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April 14, 2021

N. Korea: “The era of strategic patience is over.”

Former CIA Director Leon Panetta recently stated at a forum on international security and the current global situation, which took place on 1-2 December 2017 in California (Simi Valley), that: “I have never seen as many flash points in the world probably since World War II.” He of course referred to the extraordinary fluidity of the current international situation, dominated by contradictory trends and flash points about to explode. L. Panetta is completely right. While during the Cold War the U.S.-USSR competition registered numerous flash points or wars by proxies – from the war on the Korean Peninsula from 1950 to 1953 (peace is not concluded yet) to the one in Vietnam (1962-1975), as well as regions of extreme volatility, such as the Middle East, defined by successive Israeli-Arab clashes whose series started after 1948, or involving the decolonisation of the Portuguese colonial empire in the 1970s – Angola, Mozambique, Sub-Saharan Africa – or the ones in South Asia, circumscribed to the confrontations between India and Pakistan, the theocratic revolution in Iran (1979) and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan –, today’s situation is unprecedented.

This is clear if we relate to the fact that the entire global order, established after the Second World War and radically polished at the non-violent end of the Cold War, is today questioned, and a nuclear war seems imminent. This last statement may seem alarming, if not exaggerated, but it is sufficient to extract the main ideas from the speech that Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, Trump administration’s national security adviser, gave before the participants in the forum on 1 December 2017. Here are some of them: “The rogue regimes of Iran and North Korea are violating the sovereignty of their neighbors, pursuing weapons of mass destruction, and exporting terror to other nations.”; “The era of strategic patience is over.” ; “We do not base national security decisions on rigid ideology but instead on our core national interests.” ;  “/USA President /  will soon unveil the details of his new strategy, but I can tell you now that it will focus on protecting our homeland, advancing American prosperity, preserving peace through strength… and finally enhancing American influence.” And when asked by the moderator, the general offered details on the North Korean problem: “The greatest immediate threat to the United States and to the world is the threat posed by the rogue regime in North Korea.”; “It means we’re in a race. We’re in a race to be able to solve this problem.”; “There are ways to address this problem short of armed conflict, but it is a race because he’s getting closer and closer and there’s not much time left.”; “Has the potential of war with North Korea increased with this latest launch?” H.R. McMaster: “I think it’s increasing every day.”; “South Korea and Japan are improving their defense capabilities at breakneck speed.”; “So it’s immensely important that we work together with all of our allies, partners, everyone internationally, to convince Kim Jong Un that the continued pursuit of these capabilities is a dead end for him and his regime.”

The cited comments have their reason in the fact that the communist North Korean regime has amplified its provocative actions toward international security, launching last week an intercontinental ballistic missile whose range purportedly covers the whole U.S. territory. President Trump reacted by stating that the U.S. will not allow this new provocation to go unanswered. Asked how the White House reaction should be interpreted, General McMaster said that “what the president’s saying is, we all need to take care of it. If necessary, the president and the United States will have to take care of it, because he has said he’s not going to allow this murderous, rogue regime to threaten the United States with the most destructive weapons on the planet.” Moreover, he underscored that such international behaviour on the part of the North Korean communist leader represents a major threat on an international scale, some states being encouraged to obtain nuclear weapons to be able to defend (South Korea and Japan), while for others – such as China and Russia – this very evolution in regional arming represents a grave danger.

Renowned international experts do not doubt that the drums of war are sounding after this new North Korean provocation. Without showing the arguments that determine his position, for instance, former Swedish Premier Carl Bildt, who visited Washington last week, posted on his twitter account that “I agree with @CER_Grant that the war drums over Korea are being prepared. No response from Pyongyang to discreet diplomatic approaches. Sanctions only long term in effect. And NK ICBM and nuclear programs forge ahead.” There are doubts, Bildt goes on to show, in what concerns the initiator of the war: “Pyongyang starting war would be same as committing suicide. And whether Trump can really launch ‘preventive’ war not certain. Constitutional authority? Many feel that Iraq wasn’t much of a success.”

Thus, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the “era of strategic patience” is being abandoned in Washington – after all, sanctions work only in the long run but the North Korean regime is multiplying with heightened frequency its challenges toward the international community –, and a war is at the horizon. Panetta is right, today’s situation is more dangerous than ever before since the end of the Second World War.

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