A new war is brewing in the Korean Peninsula, and one that might go both nuclear and global. Hence, Uncle Cephas sadly moves from his recent meditations on biblical themes to the areas of international politics, an area in which he has worked and which formed one of his areas of specialization for his Ph.D. in political science.
Kim Jong-eun's recent saber-rattling does not represent the ravings of an unhinged madman, nor is it the posture of a man yet too immature to handle the power entrusted to him. It is a calculated move to bring about one of the long-standing goals of the Pyongyang regime and its protector in Beijing, namely, the removal of meaningful US influence from Northeastern Asia. A re-opening of the Korean War seems to offer this, especially since the US has seemed thoroughly unprepared for such an eventuality up till now.
Communist Chinese policy has been testing the Obama administration for a number of years now. On a state visit, the pianist Lang Lang played "My Motherland", a theme from a Korean War-era propaganda film that glorified killing Americans. No official response was forthcoming, assuring Beijing that this administration is not wary of Beijing's intentions. Beijing is also well aware that both official America and the major American media are positive towards Beijing and trust it to be a restraint on rather than an enabler of North Korean ambitions. Washington breathes a sigh of relief when Beijing cuts off supplies to Pyongyang for a day or two; but fails to ask other questions.
The buildup of Chinese land and air forces along the Yalu and Tumen rivers and the deployment of its naval power in the Yellow Sea seems more a signal to Kim's regime that Beijing is watching his back rather than trying to warn him to refrain from drastic action. Further, recent cyber attacks on South Korean banking and communications targets, traced to China, and hacking American computers also suggest "dry runs" for military technologies which China has been openly pursuing for a number of years. The choice of a South Korean target also suggests that Beijing is also thinking in terms of a reopening of Korean hostilities.
Kim is no fool. His bellicose noises echo those of his father, who drew numerous concessions through threats. This, and continuing Chinese rhetoric about the "lips and teeth" relationship between Communist China and North Korea, tell him that he has nothing to fear.
Further, the Communist giants had a longstanding history of loyalty to allies and clients, while the US has long proven itself fickle (as even Israel and Britain are learning from the Obama administration). This, perhaps, coupled with the excellent training the East German Stasi used to give the security forces of erstwhile Soviet Third World clients, goes far in explaining the unending string of Communist successes in the so-called Third World throughout the Cold War.
To fight the next Korean War, US policy needs to consider what it would take to successfully counter a Communist Chinese intervention. Yet it shows no sign of doing so. American cyber-warfare capabilities remain in their infancy, and the smart money in Washington continues to bet on cooperation with the PRC.
The men who rule in Beijing also know that we are not watching them. Further, they have everything to win from a new Korean War in which the US is again unprepared for their intervention on behalf of Pyongyang. Aghast at the possibility of a repeat of 1989, dismayed that even "progressive" opinion in the West sympathized with the protesters in Tiananmen, aware that they are the last and best hope for 20th century totalitarianism, confident that they can rally their population against a perceived foreign threat, and students of Sun Zi, they are probably confident that they can trap the Obama administration into a war that the US will lose.
Should war break out in the Far East, it is hard to see how the Middle East will keep quiet. Certainly Iran will be emboldened to show some support for Beijing and Pyongyang, both of which contributed to its own nuclear development. A preoccupied America could easily lead Arab rejectionists (who are clearly the winning party) to launch new attacks on Israel. Erdogan's Islamicist Turkey would not be a reliable US ally in such a scenario, threatening the possible breakup of NATO. At no time have dangers been so great.
The US and South Korea need to mobilize world opinion against Pyongyang--although that will be difficult in an era in which even the American administration sees its foreign policy as a neo-colonialism of which it must be ashamed. Both need to quickly develop their own cyber-warfare capacities and plan for a conlfict in which Mainland China will again be a key player.