By Mark Buckley
The beleaguered Trump presidency has continued to ramp up its war rhetoric against North Korea. But the impediments to any attack, even a nuclear attack are substantial. The real target for the US administration is China.
The panic induced regarding North Korea’s nuclear capacity is largely fake. Trump’s threats were initially issued after a piece in the Washington Post, citing US intelligence sources. Therefore any such assessment, whether genuine or mere propaganda, would already have been known to Trump via the intelligence networks. The bombast and threats are a public campaign, not a plan.
Trump is under strong domestic pressure. His central pledge to repeal ‘Obamacare’ looks to have failed. The promised large tax cuts for major corporations and the rich, which is central to his big business backing, is in difficulties. Major news outlets openly campaign for his impeachment, interrupting it only to applaud US bombing in Yemen, or Syria, or any of a long list of countries.
Evidently US presidents are quite capable of bombing foreign countries to distract from their own domestic troubles, as Clinton did among others. But there are around 30,000 US troops in South Korea, along with many other security personnel and their families. The newly-installed THAAD anti-missile system does not provide any certainty that US targets will not be hit in a counter-strike. It is estimated that there almost a quarter of a million US citizens in South Korea. The two Korean capitals Pyongyang and Seoul are little more than 100 miles apart, and both would be hit by nuclear fall-out at least. No US ally could feel safe if its sponsor was willing to sacrifice it in this way.
Instead, the US administration has attempted to cast this as China’s problems. It coincides with trade sanctions on China and threats of further measures if it fails to take some unspecified actions. The aim is to distract Chinese foreign policy, to isolate it in the region and ultimately to force a change in economic policy.
It was clear from the previous six-party talks involving the two Koreas, the US, China, Russia and Japan that the key North Korean demand was for subsidies, food and energy supplies. The North Korean economy is in permanent crisis. Unlike China, North Korean investment is hugely wasteful and inefficient because it has been isolated (including by US-sponsored trade sanctions) from world markets. As a result it invests in inferior machinery and equipment. But the situation could be rapidly calmed if similar talks and the necessary subsidies were provided.
The current crisis is a grave one, even if war is currently unlikely. The US is clearly willing to threaten nuclear war as part of its geopolitical strategy. It is normalising nuclear threats. High level talks and very modest subsidies would resolve the crisis, as China has proposed.
In this country Jeremy Corbyn is absolutely correct to call for dialogue and less belligerent rhetoric, with no UK participation in provocative exercises in the region. The Tory rivals for the party leadership who attack Corbyn for this stance imply they are willing to follow Trump down the path of nuclear war, a further indicator of their political bankruptcy.