Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Beating the Drums of War

Source: "The Hard Truth About THAAD, South Korea and China"--National Interest
       As you know, a special meeting was held for all Senators on North Korea. Although specifics are classified, some of the general points are leaking out. Reuters reports: 
       Democratic Senator Christopher Coons told reporters after the White House briefing that military options were discussed. 
       "It was a sobering briefing in which it was clear just how much thought and planning was going into preparing military options, if called for, and a diplomatic strategy that strikes me as clear-eyed and well proportioned," Coons said. 
       Tillerson will chair a ministerial meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday that is expected to discuss tougher steps, which U.S. officials say could include an oil embargo, banning North Korea's airline, intercepting cargo ships and punishing Chinese and other foreign banks doing business with Pyongyang. 
       However to be effective, such steps will require the full support of China, North Korea's neighbor and only ally.
       From the Washington Free Beacon, we also learn that:
       Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.) told MSNBC the meeting was "very consequential" and included discussion of North Korea's shift from liquid to solid fuel missiles, and improving nuclear weapons and missile capabilities. 
       Barrasso said he favors increasing sanctions, including sanctions on China.
Interestingly, the same article indicates that "[a] U.N. panel of experts revealed in a report in February that debris obtained from a North Korean missile flight test last year included Chinese and Russian components."

       At the same time, in addition to the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missile defense system newly installed in South KoreaAdm. Harry Harris, the chief of U.S. Pacific Command, told the House Armed Services Committee that a similar system and radar should be installed in Hawaii.

      China has objected to the siting of the THAAD in South Korea, complaining that "the system's powerful radar can penetrate its territory and undermine its security." This explanation is contrived: U.S. radar already "penetrates" its territory, spy satellites pass overhead, and listening stations intercept its communications. I suspect China's objection is that THAAD would act as a shield should military action be used against North Korea. North Korea's conventional armaments won't be as effective as often portrayed in the media, and offer much less a deterrent than do nuclear weapons.

      What is being overlooked by the media in all of this is that the current response is not because North Korea can strike South Korea with a nuclear missile, or even Japan, but that North Korea is reaching for the gold ring: to be able to directly threaten the United States. If North Korea had limited its missiles to only short or medium range systems allowing it to strike only its neighbors the response from the United States would have been the traditional saber rattling and threats of economic sanctions. But North Korea instead has decided to pull on Superman's cape, so to speak, and thus the response is much different.

       Also note that much of the response, to date, has actually been aimed to pressure China into doing something. China is upset about the THAAD deployment. China is the one that is going to be facing pressure at the U.N. over sanctions intended to isolate North Korea. China is going to be facing questions about what materials it provided to North Korea. China is the one facing possible economic sanctions from the U.S. if it continues to support North Korea. It is really up to China whether the U.S. will take direct action. The problem for China (or rather, its leaders) is to come up with a face saving way to take action against North Korea. The longer this is drawn out, the harder it will become for China to do so.

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