This post is not about a non-nuclear war between the USA and North Korea. Such a war would be costly in Korean lives (both North and South and not just a few American lives), very bad for the world economy, and could mean an armed conflict with China (who might well “intervene”). It could be a long and devastating affair despite our superior armed forces and a quick end to the “conventional” conflict (North Koreans could well stage a “non-conventional” conflict that would make the Taliban and ISIS look like amateurs). A nuclear war… well, that would be a disaster of biblical proportions.
This post is about why it is unlikely to devolve into armed conflict and my source is Victor Davis Hanson, an expert who deserves that appellation. According to Davis Hanson even a “bloody nose” preemptive attack by the US is unlikely.
[Source: Who’s Really Winning The North Korea Standoff? By Victor Davis Hanson]
Professor Davis Hanson sees it like this. The North would very much like to break the alliance between the South and the USA. They are using their nuclear threat to convince the South that the US would throw Seoul under the bus rather than risk one of its west coast cities. Further, the North (with nuclear bombs) believes they would have the upper hand in any “negotiation” with the non-nuclear South. Without the US “nuclear umbrella” the North could be right.
The North Koreans are not playing from a new playbook. The old Soviet Union used this tactic during the Cold War in an effort to separate Europe from the United States. As Davis Hanson so eloquently puts it, “Moscow warned neighboring Europeans that America would never risk its cities to keep the Red Army out of Germany. At the same time, it advised the United States simply to let Europe go and not risk its homeland for such ankle-biting ingrates.”
The Chinese, despite their rhetoric, want the “conflict” to return to a “nuclear status quo” which serves their interests. For decades the North Koreans have been a successful “passive-aggressive Chinese pit bull that diverts American time, attention and military assets… (and they believe they) can still offer plausible deniability that they have any control over the rogue North Korean government.”
These are the reasons that China is wrong and the USA actually has an upper hand (from the Davis Hanson article):
- First, Japan, South Korea and the United States are rushing to expand several missile-defense systems that may soon not just end North Korea’s first-strike capability, but China’s as well.
- Second, there is serious talk in Japan about developing nuclear weapons. Obviously, Japanese missiles would be pointed at North Korea and China, not the United States.
- Third, the world has assumed over the last 20 years that unstable regimes such as North Korea, Iran and Pakistan would go nuclear and threaten Western democracies. The next round of proliferation is more likely to be among Western democracies themselves. A nuclear Japan (or South Korea or Taiwan) would not be in China’s interest.
- Fourth, there is evidence that tough new sanctions are eroding an already anemic North Korea. The U.S. economy is booming; North Korea’s is collapsing. China already is preparing for a flood of refugees across the Chinese-North Korean border.
- Fifth, the United States has an array of ways to ratchet up pressure on China to force North Korea to denuclearize — ranging from tougher trade sanctions to denying visas to thousands of Chinese students and property holders.
- Sixth… with an improving economy, the Trump administration is gaining clout at home and abroad. On foreign matters, Trump is letting subordinates such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley and CIA Director Mike Pompeo do the talking. And they are lining up the world against North Korea.
Last, but far from least, the North is starving. Trade with the South has been DEVASTATED by the North’s belicosity.
The Trump administration is slowly and steadily gaining the upper hand and both North Korea and China are smart enough to realize it.