North Korea – How close are we to a Nuclear War?

As most Australian’s continued to grapple with the issue of Same Sex Marriage and whether to partake or not in the Postal Plebiscite that will now take place in North Korea things have deteriorated as both Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump have ratcheted up the rhetoric on potential military action. This increased tension has come about after another sanction being passed by the UN after North Korea carried out their latest Nuclear test (1). People have talked about these sanctions being the toughest sanctions to be implemented ever on a country and that Russia and China have supported this resolution however that should be taken with the grain of salt that the last resolution passed by the UN was also the toughest resolution and it has clearly had limited impact on North Korea’s Nuclear Program. This is because while Russia and China broadly support the resolutions in practice they have still maintained a large portion of their economic ties. As a result of the sanctions North Korea threatened to make an attack on America, specifically on Guam which is an important military base for the US. This threat has caused Donald Trump to make several threats in return threatening to bring fire and fury to North Korea if any action was taken on Guam and then when the international community wanted Trump to backdown his comments he doubled down and said that the US were locked and loaded and ready to bring fury like never seen before on North Korea in response to any attacks on Guam. This increased rhetoric along with North Koreas nuclear programming progressing at a faster rate than many predicted has left the world feeling more nervous than in a while at the prospect of Nuclear War. As a result of various UN arrangements and also the ANZUS alliance Australia have stepped in behind America in opposing North Korea’s latest actions and any action by North Korea against the US would lead to a conflict with Australia.

As with a lot of issues it’s important to get some historical perspective before discussing the current situation. (2) gives a pretty good summary of the history between North Korea and South Korea that I will summarise myself here. So at the end of WW2 as with a lot of conquered land there were disputes between Russia and the Western Alliance of the US, UK and France over how to divide the land that both Allies had claimed and so as with Germany there was a split in half with the US claiming the South of Korea and Russia the North of Korea. In the following years as the Communist regimes of Russia and China started to lay claim on being a World Force this led to a natural conflict with the Western Societies like America and Britain who wanted to maintain their world dominance. This culminated in the North Koreans and South Koreans both wanted to have their own nation and that split led to North Korea invading South Korea which started the Korean War. Now as the war went on China decided to enter the War to protect their interests in North Korea and as result of advanced War technology that the Brits had given them to help fight Japan in WW2 and sheer numbers their entrance into the conflict led to the Korean War ending in an armistice with no clear winner from the war.

From that point to the early nineties there was 40 years in which the Kim dynasty was pledged to be passed down to it’s second iteration Kim Jong-il and for most part their relative peace with both nations joining the UN in 1991. In 1993 and 1994 North Korea fire it’s first ballistic missile and the UN accused North Korea of breaking the Nuclear Non-Proliferation agreement. This agreement (3) essentially seeks to stop the spread of Nations acquiring or creating Nuclear Weapons and seeking to reduce the amount of Nuclear Weapons available. This push by North Korea is ended temporarily in 1994 by agreeing to stop further action on it’s nuclear programme in exchange for economic assistance in the form of oil. The mid to late nineties saw the new regime under Kim Jong-il flex it’s muscles and end the armistice agreement by sending troops into the demilitarised zone that was meant to act as a border between the North and South, it also showed some capability in advancement of it’s weaponry by firing a multistage rocket over to the Japanese sea. In 2002 and 2003 more evidence is shown that the North Koreans are starting their Nuclear Weapon program again and indeed the North Koreans pull out of both Nuclear Non Proliferation agreement and the armistice they signed with South Korea in relation to having no Nuclear Weapons within Korea. This leads to China, the Koreans, US, Russia and Japan starting talks that seek to come up with a solution to the nuclear issue, talks that until this day are continuing off and  on with some subset of these nations. The rest of the 2000’s continued this pattern of some progress on the issue being wiped out by North Korea then restarting some form of their nuclear program again. This then leads to this decade where in 2011 Kim Jong-Un took over from his father the rule of North Korea. Because of some tensions within his family and the military this succession has seen a ramping up of Nuclear Proliferation because his link to power is not as secure as his dad or grandfather. Indeed his brother was poisoned and his uncle assassinated in signs of this unrest. The first half of this decade has seen various threats made by the new leader at the US while also seeing more shows of increasing power by carrying out various weapons testing. This culminated in 2015 with the nuclear plant in Yongbyon reopening and that has led to a rapid improvement in the ability to create a larger scale nuclear weapon device. It is in the last few years that the rapid advancement has added concrete evidence to the years of rhetoric that has led to more concern with the current outbreak.

