As we move into what by rights should be a relaxing summer weekend – the Premier League is back, the trees are still green, books to read and lawnchairs to sit on – unless we choose to completely ignore the news our nerves are as frayed as a university student heading into a final exam with a hangover. The party’s over, now what the hell do we do?
The first headline I saw this Friday morning was on The Guardian: US and South Korea to stage huge military exercise despite North Korea crisis. I am quite sure that I am not the only person to have read that to have in turn considered whether this exercise is a thin, transparent cover for direct military action against Pyongyang. The timing of August 21-31 coincides with the self-declared North Korean window when it will be prepared to launch four ICBM missiles aimed at the waters off the US military base on Guam. Somehow the question of where Virgil Van Dijk plays his football this season seems a whole lot less important.
If – and this is a very large ‘if’ – any form of action could remove North Korea’s nuclear capacity with a minimal loss of life and without a nuclear exchange, that might actually be an option well worth the immediate risk. However, we must remember that Donald Trump at his first National Security briefing three times asked the various intelligence and military advisors, ‘If we have nuclear weapons why don’t we use them?’, no doubt scaring the ghosts out of everyone in the room not named Donald Trump. And as for Kim Jong-un and the Workers’ Party of Korea, to quote an old Chinese proverb, why should a barefoot man feel fear of one who threatens to steal his shoes?
For the rest of the world, what can we do to walk back this situation for indeed it threatens us all? As we saw with Chernobyl, the nearest equivalent in recent history to a nuclear weapon, the environmental damage alone will poison a massive area. That is not just the Korean peninsula or adjacent Russian or Chinese areas; rather we must realize that fall-out will scatter into the Pacific and its adjacent seas. We are still dealing with the fall-out from the Fukushima disaster in Japan as it spreads and contaminates an area reaching the US Pacific Coast, and that was an accident that was relatively ‘contained’ within one plant.
There is the hope that the Six-Party Talks might be revived. They began when North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003. Whether or not those talks were at all successful is actually a hypothetical question as we do not know what advancement, if any, beyond its current nuclear capacity North Korea might have had without the talks and their concurrent squeezing and partially lifting of various sanctions.
A certain pessimism also clouds a revival of the original Six Parties when we look at who those nations were: the US, the two Koreas, Russia, China and Japan. Save for Japan, which gets along with everyone except very recently North Korea, each of these players is in one way or another in an antagonistic position against one or more of the others. Finding a common and persuasive ground among any five of the six is about as likely as shifting mountains into a mosaic.
Realistically, and no matter how much I loathe writing these words, Donald Trump is right about one thing: the only nation that can weigh in with effective, non-military diplomacy is China. China is the only major trade partner North Korea has. As the former does not release defined trade statistics, we have to deal with estimates, however those estimates place the value of annual trade at $2.6b and rising. Imports in 2017 from North Korea to China are down over 10% from previous years while exports (the majority is likely food) are up. Therefore, we can assume that China is actually exerting pressure.
The problem again is with Trump and his bullying attitude. This is not to excuse Kim Jong-un and his saber rattling, however it is best to ignore him. Yes, ignore him. That is beyond Trump’s psychological capacity. His child-like bellicosity will not allow him to do anything but escalate, escalate, escalate.
What can the rest of the world do? Well, if what I have read is true, the intelligence agencies of the Five Eyes Nations (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and US) all have hard evidence that will prove the collusion/conspiracy case of the Trump campaign with foreign interference in the 2016 election. This evidence, we can safely assume, has been shared with the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The investigation, Grand Jury and eventual indictments against Trump and his cohorts has been expected to take a year or more. That process must be accelerated and at a high velocity. The world’s security and the planet’s safety literally depends on it.
Be seeing you.