Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The U.S. Scraps "Strategic Patience" with North Korea in Favor of a "Provocation Cycle"

As good a place to start as any this morning is The New York Times unsigned editorial "The Way Forward on North Korea," which calls for direct talks with North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile program: 
Mr. Trump may also be learning another lesson, that he can’t rely on China alone to force North Korea to rein in its nuclear program. What he hasn’t grasped is that a solution will eventually require direct dialogue with the North.
While it refreshing to read that "the newspaper of record" has embraced the obvious, the editorial, in its recapitulation of recent events, tiptoes around something else that is obvious. Trump precipitated North Korea's successful launch of an ICBM Tuesday:
After Mr. Trump acknowledged in a recent tweet that depending on China “has not worked out,” his administration took steps that reflected his annoyance. It approved a $1.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province; it imposed sanctions on a Chinese bank accused of acting as a conduit of illegal North Korean financial activity; and an American naval destroyer passed near disputed territory claimed by China in the South China Sea. There is now talk of Washington moving on steel tariffs, which would be aimed partly at China.
Nudging China to ratchet up the pressure on North Korea is not a bad thing. But an outright break between the United States and China would very likely embolden North Korea. In a sign that neither leader wants to escalate tensions, Mr. Trump called Mr. Xi on Sunday to discuss North Korea, and Mr. Xi accepted the call. Mr. Trump warned Mr. Xi that America was prepared to act on its own in pressuring Pyongyang.
The Times should call a spade a spade. Trump has scrapped Obama's "strategic patience" in favor of what is known as a "provocation cycle" where the U.S. makes a move, such as sanctioning a Chinese bank used by North Korea, hoping to elicit a response; and when the North responds, the U.S. is ready with a follow-up.

That's where we are today. The U.S. and South Korea launched their own missile exercise on South Korea's eastern coastline.

A good long story, "How to Deal With North Korea," by Mark Bowden, in the July-August issue of The Atlantic, replete with quotes from military brass and think-tank intellectuals, comes to a slightly different conclusion than The Times' editorial board.

Writing clearly from a bellicose deep-state perspective -- for instance, there is not one word about the cataclysmic saturation bombing North Korea sustained from the U.S. during the Korean War -- Bowden thinks the U.S. should tacitly acknowledge the North's nuclear power status, not give up too much in talks, and hope that time runs out on the Kim dynasty.

Bowden breaks down deep-state thinking in regards to North Korea into four courses of action: 1) Total preventative war; 2) "Turning the screws," in other words, a "provocation cycle," where we appear to be today; 3) Decapitation: a surgical strike to take out Kim and his leadership; and 4) Acceptance.

Bowden dismisses a "provocation cycle" as too risky because it can rapidly spin out of control.

Trump will meet with Putin and Xi at the G-20. Russia and China are seeking to freeze the North's nuclear and ballistic program on the basis of U.S. and South Korea suspending their war games. Seems reasonable to me. Hopefully Trump will see it the same way.

One thing I think is obvious to everyone: after Yugoslavia, after Iraq, after Libya, and with Iran's continued harassment despite coming to terms with the West over its nuclear program, no rational actor would believe that renouncing one's nuclear program guarantees acceptance, peace and prosperity.

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