An Optimistic Stalemate On The Korean Peninsula

After weeks of chest thumping bombastic rhetoric, mutually exchanged threats of fire engulfing nuclear war by two egotistical leaders, the situation on the Korean peninsula appears to have returned to a normal, manageable state of hostility, which offers a glimmer of hope that the relevant parties will finally swallow their pride, in particular, the supposedly more mature the United States and agree to peace talks without preconditions. Though Trump so often contradicts the statements and proffered olive branches of his relatively moderate Secretary of State Tillerson, Trump’s tweet praising Kim Jong Un for exercising restraint in not going forward with a desperate unilateral strike on the US island of Guam is a much sought after relief and necessary climb down if a potential conflict is to be averted.

A testament to the more pacific measured diplomatic exchanges toward North Korea is the U.S., South Korea, and Japan’s reaction to North Korea’s largely unsuccessful launch of three short range ballistic missiles. Seoul has even stated that to the contrary, the nature of the North’s launches are a sign that Pyongyang may be ready to engage in dialogue with other international powers, while the Trump administration still firmly transfixed on North Korea as a potential threat has this time refrained from making any additional threats of overt military force. However, while the U.S. may be convinced of its good intentions, its lacklustre diplomacy and, supposedly, exhaustion of all alternative options, they fundamentally misunderstand or ignore the vital security concerns of the North Korean regime, its survival instinct and the practicability of its nuclear deterrent as a guarantee against U.S. aggression. These misgivings were vociferously voiced by its media and compliant spokespersons who immediately condemned the active US-South Korean “Ulchi-Freedom Guardian” military exercises, which they view as a blatant provocation that could escalate into a full blown confrontation. China and Russia, who have tirelessly pursued the only viable peaceful solution to the Korean crisis in the form of the Chinese authored ‘double-freeze’ initiative, involving a simultaneous suspension of North Korea’s nuclear and missile testing and U.S.-South Korea military drills. A particular bone of contention, which has brought Russia and China together in vehemently opposing any military option against North Korea is America’s feckless deployment of numerous THAAD missile defence systems along the North Korean border, putting it within range of their own countries and consequently endangering their own strategic security.

Yet, despite the simmering tensions and lack of productive dialogue between the main parties to the conflict, the crisis has revealed America to be outmanoeuvred, belligerent, and increasingly bereft of any appropriate options short of sparking a thermonuclear war. However, a number of factors could see the U.S.’ imperialistic hubris humbled and forced to the negotiating table at the insistence of Russia and China. Firstly, the existence of a New York backdoor diplomatic channel between Pyongyang and Washington that could be utilised in the event of an emergency. Secondly, the harrowing reality articulated by Trump’s former non-interventionist Chief Strategist Steve Bannon who pithily remarked that there is no military option without millions of South Koreans being sacrificially slaughtered by retaliatory strikes in the process. It is to be hoped that this reality isn’t lost on the civilian and military bureaucracy of the Trump administration. Lastly, and most importantly, China has drawn the proverbial line in the sand. They have done this by stating unequivocally in one of its major editorials, Global Times, which reflects the will and stance of the ruling communist party, that in the event of a pre-emptive strike on North Korea by the US, it would intervene to defend the regime and prevent its collapse. Conversely, it would remain neutral if North Korea brazenly initiates the first strike.