So a lot of intrigue with North Korea is based on their ability to use an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. Their ability to now fit miniaturised nuclear warheads into longer range weapons is a significant development from previous action (4). Having anywhere up to 60 missiles that can reach America or areas like Guam and even Australia means that when North Korea make threats now they actually have to be taken more seriously than previously. Also of issue is that if North Korea were to carry out an attack on Guam, America could and would strike back with an arsenal that is far greater than North Korea, however that would lead to North Korea then launching retaliatory action on South Korea. (5) Shows that while South Korea and USA can limit the damage that a retaliatory strike could do, any attack would still look at up to tens of thousands of deaths and potentially millions of injuries. I think that’s why Donald Trump is not the ideal leader for this situation. Again I think a lot of the rhetoric and military plans that Donald Trump and his team have suggested are not bad ideas, the problem is that he is going public with these issues and exaggerating what America plans to do in response to North Korea with language that inflames a North Korea leader that is not know for rational decision making. America probably would win any conflict that were to start between North Korea and itself and other allies however the cost in life and loss of territory to attacks would be significant and as a result some form of negotiation should still be the first choice of action.

The one caveat to my last comment is what do China do in any conflict. Yesterday a China  friendly newspaper came out and said that China would stay neutral in any dispute that was started by North Korea however they would intervene and assist North Korea if America initiated an attack on North Korea. This would suggest that other than agreeing to economic sanctions any thoughts of China helping the West in a military dispute is questionable. I think there are a few good reasons for that, firstly if North Korea were to be heavily attacked by America there would be a large amount of displaced citizens that would seek refuge in China. Now China are a rising economic power however it is still a great divide between the do’s and the do nots and they can’t afford to have to take in displaced citizens. Secondly in North Korea China have a good buffer in terms of a country that has similar worldwide views Economically and socially to itself in comparison to the more Western based countries in South Korea and Japan. Lastly China and North Korea have strong economic ties, China use a lot of North Koreans for cheap Labour as well as trade exports and imports with each other, I also think China have some empathy for the plight of an impoverished nation and see itself as someone who wants to help the people as elaborated in (6). All this being said I think China do realise that to rise up as an international force they can’t completely flout international resolutions and so that’s why you seem them tow the line on UN resolutions to some degree.

There are a few more things I’ve been seeing in the media and the public that are worth commenting on. Firstly I have seen a lot of comments saying why is the public getting a say on the Same Sex Marriage Postal Plebiscite and not on whether we go to war, which of course has come back up as we talk about potential action against North Korea. I repeat what I said in response to one such raising of the issue: No offence but to compare voting on SSM with oh wait Hitlers invading Poland, just give us three months to work out the publics mind on this one… in three months Hitler had conquered Poland and with Russia had made advances on several Balkan countries. Similarly if North Korea have taken action against Guam, the escalation may then involve Nuclear Weapons and so having a three month conversation on the merits of dealing with a Nuclear War is hardly appropriate. Now the debate on whether Parliament is informed is a more interesting one but I think the sudden nature of War may mean it’s more appropriate just to have sign off from the major party leaders. There’s also been the attacks on Donald Trump for somehow being at fault for the latest flare up between the North and South. I again think this is more of a cheap shot at Donald and while as I said above I don’t think he’s helping the situation I also think that it is North Koreas actions that are making this situation where it is now.

In terms of what I think will happen now I do again feel sorry for the North Korean People. While North Korea continue to build on their arsenal of weapons Nuclear or otherwise the people are forced to live in poverty and despite all this have been essentially brainwashed by leadership into believing that the only way they will become a worldwide force again is to build up military force to then be able to gain more territory to be able to gain economic credibility. I think I agree with Kim Beazley’s general takeaway that while we may not be about to go to War, we are in a very vulnerable situation and one where a small miscalculation from either side might lead to one side overreacting and carrying one action that would then lead to chain of events with an ending that could wipe out a good percentage of the earth via some nuclear bombs.

 

References

(1): https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/08/07/what-the-new-u-n-sanctions-on-north-korea-mean/?utm_term=.a2c3bcf0962a

(2): http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-15278612

(3): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_on_the_Non-Proliferation_of_Nuclear_Weapons

(4): http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/08/11/542837087/as-rhetoric-escalates-what-do-we-know-about-north-korea-s-nuclear-arsenal

(5): https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/how-north-korea-would-retaliate

(6): https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/china-north-korea-relationship

 

