Wednesday, April 26, 2017

President Trump briefs entire Senate on North Korea.

Buses arrive to pick up US senators and deliverer them to the White House. Reuters. 

President Donald Trump has briefed the entire Senate on the threat that North Korea presents and laid out plans on ending their nuclear weapons problem. Reuters. Trump's administration seemed to signal that diplomacy would be the first option, but military operations are being considered as well. It is estimated that North Korea will have a ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States with a nuclear warhead by 2020. The Trump administration considers this an existential threat and are working to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. New sanctions are being considered and the US government is working closely with regional allies to put more pressure on the Korean government. China, a key partner, has signaled that they are unhappy with North Korea's weapon program as well, but are upset that the United States has deployed the THAAD missile defense system in South Korea. 

My Comment:
An unusual move by the Trump administration. Though it is, of course, a good thing to update the Senate on the threat that North Korea presents, I have to wonder if this was a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.  

After all, Trump's new policy is pretty much the same as the Obama admin's policy on North Korea. Sanctions and international pressure. Military force is on the table but I think it always was. From the reports that I have read I haven't seen much indicating things are really any different right now. I don't see Trump getting us into a war of choice unless there is a huge military threat that the general public isn't aware of. There is nothing in the media reports that suggest that is the case here.

One thing has changed though. China it seems is finally on our side on the North Korean issue. They, too, are tired of North Korea's nuclear weapons program and are finally doing something about it. Donald Trump seems to have gotten them on our side somehow. The meetings he has had with President Xi of China seems to have gotten results because China has put quite a bit of pressure on North Korea since Trump was elected. 

This new Chinese pressure is both words and actions. They are threatening to cut off North Korea's oil imports, which would essentially shut down the country. Such a powerful threat can't be ignored by North Korea as their entire economy, such as it is, is dependent on oil. They have little in the way of domestic oil production, so such threats have to be considered by the North Koreans.

But China hasn't just used words to act on North Korea. Earlier this year China stopped buying coal from North Korea. Since North Korea gets a major part of their income from coal exports, this was a huge blow to North Korea. The action had much to do with the diplomatic insult against China when North Korean agents poisoned Kim Jong Nam, Kim Jong Un's ne'er do well brother, who was under Chinese protection. China isn't happy with North Korea's nuclear program but a diplomatic insult had to have a response as well.

I think that China's pressure on North Korea, and President Trumps role in that pressure, are much more of an influence than any of our military moves in the region. A lot has been made of the deployment of a carrier strike group and a nuclear submarine to the Korean region. People have even said the deployment of a MOAB in Afghanistan against ISIS was a message as well. I do think that those military operations have an effect. Just not anywhere near as much of one as the media is making it out to be. North Korea knows that Trump isn't messing around with them and that he won't lay down to pressure. But China is a much more direct threat. 

Do I think war with North Korea is likely? Not really. North Korea has often caused tensions to rise and it often occurs after they have difficulty feeding their people. When their communist economy inevitably fails, they often conduct missile and nuclear tests. Usually that leads to negotiations and food aid. That plan hasn't worked lately and I think North Korea is starting to understand that it won't work in the future. 

I think that makes war a little more likely, but still fairly impossible. Though North Korea desperately needs food aid and sanctions relief, Kim Jong Un understands that war would be certain death for himself. Kim is many things but I don't see him as someone who wants to die. 

Indeed, there is some evidence that North Korea is backing down a bit. Though North Korea just conducted a new missile test, that failed miserably, it is important to note a few things. First of all that it was a medium range missile, not a long range one. Second, everyone was expecting it to be a sixth nuclear test. That didn't happen so I am guessing that North Korea had it planned but backed down after all the pressure. They only launched a mid range missile as a face saving measure. 

I am officially predicting no war with North Korea and nothing will happen other than new sanctions. It's possible that North Korea will even give up their weapons program. I don't see a military strike happening and I doubt that there will be an actual war...

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