The geopolitics, psychology and economics of the North Korean crisis, the Afghan war and the final gambit
If bombs start falling in North Korea, and if Kim Jong-Un is foolish enough to retaliate, it won’t be hard to convince the American public that war was unavoidable, and that the president should be given broad leeway to do “what needs to be done”. After all Kim Jong Un is crazy. He’s an evil buffoon with delusions of grandeur (he’s not about to be out-done by Mr. Trump).
Mr. Trump has threatened preemptive strikes if North Korea tests a weapon and now he’s warning that a “major, major conflict” is on the table. Considering the fact that this comes right after Trump just bombed the Syrian government, effectively strengthening ISIS (while simultaneously reducing strikes against ISIS dramatically), and has hamstrung efforts to initiate an impartial investigation, one would be advised to take the official account of what goes wrong, when this goes wrong, with a grain of salt.
In Geopolitics, and especially when dealing with countries that you are technically still at war with, credible threats, combined with shows of force are irresponsible provocations, that can easily spin out of control.
Both sides are off the rails, which isn’t all that surprising if you really think about it. Kim Jong-Un and Donald J. Trump are operating at roughly the same intellectual and emotional maturity level. Their psychology is remarkably similar.
They’re both thin skinned, manicured, bullies, who mask their insecurities with pretense and bluster; tiny minds who make themselves feel bigger by putting others down. And here they are playing chicken with the nuclear trigger; like they’re auditioning for a part in an Idiocracy prequel, or Team America Part II.
Wars of aggression are always framed in terms of defense. Ideally the enemy will be provoked or encouraged to cross a line, after which a demonization campaign will ensue. Look into the Eight Action Memo for how this was used in World War II.
If the target doesn’t take the bait an attack can be simulated, or conjured up out of this air. The Reichstag Fire has served as a historical template. The psychology is more divisive in recent examples.
The United States has a history of invading small countries which lack the means to defend themselves, and leaving those capable of striking back alone or only attacking by proxy.
Washington also has a history of targeting countries that are sitting on strategic resources or transport routes, or which attempt to mount any form of economic resistance. Trump has openly endorsed this practice by the way (which is a break from the typical propaganda cover that is usually employed).
Of course presenting it to the public in those terms isn’t an option. Wars of aggression must be framed with as defense, provocations as diplomacy, and the target as a super villain who’s only motive is death and destruction.
Were you aware that it was recently discovered that North Korea is sitting on the worlds largest deposit of rare earth metals? In fact their deposit is twice as large as the world’s total known reserves prior to this discovery. This is find is estimated to be worth trillions of dollars (that’s trillions with a T).
Rare earth metals are essential in the manufacture of modern electronics, which makes it a matter of strategic importance, and China currently has a monopoly on global production. In the context of an escalation in the South China or the East China seas, this would be a significant vulnerability for the west.
Afghanistan also just happens to be sitting on a massive deposit of these metals This deposit is also valued in the trillions.
Afghanistan is blessed with presence of what are trillions (with an s on the end) trillions of dollars worth of minerals if and only if you can get the extractive technology, the human capital operated, the lines of communications to enable you to get it out of the country and all the rest of that…Army General David Patreus – Meet the Press August 2010
Funny. The U.S. is now ratcheting up the war on that front simultaneously. The new narrative is also revealing: Russia is being accused of backing the Taliban by proxy.
Left alone, North Korea would pose absolutely no threat to the United States. The country is impoverished, isolated, and technologically backward. It has nothing to gain from initiating an attack, and everything to lose. Trouble is, they haven’t been left alone.
For years the U.S. and South Korean militaries have been carrying out drills explicitly designed to send the message that Pyongyang is in the crosshairs, and that preemptive nuclear strikes are on the table. These provocations were ongoing under Obama, and have dramatically escalated under Trump.
In 2013 new sanctions cut North Korea off from the global financial system. In March of 2016 they banned its exports of gold, vanadium, titanium and rare earth metals.
The rare earth metals part is important. Remember, China already has a stranglehold on the rare earth metal industry world wide. If North Korea were allowed to exploit their deposit, global production would remain within China’s sphere of influence. Sanctions prevent China from expanding its dominance in this area temporarily, but to block China on this front permanently would require regime change (which brings us full circle).
Toppling Pyongyang however, would be anything but straight forward. The idea that the U.S. could launch surgical strikes then walk away is delusional. This would be a major war, and would destabilize the entire region. There is also a significant risk that attacking North Korea’s nuclear facilities would trigger a meltdown releasing tons of radioactive material into the atmosphere.
Decapitating the North Korean regime would be an indirect attack on China. It would create chaos in their backyard, triggering a a new refugee crisis, and virtually forcing them to intervene. As such, it would invite a retaliation. However China’s motives are complex and they are unlikely to respond in kind (at least not at first).
China clearly views the North Korean leadership as a liability. Throughout this crisis they have exerted significant pressure on Pyongyang, and have even signed on to tighter sanctions. In response Kim Jong-Un has resorted to directing some of his tough talk towards Beijing.
It would be naive to think that China is throwing little Kim under the bus just to appease the West. In fact one could make the case that the Chinese leadership is letting Washington play the bad cop, and that they have a strategy that accounts for regime change. If Washington does attack, the gambit would likely backfire (much like the 2014 coup in Ukraine) and China could end up consolidating influence on the peninsula rather than losing it. However, with nuclear weaponry in play, and the potential for a radioactive disaster on their border, this is not a dice that China wants to see rolled.
Both China and Russia have warned the U.S. against strikes. They have also proposed a diplomatic solution to the crisis: North Korea would suspend nuclear testing if the U.S. and South Korea stop the drills.
Instead of responding diplomatically, Trump upped the ante by deploying the THAAD missile defense system to South Korea, a move that both China and Russia interpret as a direct threat. Much like NATO deployments and missile defense installations in Eastern Europe, they view this as an attempt to tip the balance of mutually assured destruction; giving Washington the means of striking Russia and China preemptively and neutralizing counter attacks. Given the fact that the NDAA of 2013 explicitly ordered the U.S. military to develop the means of destroying China’s underground tunnel systems using conventional or nuclear weaponry, this isn’t paranoia.
While this aggressive posture could be spun as strengthening America’s position, in actuality, it forces both China and Russia to move their hands closer to the nuclear trigger.
China and Russia do not want a hot war, and if at all possible, they intend to avoid it. They know that given enough time, the United States will implode of its own accord, and the global balance of power would recalibrate.
Trouble is, the Washington establishment also knows this, and they have no intention of letting go without a fight.
Their last, desperate gambit is world war. In preparation for that war the U.S. has been rigging the game board on multiple fronts in advance, positioning itself to control the world’s most important geopolitical chokepoints, crushing rivals sitting on strategic resources and supply routes, and conditioning the American public to view the other side as the aggressor.
However if recent history serves as any indicator, this is not going to go according to plan.