Guest Author: Richard Friedman
Richard Friedman was chair of the National Strategy Forum/Chicago. He has served as a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Counselor to the American Bar Association Committee on National Security.
[Editor’s note: ZipDialog is delighted to include this post. The opinions are those of the guest author. For the visuals, blame Charles Lipson.
Readers are invited to respond. At ZipDialog, we take dialog seriously.]
◆ North Korea’s Nuclear Threat
There are six components to the potential US/North Korea nuclear confrontation:
- North Korea rational
- North Korea irrational
- US rational
- US irrational
- China, and
- South Korea
China is the best bet for the US because they have urged US and North Korea restraint and calm.
South Korea is undergoing a government leadership crisis. They also urge calm because they would be the battleground in the event that North Korea would be provoked by the US or would be self-provoked.
China is proactive. In addition to urging calm, they have restricted their coal exports to North Korea and they have canceled their air carrier flights to Pyongyang. China’s most important leverage is its substantial food exports to North Korea.
A future North Korean Nuclear Test is Likely
It is likely that North Korea will conduct its sixth nuclear test in the near future. The appropriate US response is to do nothing, certainly no retaliation. The US should keep the Vinson First Strike Carrier Group on station within striking distance of North Korea as a show of force, with weapons muzzled for a few more weeks awaiting mutual calm, and then depart for Australia as planned. The US has proved in Syria its tactical military capability to obliterate North Korea’s nuclear weapon sites and degrade its delivery system. There is no US need to engage in media military posturing.
An indicia for calm is North Korea’s recent intermediate missile launch that failed. Speculation is that the US used its cyber Stuxnet capability to scramble the North Korea missile test code, resulting in failure.
The US frame for its North Korea objective should be: no preemptive, kinetic first strike; and reliance on its counter-incoming missile capability that can intercept and destroy 60-80 percent of North Korea’s incoming missiles to the US west coast (solace is somewhat lacking for Hawaii, California, Oregon, and Washington).
Etymology is part of the military force consideration array. The word “provoke” is hugely imprecise because it has different meanings for both sides. For the US, it would be North Korea’s active launch preparation of its nuclear-tipped ICBM. For North Korea, “US provocation” would be any discernible military force attack on North Korea’s targets, or their perception that a US strike is imminent.
Notwithstanding the recent perceived crisis, North Korea remains relatively stable. This could change because of the variables that are involved: removal of Kim, either by a targeted US strike followed by a North Korean military attack on South Korea.
Contemporary US history suggests that broad US domestic support for major US military action is essential – political unity and public and media support. The US administration must make a clear and persuasive argument that justifies a US military attack on North Korea. Failure to do so would portray the US as trigger-happy.
The Trump administration primary objective was to focus on domestic issues such as health care, middle class employment, tax reform, and enhancing and protecting the US critical infrastructure. Surprise! The global issues are the US priority: North Korea, Russia, Iran, Syria, and ISIS.
The potential US strategy:
America First, with the condition that addressing and partially resolving international matters is the predicate for focusing on domestic issues.
The US has recaptured global perception of its international leadership role and responsibility: fear the US, respect us, and love us, maybe.
Recent international developments suggest that the US is in the process of developing a comprehensive domestic and international strategy to be followed by tactical implementation.
The US can enhance the efficacy of its strategy by adopting a “complementary strategy” approach, wherein the US consults with other states to determine their strategic objectives, if any, and incorporate item, if possible, into overall US strategy. An example of US transformative strategy is the US/China burgeoning favorable relationship.
Overall, the current North Korea crisis is not a crisis, rather it is part of a prolonged, oscillating adversarial relationship. In this context, the North Korean threat is not its nuclear capability, rather, it is how the US manages the current North Korea non-crisis.
The opinions in this post are those of Richard Friedman. He and ZipDialog welcome your response, either here or on Facebook, where it is also posted.