Considering the fiery state of affairs in the cauldron of Northeast Asia, the chant by the three witches of Shakespeare’s Macbeth seems ghoulishly appropriate:
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.
The charm, of course, is North Korea’s combination of nuclear bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles with which to deliver those bombs. But where does that baboon’s blood come from: the United States, its ally Japan, its peninsular partner South Korea – or all three?
The seas around Korea are now packed with a horrific amount of destructive power: all focused intently on North Korea
THE BIG FEAR
Analysts have long recognized that the joint South Korean-United States “Foal Eagle” field exercises are disliked by North Korea. However, it seems that the term dislike is not quite accurate. More likely, it would seem, is that Kim Jong Un intensely fears them. That would explain why the North is willing to conduct rocket motor tests and missile launches that could inadvertently influence the upcoming South Korean elections.
Those missile events are either (a) merely continuing the rush to complete Pyongyang’s deterrence by having an intercontinental nuclear strike capability, or (b) valiantly whistling in the dark to show that Pyongyang is not intimidated by what might be death knocking on the door in the guise of joint South Korean and American military exercises.
Perhaps it is a mixture of both.
Does that sound overly dramatic? Let us look at this through Kim Jong Un’s lens. He hears talk of decapitations missions, he reads of unconcealed preparations for invasions of the North, and he is well aware that, lately, senior Trump officials have openly stated that “all options are on the table,” including pre-emptive strikes.
The messages have likely been clearly received, and any one of them is likely to be quite unsettling to the young dictator.
It is possible that what we are witnessing is not Pyongyang’s routine bellicosity
As if that were not enough, close on the heels of the dozens of Tomahawk missiles that were rained down on Syria by U.S. naval forces in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, the U.S. aircraft carrier group Carl Vinson is intended to be in the waters off the Korean Peninsula before Apr. 25. Such a visit – when it occurs – will at least raise North Korean eyebrows – if not anxiety levels, blood pressures, and heart rates.
To this, add in even more military forces able to quickly converge on the peninsula, according to a report by the Hankyoreh: the USS Makin Island amphibious assault ship now near Hong Kong; the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier out of Yokosuka, Japan; and the USS Bonhomme Richard amphibious assault ship out of Sasebo, Japan.
What is more, according to a report by the Guardian, Tokyo will be contributing several destroyers to the mix. The seas around Korea are now packed with a horrific amount of destructive power: all focused intently on North Korea.
THE BIG WHAT IF?
Since Kim has chosen to rattle his sabers as a show of defensive/offensive capability despite the risk of alarming South Korean voters, it becomes clear that we ought to be concerned about the current level of tension on the peninsula. Either that or Pyongyang values a rapprochement with Seoul much less than it wants to test the as-yet-to-be-measured new U.S. president.
It is possible that what we are witnessing is not Pyongyang’s routine bellicosity. It could be the sound of a rattlesnake sensing – as well as communicating – danger.
There is an old adage to never corner a frightened animal, for that is when it is most apt to bite. Kim Jong Un is likely wondering what more he has to do to keep the Americans at bay. It could be an event like that sixth nuclear test many are expecting – or something even worse.
While things are at a standoff for the moment, what if someone miscalculates just how much the other side is willing to tolerate? Could we be trying to force Kim Jong Un into striking first out of desperation? Are we prepared for what ensues if he does? Can we handle what comes next if we strike first? What do our allies say? What does Beijing say? We better have good answers to these and other questions if we intend to back Pyongyang further into a corner.
Current tensions on the Korean Peninsula are approaching a level not seen in a good many years. If the 400-year-old words of the Bard of Avon quoted at the beginning of this piece do not resonate with you, then I suggest Barry McGuire’s lyrics to The Eve of Destruction from a mere 50 years ago. They seem frightfully fitting for the West’s dilemma today.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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