12 March 2016

Happiness is having your very own atomic bomb. This week we saw pictures of beaming North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, examining either a nuclear model or maybe even the real warhead of a miniaturized nuclear weapon.

Having a nuclear warhead is not, however, enough to scare your enemies and neighbors. You’ve got to have a fast, reliable delivery system. On his last birthday, a joyous Kim revealed what may be a submarine-launched missile believed capable of carrying a nuclear weapon.

Added to Kim’s new intercontinental ballistic missile (which may or may not work), the sub-launched strategic missile gave the South Koreans, Japanese and Americans apoplexy. China was not far behind in blasting the impudent North Koreans.

Meanwhile, a hugely provocative military exercise is underway, involving 15,000 US troops, 300,000 South Koreans, and an armada of US warplanes and warships. These war games are an annual event that enrages North Korea because they are obviously rehearsing an invasion of the North, and the decapitation of its leadership – namely Kim Jong-un.

Predictably, Kim threatened blood-curdling revenge on the US and its “South Korean and Japanese lackeys.” He ordered North Korea’s limited nuclear forces onto red alert. Whether pure bluff or not remained unknown. American generals claimed Kim’s ICBM’s can now hit the US West Coast. But the Pentagon also warned of Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

What we are really witnessing is North Asian Kabuki: a highly stylized mock confrontation that pleases all sides. It gives the US a perfect excuse to keep a powerful garrison in South Korea and the region, and to add reinforcements as part of President Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia.” China’s angry responses are to be ignored.

North Korea’s threats are also allowing the US to go ahead with implanting a new THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea. High altitude THAAD will be of little use to defend South Korea. Any North Korean missile attack will come at low altitude and very short range- Seoul is only 40 km from North Korea’s border.

THAAD is really designed to intercept any missile launches from China against the US or Japan (including Okinawa). Beijing is fit to be tied over THAAD – just as Moscow was over the foolish plan to put a US antimissile system in Bulgaria and Romania. Russia is glowering.

Beating war drums helps keep Kim and his military-dominated regime in power in spite of economic hardship. Japan and South Korea will get more military aid from the US.

China, by contrast, gets the short end of the stick: it is forced to reluctantly tighten sanctions on an old ally, North Korea, while seeing new US military forces emplace themselves in its strategic and vulnerable Northeast.

Discount, or even ignore, all the howling about the danger of Kim’s North Korea. His sabre rattling and nuclear arms are defensive. They are the result of Washington’s refusal to recognize the Pyongyang regime and crushing sanctions against the North. A non-aggression pact would likely end Kim’s nuclear program.

But there’s a far larger risk from North Korea that is hardly ever discussed: the potential collapse of the Kim dynasty and North Korea’s descent into chaos. First, there will be a mass exodus of millions of starving North Koreans to South Korea that Seoul calls, “unexpected reunification.”

An even larger danger would be caused by any political/military vacuum in the North. This would quickly create a dangerous confrontation between US Asian forces, South Korea, Japan and neighboring China. A vacuum in such a strategic location must draw in all regional powers, including Russia – Vladivostok is just up the coast.

China needs a friendly North Korea as a buffer state to protect its vital Northeast region that was the site of the first Japanese-China War in 1894 and the bloody, 1904 Russo-Japanese War. Beijing cannot allow the US to turn North Korea into a second South Korea – a useful vassal state occupied by American, South Korean and possibly Japanese troops. It’s only a mere 3.5 hour drive from North Korea’s Yalu River border to China’s key northern port of Dalian, gateway to the Beijing heartland.

Objectionable and cruel though it is, the Kim regime in Pyongyang is the cork that keeps this scary genii in its bottle. Any change in North Korea’s equilibrium could plunge North Asia into the gravest crisis at a time when the region is also seething with tensions over China’s attempts to dominate the South China Sea.

After foolishly overthrowing Libya’s Col. Muammar Khadaffi, and thus unleashing waves of jihadism against North Africa, the Sahara and West Africa, one would think the West had learned a valuable lesson about being short-sighted and uneducated. But it seems here we go again in North Asia. The US just can’t abstain from mixing in other people’s local conflicts. Why else would US troops be scattered across West and East Africa?

