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December 2, 2020

North Korea: A likely war?

For well over ten days, ever since the Assad regime’s chemical weapons attack in Syria’s Idlib province and particularly since the retaliation ordered by President D. Trump, with cruise missile launched by two American warships from the Eastern Mediterranean targeting the airbase from which the fighter bombers carrying payloads of sarin had taken off, the whole world is anxiously following international developments.

The American cruise missile attack (April 7), was followed by the visit to Moscow paid by the head of U.S. diplomacy Rex Tillerson (April 12), and by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to the DMZ (the Korean Peninsula’s demilitarized zone separating the two Korean states) on April 16, by a large-scale military parade organised by the communist regime in Pyongyang, and by threats of hitting the U.S. East Coast, coming simultaneously with the North Korean leader’s test launch of an intercontinental missile, which basically failed on the launch pad (April 15-16). But, meanwhile, in parallel with these aforementioned events, other events of significant importance took place on the international scene. In Afghanistan, the U.S. dropped history’s largest non-nuclear bomb on the terrorists’ network of tunnels located at the country’s border with Pakistan, in order to destroy them.

In Turkey, whose stance is hostile toward Europe, a referendum on the changing of the political regime through constitutional amendments took place on April 16, being narrowly won by President R. Erdogan, his American counterpart being the first Western leader to congratulate him, unlike the others, who seem to be waiting for the OSCE report on the fairness of the Turkish referendum. In the U.S., at the same time, the public opinion campaign meant to prove that President Trump and his team had impermissible ties with Russia during last year’s presidential campaign is continuing at a higher intensity, Congress’s commission of inquiry working to clarify these accusations (some of its members travelled to Cyprus at the end of last week to investigate the links of some banks, known as being used by Russian oligarchs, with American politicians).

The aforementioned cavalcade of events – some of them were omitted because of lack of space, among them the visit that Chinese President Xi Jinpin paid to Washington, his American counterpart informing him, at the end of the official dinner, about the launch of the salvo of cruise missiles against Syria right as it was happening – have raised numerous questions whose answers have been searched since. By the press but also by experts on their own blogs or twitter accounts, but also by the chancelleries of international actors that are trying to identify the course of events. Here are but some of these questions: what were the main reasons for the American attack on the Syrian airbase held by government forces, where Russian soldiers were also deployed: an announcement of the U.S.’s forceful entry into the solving of the Syrian dossier; D. Trump’s attempt to use an external military action as a way out of the grave situation he finds himself in domestically, where his slump in approval ratings was unprecedented; a signal to Russia that it is not the only great power that would solve the complicated Syrian dossier and that Iran’s presence in that country is not on the U.S.’s liking?; or a signal for Moscow to give up its support for Assad?; does this American cruise missile salvo in Syria, immediately followed by the dropping of the bomb on Taliban positions in Afghanistan, signal the U.S.’s massive and forceful involvement in the global war on terrorism or are these events that the North Korean regime should pay attention to, having recently announced (April 13) a nuclear test and preparations for a new missile launch?; what were the results of Tillerson’s visit to Moscow (April 12), especially since the day prior to it he had joined the heads of G-7 diplomacies in condemning Russia’s annexation of Crimea and in supporting the extension of the sanctions?; Did the Putin-Tillerson meeting tackle the Ukrainian dossier or the Syrian dossier or, on the contrary, as it appeared on social media, did it tackle the already negotiated contract for a huge natural gas field in the Arctic?; Where are U.S.-Russia relations heading to now?; Why did Vice President Mike Pence visit the DMZ between the two Korean states, in fact stating that Washington has left behind the “strategic patience” phase in relation to the North Korean regime?; Could this mean that the U.S. is planning on attacking North Korea?; Isn’t that very risky, the unpredictability of this communist country’s leader being known?; Does the U.S. have China’s full support in resolving this nuclear proliferation dossier, information about the agreement between the two president already surfacing? So on and so forth.

Let us also note that such international events are taking place against the backdrop of the upcoming presidential elections in France, and the UK announced (April 17) it will hold snap elections less than two months from now, which will have an impact on the already started Brexit negotiations, that a lengthy political crisis continues in Macedonia, and the Western Balkans are showing signs of instability. Hence, Europe is not in the best shape to handle unpredictable developments.

But the most terrible event consequences-wise is taking place in Asia, on the Korean Peninsula. Ever since April 11, when, after his talks with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinpin, the American President wrote on Twitter that “I explained to the President of China that a trade deal with the U.S. will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem!”, it was clear that a big crisis was approaching.

His message the following day, also posted on Twitter, with the note that “North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.”, left no doubt about the hottest point on the planet. And another April 13 message lifted the previous concern to the highest levels, the North Korean crisis gaining another connotation too, namely even the possible confrontation between the planet’s most important poles of power: “I have great confidence that China will properly deal with North Korea. If they are unable to do so, the U.S., with its allies, will! U.S.A.” Starting on April 14, experts warned that, based on existing statements, “a unilateral strike on N Korea is a real option” (Ian Bremmer). On April 17, after he visited the demilitarised zone between the two Korean states, Mike Pence stated that the communist regime would better “not test Trump’s resolve.” It’s obvious that the positions expressed are meant on one hand to prove the U.S. resolve to put an end to Pyongyang’s provocations and possible to determine it to give in, and, on the other hand, that a worse scenario is to be expected.

Namely a military strike, whether conventional or nuclear. On the same day, G. Rachman wrote in ‘The Financial Times’ that the unpredictability of the Korean leader can make this strategy fail: “But while it is certainly conceivable that the Trump administration’s bellicose strategy could deliver, it is more likely that North Korea will not back down — and that the Trump strategy will therefore fail.” He goes on to write that, in the same situation, President Trump can consider a nuclear “first strike” possible: “There are members of the president’s inner circle who do indeed believe that the Trump administration is seriously contemplating a ‘first strike’ on North Korea. But if Kim Jong Un has drawn the same conclusion — he may reach for the nuclear trigger first.” According to this informed analysis, nuclear war on the Korean peninsula is thus likely.

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