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East Asia: US Strategic Dilemmas
|by Dr. Subhash Kapila|
Arising from China-North Korea Collusive Brinkmanship
China-North Korea collusive strategic brinkmanship visibly more evident in the last two years or so places the United States on the horns of strategic dilemmas which portend that she cannot escape from taking some hard strategic decisions. Hard strategic decisions are expected and called for from the United States if it intends to maintain and sustain its global strategic predominance and nurture the image of credibility of its security architecture in East Asia based on its long-standing bilateral Mutual Security Alliances with South Korea and Japan.
United States strategic dilemmas arise in East Asia as China’s trajectory of rising power is neither benign nor responsible. United States strategic dilemmas arise from the United States being boxed into a corner where it may now have to shed its decade’s long foreign policy fixations that China could be a strategic partner of the USA for security management of Asia. The United States strategic dilemmas in East Asia are further made acute as China in collusive coordination with North Korea is targeting US Allies in the region. China has upped the ante against Japan and North Korea has been enlisted to pose aggressive military provocations against North Korea including artillery shelling and missile firings over Japanese territory. United States strategic credibility is seriously at stake in the absence of firm responses to the China-North Korea challenge directly aimed at the United States.
Strategic debates within the United States for far too long carried and reflected the coloration of United States “China Hedging Strategy”. Consequently, strategic ambiguity was the keyword of United States official policy postulations. In terms of the United States global strategic calculations, it seemed and appeared to follow a “China Appeasement Policy’. In terms of regional strategic postulations, the United States focused on prevailing on Japan and South Korea to recognize politically and strategically that the ‘China Threat’ was a potent danger to security and stability of East Asia. This was in contradiction to United States global stances on China.
The United States strategic and policy establishment were therefore prone to propagate and view that China and North Korea were separate strategic entities and shied away from viewing them as collusive entities endangering East Asia security environment. Even presently, where China-North Korea collusion has been visibly manifested in North Korea’s aggressive military actions against South Korea directly and by extension to the United States, it is being advocated within the United States that North Korea is a renegade protégé of China and that China does not enjoy significant ‘coercive leverages’ over North Korea to control its military brinkmanship.
This has been an evasive advocacy within the United States to steer the United States away from hard strategic decisions to deal sternly with North Korea, unbecoming the stature of the United States as the global superpower. Dominating the United States impulses to so shy away from hard strategic decisions in East Asia are the American uncertainties on China’s responses to United States military intervention against North Korea’s military adventurisms.
The strategic corollary of the above is that the United States implicitly recognizes that China-North Korea collusive brinkmanship is a strategic reality but would not like to admit it publicly as then the main props of United States policy postulations on China then crumble.
Also needs to be recorded at the outset is the fact that for China and North Korea the Korean War of 1950 never ended in the absence of a signed Armistice. They are still technically in a ‘state of war’ with the United States and its Allies and in a way their collusive brinkmanship is a manifestation of that perception.
Some would like to explain the lack of strong United States responses to the evolving situation in East Asia as arising from its military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, but then that argument can be countered by the fact that even when there were no strategic American distractions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States was still pursuing ill-advised policies arising from “China Hedging Strategy”
With the above as a contextual backdrop, this Paper would like to examine the following issues:
North Korea’s Brinkmanship Reinforced by Nuclear Arsenal Courtesy China and United States Permissiveness on Chinese Nuclear Proliferation
Addressing the last point first, it can be safely asserted that the root cause of regional instabilities in Asia arise solely and significantly from China’s nuclear weapons proliferation to North Korea in East Asia, to Pakistan in South Asia and to Iran in the Middle East, along with nuclear-capable long-range ballistic missiles. China’s nuclear weapons supplies to these nations adversarial to the United States need to be viewed as part of a well calibrated strategy to create Chinese proxy pressure points against the United States in volatile regions of Asia.
The United States well recognized the dangers of China’s nuclear and missiles proliferation but chose to adopt’ permissive stances’ in a policy misperceived and flawed by obliviousness to what it portended for the United States in the long run. United States ‘permissiveness’ arose once again from its “China Hedging Strategy” prompted by its long held fixation that Russia was the prime threat to the United States and that China could once again be harnessed into a quasi-strategic nexus with the United States.
This fixation again surfaced two years back when US President Obama espoused the G-2 US-China Dyad for global economic and strategic management. Hopefully such perceptions would change now.
Irrefutable is also the strategic reality that North Korea’s brinkmanship has become more pronounced after its nuclear weapons tests in the last five years or so and the acquisition of rudimentary nuclear weapons. What has flowed thereafter with collusive but covert backing by China is North Korean belligerence against South Korea and Japan, blackmailing of the United States and all this in the secure belief that China stands collusively behind North Korea’s military adventurism.