Caution is advised. The Kim we know will always be preferable to the Kim we don’t.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2016

This post is in: Asia, China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, USA


  1. The Kim we know is probably not the real Kim, but a depiction of him by the propaganda machine, just like other enemies were depicted before, until we saw the real person, who turned out to be the almost opposite. Just consider how the Russian people were shown to be like until Michael and Raisa Gorbachev came for a visit. That really exposed the gross and negative exaggeration of the propaganda during the cold war. Just like the Nazis were depicted on TV after WW2 to be a bunch of dumb bumbling jerks. If that had been true, then it would not speak well for the allies, who needed all the help they could get to defeat them. Only the politically ignorant swallow that nonsense. Considering the huge debt the US owes to China, one would expect a bit more respect for those lenders. After all, they were good enough to loan the money and provide the cheap labor the multi nationals wanted for the goods, that were manufactured in China to the supplied specifications of those companies. And when a lot of it turned out to be of poor quality, the Chinese got the blame. Nobody ever seems to stop and think about this. The only reason the US still stays afloat and relatively peaceful is because of the gross political ignorance of the masses. An other big ally of the US government is the monopolizing of the MSM. Look at that sick election campaign. Trump reminds me of Adolf in 1933 and Canada may be seen as the Austria of the 21st. century, except with Trudeau at the helm, it will not be as easy to get an ‘anschluss’ as it would have been under lackey Stevie.

  2. KeninCanada says:

    But the Pentagon also warned of Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

    Didn’t the Pentagon advise Bush in 2000 that Iraq had no weapons of mass distruction? The false propaganda came from the Republicans and their allies in the military.

  3. Mike Smith says:

    I think North Korea could wage an effective war without a missile delivery system. While Seoul is close to the border with the north, I would say that would exclude it as a Nuclear target. The conventional forces North Korea could deploy should capture Seoul with relative ease under the right circumstance.
    Pusan in the far south on the other hand would be a very strategic target. Eliminate the largest port and second largest city, logistically the rest of the country would be weakened considerably. Perhaps a 3-5 kt device hidden on a freighter entering the port.
    The same strategy would be very effective against Japanese ports, especially if Yokosuka could be hit while the American Carrier was in port there.
    The only drawback is the inevitable retaliation strikes would destroy North Korea. Mind you this works both ways and should keep everyone in check… if the US would quit running exercises, deploying new weapons, and generally antagonizing North Korea I think things would calm down considerably. Kim has enough problems at home, if ignored he would not have an enemy to point at and would be forced to deal with issues of starvation and economy.

  4. As much as I have a lot of respect for Mr. Margolis, I totally disagree with his opinion on North Korea.

    It seems Mr. Margolis still has some cold wars thinking in regard to the “buffer” effect of North Korea. If there is going to be a war, which is highly unlikely, between the US and China, with the current weaponry and technology, a buffer is almost of no importance.

    Morally speaking, North regime should be annilated from this earth, I guess there is not much disagreement here. 30 million people living under the trampling of that regime is an insult to all humanity.

    Let me get off my moral high horse and focuse on the consequences of a collapsed North Korea regime.

    North Koreans have been brainwashed for more than 60 years, the people are mostly weak, subservient, afraid of any authority. There is no religious extremism there. The worst scenario would be a short period of confusion and disorientation. However, with efficient and enough international supervision and aid, the situation could be quickly under control.

    There will be no mess like the ones of Iraq or Libya, no civil war or uncontrolled refugee flooding, no matter whether the collapse comes from within or without.

    I don’t have the means to quantify the pros and cons of a North Korean collapse, I can only say that the cons are negligible to the pros.

  5. From Wiki, “As of 2013, with 9,495,000 active, reserve, and paramilitary personnel, it is the largest military organization on Earth.”
    Without nuclear weapons, this is a pretty formidable army; I understand they are well armed and well trained… and dedicated to their country.
    The Americans or South Korea does not want to ‘poke this bear’ or provoke it. They seem to do this with the endless, and pointless, war games being played out. Kim’s silly actions do not help issues.
    The country does not seem to be the most stable, financially or politically. We don’t know how much of this is disinformation brought forth by the Western newpapers. The common masses seem to be resolute in supporting a regime that causes them great ‘pain and suffering’, part of this being brought on by American driven embargos.

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