (4): China could crush North Korea tomorrow. It has the economic, political and military means to do so. But it won’t – at least not without Beijing’s authority and influence being assured by the U.S.

So, where does this leave an island nation in the South Pacific with regards to North Korea?

The long and the short answers are both: largely impotent. The most we can do, is what we are already doing, except that perhaps having talks with South Korea about what we could do in terms of offering more non-military support other than backing them in anything that happens with regards to North Korea in the United Nations.