Donald Trump: 6 months on

When I was researching articles for this blog on the 6 months of Donald Trumps presidency I came across an interesting article on what 6 months of a Hilary Clinton presidency would have looked like(1). The key things from the article is the Supreme Court would have had Hilary’s choice Merrick Garland as the vacant supreme courts nominee rather than the Republican’s choice Neil Gorsouch. This is a big deal because a lot of the big human rights such as abortion rights can be determined by the Supreme Court. Having a more Conservative or Liberal Supreme Court therefore is a considerable voting issue for the public and is seen as one reason people voted for Donald Trump as traditional Republican’s despite not personally liking Donald himself. Another takeaway is that America is divided, as much as the Democrats have been very active about protesting Hilary Clinton losing to an insert personal insult here President; if the roles were reversed Republican’s would have been complaining about a Hilary win. I think much like Donald Trump Hilary Clinton would have also been unpopular and unlike Donald Trump she would have been going into a midterm election next year with an already lame duck status, so passing any form of policy would have been difficult for her too. The advantage of a Hilary Clinton presidency would obviously be an improved international standing with a greater respect for the US still from other world leaders and the US would not have exited the Paris Climate agreement, an important respect given the world needs a strong US in the current uncertainty. Obamacare would also have been left alone which would ensure that the issue would remain a poisoned chalice. I think overall my takeaway point from this article is that while Donald Trump is not helping a divided American public and I would argue is probably aggravating divides, Hilary Clinton is not the saviour of division either and so you would still have an America in deep flux.

With that in mind I will now focus on Trump and the first thing to look at is the polls because despite the attacks on polling accuracy there is still always a narrative to tell from polls flawed or otherwise. (2) So Trump is currently sitting at 37 percent approval and fifty eight percent disapproval, this number is historically low for a president and is close to his all time low of 35 percent approval just after his first Obamacare initiative was blocked. One interesting comparison though is to look at why Trump is considered unpopular and this is something that the Gallup poll looked at. For Obama and Bush the disapproval ratings related to policy or job performance whereas for Trump his disapproval is based on people disliking Trump personally. Given the nature of Donald Trumps campaign and presidency thus far this should hardly be surprising but it does offer some positives for him as well as some potential lessons for the Democrats. Donald Trumps policies seem to be being embraced and so while he maybe personally unpopular a Democrat who just stood opposing Trumps policy platform might still find themselves in trouble in 2020 because policy is not what is polarising Americans. Also of interest in the poll is that the reasons people are supporting Trumps presidency is broadly the same as Obama, again suggesting that those supporting Trumps performance as President are ignoring the criticisms being labelled at him, similar to what Obama faced in 2009.

I think the main policies to focus on for Trump so far are Health Care, Economy, Climate Change and International Relations. If we first look at Health Care, this is the one policy issue that has most dogged Trump locally with several attempts of the Trump administration to repeal Obamacare now being blocked. (3) suggests that Obamacare is not going to be repealed in the near future as more moderate Republican are not convinced that Trump and the Republicans  have an appropriate replacement to Obamacare. I suspect that the articles suggestion that Trump will continue his steps to make the current system less functioning and put more pressure on the Republican’s and Democrats to find an appropriate replacement to something that has failed. This is not to say that the current system is flawed or not, I can see the arguments of the people who have serious health issues that would not be covered under a repealed Obamacare, but if the system loses funding or is not appropriately advertised then it may become failed.

Economy is the big issue that Donald Trump campaigned for. The narrative is that while Obama focussed on finding people new jobs in modern job areas this left people behind. Certainly for people in places like Detroit manufacturing jobs have shut down and while there are jobs in modern technology sectors, these require higher education and different skill sets. Trying to tell someone who has worked in one industry for thirty years and has had generations of family do the same thing that they need to go to university for the first time ever and just deal with finding new work has alienated them from society. This is the biggest driver of Trump voters last November. Economy has been the biggest policy success for the administration however as with everything Trump related the story is mixed. (4) shows that the Economical indicators under Donald Trump have improved since the election although this is probably more indicative of a global economical situation improvement. Still an improvement in the financial markets, better jobs numbers and improved GDP are impressive feats. Also as with any Conservative government there is always a focus on smaller governments and Trumps move to remove two economic regulations for every regulation added has seen that implemented. As (5) has shown however a lot of this economic improvement maybe because some of Trumps big tax breaks for big business has not passed yet and so it has allowed a mainly business as usual approach with improved confidence that tends to occur with a Conservative president taking hold. This also opens up the whole trickle down economics argument with the adversity of this approach being that if business don’t pass on their extra money to hiring more employees money has then been shifted from public services without the improved economic growth from added employment and productivity. I think this is more of an issue on how the economy is being implemented than the principles behind the economic principle.

Climate change and international relations are somewhat linked but I think there is a specific focus on Climate Change from both Trump supporters and detractors that makes it a seperate issue worth discussing. The decision of Trump to pull America from the Paris agreement is a surprising move in that it puts America out of step with the 19 other G20 countries but is unsurprising in that it matches his campaign rhetoric. For Donald Trump and a lot of rural Americans a pledge to reducing emissions to zero percent and contributing money to helping nations that are going to be directly impacted by climate change goes against the protectionist nature that they want to run. The issue with climate change feeds back into an economic one that I addressed in the last paragraph. If old manufacturing workplaces have to close that costs jobs and if money is being placed to other nations it is money that can’t be directed to their own nation, now America are in a strong place economically compared to nations like Fiji or Samoa but trying to say that to people struggling economically is like saying to a homeless person in Australia that chin up it could be worse, you could be homeless in an African nation. For all of those who would say that being opposed to climate change is Conservative Michael Gove’s contribution in (6) shows that by the nature of conservatism people should be open to whatever market mechanism produces the most efficient and effective results and so as renewable energy becomes cheaper and mechanisms such as battery storage make renewable energy more reliable it is not a Conservative policy to stick with the old mechanism for the pure reasoning of protectionism. I think this is another element where Donald Trump shows he is not a true Conservative by economic reasonings.

