Earlier this week, the United States Navy sped the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group toward North Korea. Yesterday, the United States Air Force demonstrated pinpoint accuracy with the GBU-43/B Mother of All Bombs (MOAB) on an ISIS cave system in Afghanistan, illustrating for anyone watching that we can take out a good-sized military force with incredible precision. Today, Air China stopped flying over North Korean air space.
See where this is going? We certainly hope North Korea does.
North Korea has been a sore spot with the Czar since World War II ended, and it remains the only lasting bad decision of the war. Yes, the Soviet Union fell and China has become so dependent on US trade that war between the two of us would be predictably bad for business. But North Korea is an itch that won’t go away.
United States foreign policy toward North Korea has labored for over 60 years under two extremely fallacious ideas:
- Appeasing North Korea with food and minimal necessities will buy you time until the regime collapses under its own weight.
- China controls North Korea, and we can’t do anything there without their help.
Neither of these premises are true.
Today, the Czar has no interest in beating a single war drum. North Korea is a bad, bad place to fight, and its ordnance is horrifyingly close to millions of innocent and freedom-loving South Koreans. The Czar knows—through his own channels—that a military assessment made during the Clinton years concluded that the United States could, with China’s staying out of it, take down almost all of the North Korean command, control, communications, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) in about 20-30 minutes. Despite PyŏngYang’s military parades, constant drilling, and perpetual war-time footing, they’re genuinely a 1950s-era military with no experience (all the original guys were dead or executed years ago), and insufficient outward reach. 20 to 30 minutes might be a stretch, but the NorKs make the Iraqis of Desert Storm look like the Avengers.
Therefore, the Clinton administration concluded, as did the Bush administration later, and the Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy, and Eisenhower administrations before, that North Korea was living on borrowed time. They have no food, no resources, no infrastructure, no trade, no research, no development, no assets, no friends, and no future. Probably, under the leadership du jour,* the North Korean government will collapse within five years of whatever day you pick.
So you ameliorate them a little. Negotiate. Offer carrots for good behavior. North Koreans will promise all day long only to laugh at you when you leave the room. If you don’t solve North Korea during your presidency, don’t worry: the next guy will take care of it.
The sad truth is that North Korea is not going to change: it is perfectly balanced on a pin-tip. It has found a way to subsist on nothing: and that, unlike Venezuela or Yemen or ISIS, means North Korea will not collapse. It doesn’t need to! Of course, all it needs is a tiny push in any direction.
We have no idea what President Trump** really will do with North Korea, but so far—and so early in his administration—he doesn’t seem to partake in that first myth. He, or someone close to him, seems to regard North Korea with wiser eyes: that the North really is at war with the entire world, and it’s happy to resume its extermination of the South. The Czar must assure you this is a sea-change in how we have treated North Korea, and that sea seems to contain a carrier strike group right now.
The other myth is just as stupid. Long-time readers know the Czar’s belief that China views North Korea as it’s drunk, stupid, and crazy uncle. You know, the guy who shows up at really large family weddings, starts insulting everyone, and drops his pants while someone—usually China—throws a towel around his waist and pulls him down from the dessert table to get him a cab home.
Because here it is: China absolutely hates North Korea. It’s been a pimple on China’s anus since 1950. China’s military remains on high alert around the Yalu River not because it likes North Korea, but because North Korea exports all its bullshit over that river for China to deal with. China would love to see North Korea collapse.
But—and this is the keystone of the problem—North Korea has to fall China’s way. What China does not want is to see North Korea go tango-uniform, and the new interim democratic government elect to unify with the South. A unified Korea is bad news for China: trillions of dollars will pour into the North from Korea, Japan, and the United States, and put a massive manufacturing economy right on the border with China. A unified Korea has the potential to exceed Japanese economic influence: if you think Samsung is powerful now, imagine it in a unified Korea.
This is the source of terrible dread for China. On the other hand, just imagine what would happen if North Korea decided to remain a separate country and ask China for help. Picture a Marshall Plan for China and North Korea: massive Chinese investment, cheaper Korean labor, and a total outlet for Chinese goods for the next 20 years. China sustains its gasping economy for another generation, and the United States, Japan, and Korea lose out. China makes trillions of dollars.
This alone is why China has promoted this imaginary relationship with North Korea, Yeah, she hates that crazy, drunk uncle—but happens to own an incredible piece of under-developed property. He’s going to leave that to somebody—and flipping that property could be a massive boon for China. She can’t wait for him to die, but she’ll always be the one to make sure he gets home safe in a cab.
You’re getting the picture. China doesn’t like North Korea: but she is looking to protect her future investments there.
Again, we have to wonder what President Trump*** thinks. But he seems to be banking on China doing nothing at this point. Going to China to say enough’s enough? Hasn’t been done before. Putting carriers off the coast? Hasn’t been done before. Openly ridiculing the North to piss them off? Also new. No wonder China canceled its flights into North Korea.
Maybe that investment isn’t going to pay off. Maybe it’s time to cut those losses.
* The Czar knows that foreign policy opinions become instantly credible when French and Latin phrases are sprinkled around. They’re the bons mots sine qua non of policy discussion.
** That’s still weird, like typing President Colonel Sanders or President Stimpy.
*** Or President Pauly Shore or President Charo. That’s weird.