If China was a responsible stakeholder in East Asia security as China would like the world to believe and as the United States projects that it is what the United States hopes for, then by now China could have restrained North Korea with the coercive leverages at China’s command in relation to North Korea.
Much water by now has flowed down the Yalu River and the indicators do not suggest that North Korea brinkmanship would be restrained by China. On the contrary the United States and its Allies in the region should expect that China-North Korea strategic collusion would become more pronounced.
China can only be expected to go in for a military intervention against North Korea when it perceives that the evolving situation suggests that North Korea is moving away from the Chinese orbit and towards reconciliation with the United States.
China-North Korea Collusive Brinkmanship:
China would ensure that North Korea continues in a collusive relationship willingly, or by coercion or even by direct military intervention. North Korean collusive brinkmanship with China is an overriding strategic imperative for China in its evolving tussle for supremacy in East Asia with the United States.
The United States policy establishment and the doyens of US strategic community should learn to accept such an eventuality, however loathe they may be to shed their fixations about China ever emerging as a positive strategic partner of the United States in East Asia.
What we are witnessing in the developing situation in East Asia is the first salvo fired by China in its strategy to ease out the United States from East Asia.
How else can China rid East Asia of United States forward military presence? Only by strategic nibbling actions camouflaging long range aims.
Nuclear Arsenals of South Korea and Japan:
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary solutions however much such solutions may be distasteful and fly against established norms of non-proliferation. Strategic analysis calls for strategic vision to be extended to the horizon and even beyond the horizon to analyze emerging threats and measures to deal with such threats.
East Asia is passing through extraordinary times where an established superpower of the day, the United States, stands challenged by a ‘revisionist power’ like China aspiring to be the other pole on the global stage.
The entire strategic fulcrum of the “China Threat ‘ challenge to the United States revolves around the combined nuclear arsenals of China and North Korea, however rudimentary that of North Korea may be. Both are Communist authoritarian regimes and not answerable to their peoples for any nuclear weapons adventurism they indulge in and their destructive consequences.
To combat such a threat, counter-threats need to be posed against China and North Korea, and posed in equal measure. If that be so, then it becomes a strategic imperative for East Asia strategic balance that South Korea and Japan are encouraged to acquire nuclear weapons arsenals.
United States Declaratory Strategic Policies called for in Terms of ‘Red Lines’ that Must Not be Crossed by North Korea.
Brinkmanship and military adventurism is spawned when the security environment is marked by absence of declaratory strategic policies and which do not delineate ‘red lines’ which must not be crossed by those inclined to do so.
East Asia calls for such declaratory strategic policies from the United States. The United States must firmly draw the ‘Red Lines’ that North Korea must not cross either on its own volition or in collusive brinkmanship with China.
Drawing such ‘Red Lines’ for North Korea would automatically entail that they equally apply to China too. China would thus be posed a strategic dilemma in terms of collusive brinkmanship along with North Korea in that any retaliatory actions that North Korea draws would also impact on it, Many of the ‘Red Lines’ stand covered in my earlier Papers on the subject. All of them must incorporate the security on land, seas and airspace of United States Allies in East Asia in addition to terrorism, sabotage and nuclear blackmailing and threats.
Specific to China, the freedom of the ‘high seas’ including those off the Chinese littoral need to be enforced by the United States and the international community.
The United States has now to exhibit the will and resolve to stay strategically embedded in East Asia and not crumble to strategic belittling of its global predominance by new kids on the block, as Americans normally refer to such events.
Needless to add that in the face of China’s and North Korea’s nuclear blackmail against Japan and South Korea, the United States could be pushed into a corner to prove the credibility of its ‘nuclear umbrella’ to its regional Allies.
The strategic dilemmas that the United States faces in East Asia currently are those of its own making. The United States therefore itself has to take a prominent lead in finding solutions to the China-North Korea strategic brinkmanship being indulged in as part of the ‘Grand Strategy’ of China to oust United States presence and dominance in East Asia.
The first concrete step to restore the overall strategic situation in East Asia in United States favor is to surgically dispense with American “China Hedging Strategy”. The United States policy establishment and its strategic community must shed their fixations that China could evolve into a strategic partner of the United States in East Asia or on the global stage.
To the rest of the world, it is elementary logic that the national strategic interests of China clash severely with those of the United States in East Asia and in the global strategic calculus.
For China and North Korea, the Korean War of 1950 has never ended and in the absence of a signed Armistice, they are still technically at war with the United States and its Allies. The United States needs to conclusively bring down the curtains on the impulses that prompted China to enter the Korean War in favor of North Korea, and finallyS affect a closure.
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