Who knew that the geopolitical gridlock that has maintained peace on the Korean peninsula for the best part of seven decades was so complicated? Before holding office, President Donald Trump enjoyed the romanticism so dear to bar stool politicians up and down the country. The complexity of any given problem was treated with derision. Solutions were proffered by way of facile, ill thought out, and ignorant pearls of imprudence.
Oh, it always sounded good. Simple solutions always do. They just don’t often work is all.
Driven by a disdain for the political elite that was paired with willful ignorance and then compounded by a lack of hands-on experience, they whined and pontificated like a Labrador on heat howling at a locked cat flap.
‘Let’s do something about that North Korea,’ they hollered. The liberal political elite, having studied the issues carefully, refused to budge.
And then came Trump.
Speaking at the eighth Republican primary debate in February 2016, Trump set out his ‘plan’ for dealing with North Korea:
And what a plan it was:
“We have — tremendous — has been just sucked out of our country by China. China says they don’t have that good of control over North Korea. They have tremendous control. I deal with the Chinese all of the time… the largest bank in the world is in one of my buildings in Manhattan. I deal with them… They have total, absolute control, practically, of North Korea. They are sucking trillions of dollars out of our country — they’re rebuilding China with the money they take out of our country. I would get on with China, let China solve that problem. They can do it quickly and surgically. That’s what we should do with North Korea.”
So, in Trump’s mind, the problem with North Korea is one that China could easily solve if only they could be talked into doing so. With China apparently fleecing The U.S. at every turn by threatening to cut off the supply of stolen capital Trump would gain enough leverage to talk them into pacifying North Korea for good.
Trump was still parroting this line in January, despite the obvious logical disconnect between how much money China is making and what their policy towards North Korea happens to be.
China has been taking out massive amounts of money & wealth from the U.S. in totally one-sided trade, but won't help with North Korea. Nice!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2017
13,000 Loose Cannons
Such inconsistencies notwithstanding, Trump’s position does lead inexorably to a single question. If China has such absolute control over North Korea, then why doesn’t it exercise it?
The answer is simple.
China does not have absolute control over North Korea, far from it. The only reason Trump thinks it does is because he’s down on all fours howling at that cat flap. His disdain for details might have served him well in his role as a flamboyant real estate mogul with an overactive libido but as President, it is more of a lodestone than a boon.
Because the situation on the ground is one fraught with dangers; the kind of dangers that Trump refuses to acknowledge. Indeed, as Liberal America reported last month:
“Had he any understanding of geography, he would realize that the two Korean capitals are only 120 miles apart. He would have understood that Seoul itself is just 35 miles from the border. Were Trump interested in details, he would understand that 13,000 artillery pieces are aimed at Seoul from that same border. And whilst many of these weapons are outmoded, they are still more than capable of flattening a city. If Trump were in possession of the facts he’d be aware that China acts as a guarantee of North Korean sovereignty in much the same way that the U.S. defended West Berlin. And having realized that, he would understand that to attack North Korea would be to attack China itself.”
The Manchurian Can Debate
The good news is that Trump is easily manipulated.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Chinese President Xi Jinping managed to convince Trump that he knew nothing about North Korea and was so convincing that Trump was even in full agreement as to the depth of his ignorance. He told the Journal that:
“After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy. I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power [over] North Korea. … But it’s not what you would think.”
Not that such lessons stick.
Amidst a constant barrage of incessant and ill thought out saber-rattling from the White House, North Korea was keen to demonstrate their independence from China and their indifference towards U.S. belligerence. Missile tests were stepped up a notch. Trump seemed irritated that his knee-jerk China in charge theory had no basis in reality.
Trump seemed irritated that his ‘China in charge,’ theory based on gut feeling rather than a nuanced understanding of the situation wasn’t panning out.
North Korea disrespected the wishes of China & its highly respected President when it launched, though unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 28, 2017
All of which left but one observation. That Trump’s cowboy diplomacy was all skirt and no knickers. North Korea had no intention of being cowed by Trump or anyone else for that matter. As a Nuclear power — albeit a limited one armed only with questionable technologies — they are immune from direct military conflict.
Because the U.S. absolutely does have the power to wipe North Korea off the face of the planet. They’d just need to lob a few nukes at it. Only, there would be consequences for such actions.
First, there is the moral dilemma that comes with nuking 25 million people off the face of the earth.
Then there are environmental considerations to take into account. The radioactive fallout could drift east and render Japan uninhabitable.
Which would do wonders for the world economy.
Or it could drift west into China’s central Henan province and ruin the crops of the world’s largest producer of food. The resulting famine would make Trump’s death toll look like a paper cut at a picnic.
And then there are the practical problems.
The cost of destroying North Korea would almost certainly mean the loss of Seoul too. Tokyo could be wiped off the face of the planet too. Hell, even New York might not be safe.
Which perhaps explains why Trump was so keen to rush the installment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD.) The system, which is designed to shoot missiles out of the sky, was deployed in March. The deal seemed pretty much done. Until Trump got involved that is.
Unaware of the actual purpose of the system, he seemed confused over why South Korea wasn’t footing the bill.
Let’s just clear this up for him then.
To begin with, the system is mostly for show. You might have noticed that we haven’t been flying sorties over North Korea. The usual tactic of surgical strikes against the missile test sites of any nation refusing to abide by the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is simply not available to military strategists here. The reason for this is, as was previously mentioned, the 13,000 artillery pieces currently pointed at South Korea which would be fired in retaliation.
Secondly, South Korea isn’t paying for the weapons because they aren’t buying the weapons.
Indeed, according to one State department official who spoke to Reuters:
“We want to retain THAAD in our arsenal, consistent with all other U.S. weapons systems deployed on the Korean peninsula. we own them”
“We retain them. We have the right to redeploy them.”
So, you buy them and we’ll keep them, yes?
Well, no. the South Korean’s were apparently not happy with this arrangement.
The New York Times reported that the President’s comments:
“Jolted its presidential race on Friday and surprised the government, leaving it scrambling to figure out the intentions of a close ally.”
Not So Smart Missiles
Why, after all, should they pay for a system that they did not own and could not use? The original agreement called only for the use of the land required to deploy the system in the first place.
Moon Jae-in, the leading candidate in the upcoming election called for an immediate halt to the system’s deployment and vowing to review it if elected. In a statement, his position was made clear. He said:
“We must consider whether it conforms to the spirit of the alliance.”
Adding that Trump was acting:
“Unilaterally and without close bilateral consultations.”
All of which is diplomatic code for the suggestion that Trump perhaps hadn’t thought things through properly.
I know, perish the thought, right?
Watch the effect of an artillery bombardment on a town and then times the effect by 10,000:
Featured Image: Screenshot Via Facebook.