Sky-high risks tempt North Korea endgame

Sky-high risks tempt North Korea endgame, by David Kilcullen.

While there seems little likelihood, at this point, of the regime ever giving up its nuclear weapons, it could conceivably suspend missile development or go slow on miniaturisation of ICBM warheads in return for aid or the lifting of sanctions.

Apart from the fact that these concessions would lack credibility (similar statements have proved hollow at least three times over the past two decades), the problem is that these twin roles for the north’s nuclear weapons — as tactical assets to inflict maximum damage on day one of a war, and as longer-term strategic tools of deterrence and regime survival — both drive Pyongyang to increasingly aggressive provocations.

Waving the nuclear sword to cover for internal weakness and external vulnerability is fraught with the possibility of miscalculation.

Worse, Pyongyang’s posturing may convince the north’s adversaries — principally the US — that since the costs of conflict will only rise over time, and North Korea’s capability to inflict harm will only grow, the smart choice (however unpalatable) is to go to war earlier rather than later.

US leaders have repeatedly said the North Korean regime is too unstable and unpredictable for them to tolerate its possession of nuclear missiles capable of targeting the US, a sentiment reiterated by several military and civilian leaders this week.

Such a conflict, even if ultimately victorious, would be an unmitigated disaster for South Korea, and only slightly less so for Japan. Previous US administrations have been wary of exposing these allies to such risks, and this has had a restraining effect on US policy. …

But that restraint may no longer be operative, now that the continental US itself is under ­direct threat. …


China would suffer hugely in the event of war: there would be massive refugee flows into Chinese territory; the possibility of nuclear fallout or conventional weapons use against its citizens or on its territory; huge instability on its frontier; and a political vacuum that might bring South Korean, US or even Japanese troops right up to the Chinese border. China’s attitude to North Korea is fundamentally informed by the need to prevent such a conflict while managing its ally’s increasingly provocative actions. …

Trump’s pique notwithstanding, China does not control North Korea, and its ability to force Pyongyang to rein in its nuclear ambitions is limited — though, clearly, Beijing has more leverage than any other external player.

This could lead us into WWIII.

hat-tip Stephen Neil