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Donald Trump\'s \'fire and fury\'

Muhammad Mahmood | Published: August 13, 2017 20:47:32 | Updated: October 24, 2017 08:41:02


The United States and North Korea appear to be on a collision course. Their differing national interests are heading towards irreconcilability and that is clearly reflected in President Trump's threat that the US would respond to any North Korean provocation with "fire and fury like the world has never seen". Those comments were made by the President in the wake of US intelligence report suggesting that North Korea had developed capabilities to miniaturise nuclear warheads and can fit that to an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM).
The Japanese Defence Ministry with its Annual White Paper also came to the aid of the US Intelligence assessment with a whole range of conjectural assertions without providing any concrete evidence. But the real focus of the paper was more directed at China's actions in the East and South China seas. Tokyo now sees the standoff between North Korea and the USA as an opportunity to further fortify its position as the key ally of the USA in the region and to counter China's growing influence. Furthermore, now Japan can use the threat from North Korea to justify its endeavour to lift constitutional restrictions to have its fully fledged operational armed forces capable of deploying overseas as and when it sees it fit to do so.
We have seen and heard that all before -- evil Iraqis pulling children out of incubators and the country being well stocked with weapons of mass destructions (WMDs). The same US intelligence sources are now peddling the information that North Korea has produced miniaturised nuclear war heads to fit into the ICBM which has recently been developed by North Korea.  This is the core of the assessment made by the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA). They even further concluded that North Korea had in possession of 60 such miniaturised warheads ready for deployment. But those assertions are contested by many US war experts. But how this intelligence has been gathered also remains a great mystery to most observers of North Korea. The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is in full agreement with President Trump's strategy and the Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshohide Suga even emphasised to further strengthen the relationship between the two countries to deter and respond to the threat. These really sound like "Saddam stockpiling WMDs" or "Iran is just six months away from having nuclear weapons",  peddled out every six months over 20 years until 2015.
The fire and fury statement by the President is historically completely inaccurate. In fact, North Korea did experience fire and fury from the USA military almost 70 years ago. President Harry Truman did threaten to use nuclear weapons against North Korea even though he knew the consequences of the experiment he conducted in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But North Korea was so heavily carpet-bombed that 80 per cent of its cities were destroyed and 20 per cent of its people were killed. This devastation was wreaked by conventional weapons. The US was dropping 800 tons of bombs a day, most of it was pure napalm. There was nothing very much left large enough to use atomic weapons. In the USA, people know nothing much about it but North Koreans definitely know all about it. No wonder North Korea views the USA, not South Korea as its primary adversary and the hindrance to unification of the Korean Peninsula. 
Also the Korean war was really never ended, only an armistice was signed but no peace treaty. Repeated calls by North Korea for a peace treaty and non-aggression pact, yielded no response from the USA till today. North Korea's pursuit of a nuclear weapon is very much because of that experience, of that lived experience and recovering from that experience of total devastation. Now North Korea believes that a peace treaty and non-aggression pact are no longer sufficient to guarantee North Korea's survival as a state. They have also seen what happened to both Saddam in Iraq and Gaddafi in Libya whose country gave up WMD programme. Kim Jong-Un may be a very unusual type of political leader but he is not irrational. He has rather some rationale to back his actions which are survival; survival of his regime and survival of his country. Under his leadership, North Korea has drastically accelerated its nuclear and missile programmes to develop demonstrable capacity to strike at the continental USA with nuclear weapons. It is a dangerous gamble but worth the risk from their point of view because the alternative is capitulation.
Trump's fire and fury statement on North Korea is adding to intensify an already very tense situation. Now he has moved onto declare "locked and loaded" thus further upping the ante. These blustering is more geared to emphasise that the USA is the ultimate guarantor of security of South Korea and Japan. North Korea remains a very small military power relative to the United States.  But definitely North Korea is not going to give up its what it considers as a rational strategic option against the threat of attack from the USA. In essence North Korea is "threatening" to defend itself if attacked and reserving the right to use nuclear weapons in its defence. Kim Jong-Un is neither a fool nor irrational. He is not going to commit suicide by unilaterally unleashing his nuclear weapons against the USA, Japan or South Korea. Its nuclear weapons are purely for deterrence purposes. By the same token, Donald Trump might be a loose cannon, but not irrational.
The corporate media in the USA and countries allied with the USA are turning purely conjectural assertions into a fantasy of an imminent North Korean nuclear attack on the USA. The weapons industry in the USA which accounts for 10 per cent of total manufacturing output of the country also has very close links with its corporate media. Furthermore, the industry exerts tremendous influence on the politics of the country. Obviously the weapons industry needs war or war-like situations (as is happening now with North Korea) to keep it well oiled and greased. 
But other more strategic issues are at stake - the very future of the US presence in the Asia-Pacific region. With Japan (technically) under the US military occupation, the USA sees South Korea as the most important geo-strategic point to maintain its dominance in the Asia-Pacific region in particular to encircle China. The US also has the war-time operational control over South Korea. China also sees North Korea as a buffer against US military presence in the peninsula.
North Korea in essence is a side-show, the real target is rising China. The US has 160,000 soldiers in the region with 30,000 in South Korea to surround China. The Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera rather got down to the core point and said that while North Korean represented  a deepening threat but it was China's continuing threatening behaviour in the East and South China seas was a major concern for Japan. This clearly demonstrates the US-Japanese strategic view of the current situation in the region.
But the US never ever got swayed by its allies' security concerns but by its own strategic ones. In the event of a North Korean regime collapse (due to the US military actions or for any other reasons), South Korea will absorb North Korea like West Germany did to East Germany and by virtue of that absorption South Korea will automatically become a nuclearised country with strong industrial muscle. That will then become automatically the raison d'etat for Japan to nuclearise itself. That will render the USA as redundant power to provide any security cover for Japan and now a unified Korea. More importantly, the whole of North East Asia will become fully nuclearised. That is not a prospect the USA is looking forward to. So sabre rattling will continue; nothing very much else. 
e-mail: muhammad.mahmood47@gmail.com

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