War clouds over Asia
These are indeed ominous times. If madness prevails over sanity, a nuclear variant of Hiroshima and Nagasaki cannot be ruled out in the Korean peninsula, as the “Thucydides trap” that the United States and China have promised to avoid inexorably weaves its tragic, self-fulfilling prophecy of war and destruction.
Skeptics who dismiss the gathering storm in Northeast Asia as alarmist thinking need only to remember that among the contending parties in the Korean nuclear crisis, only one, the United States, has had the will, ruthlessness and means to drop atomic bombs that incinerated highly populated targets (two major Japanese cities) to accomplish its goal (the total defeat of Japan in 1945). It did it before, it can do it again.
I leave it to military experts and war historians to elaborate on the details and events that led to the deteriorating geopolitical crisis in Asia. Based on media reports alone, it’s evident that with an unstable, tweet-happy American president as commander in chief of the world’s most powerful armed force, and a ranting, saber-rattling dictator at the helm of North Korea, there is plenty of room for mischief and miscalculation that could lead to a war nobody wants.
As fiery rhetoric by the two leaders is matched by escalating military maneuvers and deployments of strategic assets meant to annihilate each other’s forces, command and control systems and population targets, it’s time for the contending parties to reflect: Is this the kind of world we truly want for ourselves, our children, and posterity? Have we really done our best, walked the extra mile, to give dialogue and peace a chance? Are we overreacting and rushing to judgment because we are tired of being perceived as weak or in decline?
Consider these alarming events:
Last April, America dropped the “mother of all (non-nuclear) bombs” on caves in Afghanistan sheltering terrorists, obviously to impress upon the world, particularly countries who doubt America’s resolve (read: China, North Korea, and terrorist groups) that its strength and global leadership remain firm and steady. During the same period, Washington deployed THAAD interception missiles in South Korea and Trump dispatched three of America’s most powerful carrier strike groups to the peninsula, augmented by the navy’s latest nuclear armed submarines.
North Korea continues to test nuclear weapons in defiance of America and world opinion. Accompanied by threatening language, Pyongyang has launched ballistic missiles of varying size and reach. Some exploded shortly after take-off, but initial failure has led to significant improvements.
Finally, late in August, North Korean scientists achieved an acknowledged breakthrough in intercontinental ballistic missile capability and threatened the destruction of US cities—to which Trump unleashed his tantrum tweet of “fire and fury.”
World leaders have condemned Trump’s impulsive-compulsive tweeting as the worst way to conduct diplomacy and manage crisis. It is evidently backfiring, with a leader bent on crashing his poor nation into the world’s exclusive nuclear club, which he thinks is its best way to protect itself from regime change, and gain the world’s fear, if not respect. There is apparently a method in Kim Jong-un’s madness.
It has been said that Trump’s inexperience and rashness would be reined in by his veteran staff of military and security advisers and the built-in check and balance constraints in the US presidency put there by founding fathers who feared a tyrannical chief executive. The flaw in this reasoning is that through decades of executive cunning and subterfuge, an imperial presidency has evolved which allows a White House occupant to wage war even without congressional approval. In the Korean context, Kim’s perceived dangerous and lunatic behavior makes it easier for a shooting war to develop, from incidents such as an unarmed ballistic missile launched by Pyongyang over Guam or other high-value targets that inadvertently strikes a US vessel or aircraft—scenarios that would surely invite retaliation in kind, which in turn could spiral into a catastrophic war involving America, both Koreas, Japan and China.
In this world and age ruled by populist madmen, the light at the end of the tunnel is flickering and dimming.
Narciso Reyes Jr. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an international book author and former diplomat. He lived in Beijing in 1978-81 as bureau chief of the Philippine News Agency.
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