The other day two American foreign policy commentators, Michael E. O’Hanlon and James Kirchick, both fellows at the Brookings Institute, published an article in The Hill headlined: “‘Bloody nose’ attack in Korea would have lasting consequences.” As you might guess from the title they do not believe that a pre-emptive US attack on North Korea is a good idea.
I have said before that I believe the USA has the technical capabilities to launch massive, precision, well coordinated, conventional military strikes … but it is not clear, not to me, anyway, that all the pieces are in place for that. Of course one would hope that good operational security would mean that those of us with no “need to know” would not know that state of US preparedness but it is very hard to keep secrets these days, especially when they involve the movement of giant aircraft carrier battle groups and squadrons of stealth bombers and thousands of people.
Messers O’Hanlon and Kirchick say that although “National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster has just denied that possibility, telling a bipartisan group of senators last week that the administration has no plans to carry out a so-called “bloody nose” attack against North Korea to constrain its nuclear weapons or long-range missile programs … the idea has been circulating too long to be put to rest quite that easily, and President Trump has just kept it alive at the CPAC conference on Friday in Washington by stating that if sanctions against North Korea fail, we may have to consider “Phase 2” … [and] … Some of the options Trump might consider — shooting down future North Korean missile launches, destroying uranium enrichment centrifuges, enforcing U.N. sanctions with forcible naval action near North Korean coasts —have at least a superficial allure … [and, further] … Parts of the administration also may think a “bloody nose” attack would leave Pyongyang with few good retaliatory options, making it likely that Kim Jong Un would simply accept his punishment and then behave with more restraint going forward.“
The fact, and I assert that it is a fact, is that any attempt to administer a “bloody nose” to North Korea has a very high probability of failure and failure could lead to massive destruction of South Korea which would have a very serious impact on global peace and security and the global economy.
My suspicion is that “parts of the administration” in Washington have, essentially, given up on President Trump, even as they continue to serve him in the most senior capacities …
… my guess is that some of them are there only to keep President Trump from doing something incredibly stupid or dangerous and that they might believe that they have enough “oomph” where it counts to actually countermand certain presidential orders.
But there are new hope circulating because, as the South China Morning Post says, “Throughout years of tension and tough talk over North Korea’s nuclear programme, Pyongyang has always insisted its “treasured sword” is not up for negotiation. But now it says it is willing to abandon nuclear weapons if the security of its government is guaranteed, Seoul’s envoy said on Tuesday after meeting the North’s leader Kim Jong-un … [and] … “The North made clear its willingness for the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, and made clear that there is no reason to own nuclear [programmes] if military threats towards the North are cleared and the security of its government is guaranteed,” said Chung Eui-yong, national security adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in.” This is all new and I am almost certain that North Korean officials will soon be on-line pooh-poohing the notion but is someone as senior as Chung Eui-yong says that in public, on the record, then I am certain that it is far, far better grounded in reality than Canadian national security advisor Daniel Jean’s attempt to cover up Canadian prime Minister Trudeau’s failures in India.
“At a press conference after returning to Seoul,” The SCMP reports, “Chung said Kim is willing to discuss denuclearisation in talks with Washington, which could be the crucial concession needed to make the talks happen. He said Pyongyang agreed to suspend nuclear and missile tests for as long as it holds talks with the United States … [and] … “Also, the North promised not to use atomic weapons or conventional weapons towards the South,” Chung told reporters …[further] … Chung said the two Koreas agreed to hold their third ever summit at a tense border village in late April. He also said the leaders will establish a “hotline” communication channel to lower military tensions, and would speak together before the planned summit.“
This should knock some of the stuffing out of the 21st century war hawks who are still found in the US Congress, in the Pentagon and in other parts of the government and academe. But it will not silence them. That is the job of e.g. Rex Tillerson and James Mattis and their own congressional leaders.
My guess, and that’s all it is, is that:
- North Korea is less and less important to China. Donald Trump has changed everything in Xi Jinping’s favour. Trump’s “polices,” or whatever they are, are splintering Asia and they, not China’s bullying, is pushing East Asia out of America’s orbit;
- South Korea, and its technology and investments in China, matters more to China than everything and anything about North Korea; therefore
- China still wants the peninsula reunified, peacefully, under Seoul’s leadership; and
- North Korea understands China’s reasonings and is, now, looking for terms … or if not terms, as such, at least time to rethink its strategy.
Meanwhile, as good as this news might be, Canada should get on with joining the US ballistic missile defence system … just in case.