The recent G20 summit was a key insight into the fall of America as a superpower under Trump on the international arena. (7) has Chris Uhlman’s takedown on Trump and I think it sums up the way a lot of people feel about Trump when you remove the extreme voices on both side of the political spectrum. His criticism on Trump not using the G20 as a venue to publicly call out Russia and China or there nothing to see here approach on North Korea was in large contrast to his grandstanding in America where he made many calls for Russia and China to be firmer on North Korea because they have closer ties that could be used to pull in their naughty neighbour. This was disappointing because Trumps forceful stance on calling out the atrocities of Bashar Al Assad using chemical weapons on the public in Syria won praise. Indeed the attack of important military bases in Syria is an action that Hilary Clinton herself commented that she would have done. It’s in this light that Trump’s withdrawal of support for Syria in the last few weeks is also surprising and is a sign of continued alliance with Russia. This last comment leads onto the issue of Russia interference in the Election which continues to be the big issue that could be a smoking gun to push for possible impeachment although this is unlikely with the composite of the Senate and Congress being Republican controlled. I think the issue of whether there was hacking or not has been well discussed and it appears clear that some interference occurred in the election. However the question now is was Donald Trump directly involved in the efforts by Russians to interfere in the election and the revelations of Donald Trump Jr meeting with Russian officials adds to the possibility of a direct link which would then be a trigger for criminal offence and impeachment. The other issue with protectionism is that it leads to less economic and formal ties with International countries and the isolation at the G20 is a consequence of this, other countries do not appreciate being penalised when dealing with a nation in the name of protecting your own countries skin. It is that isolation that leaves a vacuum for another nation to become a global powerhouse and both China and Russia have the potential to fill this vacuum. This might be cheered on by some but it ignores the fact that China and Russia are both flawed democracies with legal and social policies that would be abhorrent to most Western civilisations.

So what happens next? The first big test of any presidents term is how they perform in the midterm elections. (8) breaks down the midterm election quite well. It is historic that the ruling party tends to perform poorly in midterm election and the Trump element added in adds to that likelihood of a Midterm whack. The problem for the Democrats as pointed out is turnout, people are less motivated to vote in midterm elections and that tends to go against the Democrats whose target demographics tend not to turn up to votes. The other issue for the Democrats and one I’ve pointed out in previous blog posts is that they seem more focussed at the moment with saying that Trump is useless, he shouldn’t have won and that’s it, at some stage they will need to actually offer tangible ideas on what they plan to do. After that it will be important for Trump to be able to implement some of his policy to avoid the label of being all talk and no action, specifically a policy win on healthcare would help his polling numbers. The other issue is the Russian interference, the issue has already seen the firing of FBI director James Comey. If this issue continues to fester on it will make it increasingly difficult for Trump to sell his message and the longer it goes the more likely something impactful will be turned up that could be grounds for impeachment. Lastly the focus after the midterms in 2018 will start to turn to the 2020 reelection of Donald Trump, at this stage with no evidence of a Democratic Party having learnt enough of their lessons of their loss last year I would be not surprised if Trump were to be reelected in 2020, indeed one thing I’d be intrigued by is if the Republican Party put up a nominee against Trump in 2020. This would lose the incumbency advantage of not facing a gruelling dogfight in the nominee process but could be a necessary evil if the Republicans don’t want 4 more years of Trump come 2020.

 

References

(1) https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/if-clinton-had-won/

(2) http://www.gallup.com/poll/214091/trump-disapproval-rooted-character-concerns.aspx

(3) http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/343222-what-trump-can-do-to-cripple-obamacare

(4) http://fortune.com/2017/07/20/donald-trump-twitter-news-drain-swamp-6-months/

(5) https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2017/07/20/six-months-trump-economy-looks-awfully-familiar/TXnEuVvlHa2vS9v7p7n3tO/story.html

(6) http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/michael-gove-donald-trump-climate-change-us-walk-out-heat-on-paris-agreement-fossil-fuels-a7852626.html

(7) https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/09/biggest-threat-to-the-west-australian-journalist-demolishes-trump-after-g20

(8) https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/what-do-we-know-about-the-2018-midterms-right-now/