A recent article in the Global Times stated, “From the perspective of war or new military clashes… the Korean Peninsula is the primary target [italics added for emphasis]” in 2017.
Before analyzing that statement, let us first evaluate the source of this news. The Global Times is a so-called populist organ published in Beijing under the aegis of the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party.
Though often controversial, it can be viewed as a stalking horse for issues or topics that, for whatever reason, aren’t published in the official outlet. It serves as a back-channel way of floating ideas or testing the waters for a new political position.
So, what is the purpose of bluntly stating that the Korean Peninsula is the place where war or clashes is most likely to occur in 2017 – and why use the phrase primary target?
It could be disinformation – but probably not, for the analysis is spot on, despite what Washington fails to see or refuses to focus on, and obfuscation would serve no practical purpose. It more likely is a warning for the U.S. and its allies to tread carefully in dealing with North Korea during the coming year, good advice for the incoming American president.
But equally important is what the article did not directly say. From the piece, it could be inferred that Beijing is saying that Korea is a place where China might make a stand.
It might also be stating that Pyongyang ought not be pressed too far, for Kim Jong Un just might ignite a conflagration that would inevitably prove disastrous for much of South Korea.
The problem is – as it always has been – that Washington fails in reading the tea leaves well enough to know with confidence which of the possible meanings is most likely. Thus, in considering possible outcomes and their attendant probabilities, one would do well to keep all of them in mind. The U.S. has a history of being surprised in Asia. This time is no different but the stakes are much higher.
ARE MILITARY OPTIONS AN ANSWER?
North Korea now not only has nuclear weapons, it is on the verge of having an intercontinental delivery system for them. There is some debate as to whether its nuclear devices can survive a high-gee flight and re-entry; that is, whether they will detonate properly upon arrival at their intended targets. That is deceptive reasoning, for even if the device fails to detonate in a nuclear blast, it still makes for a very dirty bomb that is a devilishly difficult mess to clean up.
A recently republished May 2016 series of analyses (behind a paywall) by Strategic Forecasting point toward a military option in dealing with North Korea with two variations. One is a limited strike to take out only North Korean nuclear facilities, an action that would coincide with an explanation delivered to Pyongyang that the intent is not regime change but only eliminating a threat to the U.S.
The U.S. has a history of being surprised in Asia. This time is no different but the stakes are much higher
Since Kim Jong Un sees having the ability to threaten the U.S. with nuclear weapons as his ace in the hole for regime survival, a strike targeting only such facilities – even with the sincerest explanation as to the intent behind the limited military action – is not at all likely to work, any putative explanation of restricted intent notwithstanding.
The other variation of military action is a massive strike to include the above action but also eliminate nearly every possibility of retaliation by North Korea on the U.S. and South Korea. Seoul and much of the northern portions of South Korea are vulnerable to the myriad of weapons Pyongyang has aimed in their direction from just across the DMZ. My previous piece outlines the very serious nature of this massive military array.
In its series, Strategic Forecasting points out that a significant number of those artillery batteries and rocket launchers are old and poorly maintained – and thus might not function. There are other factors that could limit Pyongyang’s ability or desire to use its arsenal. As well-thought-out such conclusions appear to be, it is cavalier to rely upon dismissive theoretical statements when millions of lives are at risk. Hence, it would be wise to eliminate those threats as well.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
It seems rational to conclude that Kim Jong Un would not knowingly precipitate an incident that might result in the disintegration of his regime.
Kim Jong Un sees having the ability to threaten the U.S. with nuclear weapons as his ace in the hole for regime survival
Yet, it is not illogical to also conclude that, should events somehow escalate out of control to the point that Pyongyang feels immediately and directly threatened, Kim Jong Un would choose to take as much of his part of the world with him as he can when he goes down.
This is indeed a dilemma – one we need to avoid. But then, we must return to the question of what the manifest and subtle portents of the article in the Global Times are.
Was it merely a cautionary prediction or was it a veiled threat? The new American president will have little time in which to figure that out – and he has to do a better job than his predecessors.
Join the influential community of members who rely on NK News original news and in-depth reporting.
Subscribe to read the remaining 920 words of this article.