- (september 2017)
The North Korean Crisis: A Tale of Two Madmen (or just one?)
This is my prediction of how the North Korean crisis will end:
This is precisely what happened with Vietnam. It sounded impossible in 1970, when the USA was bombing the hell out of North Vietnam, but that's precisely what happened: the USA withdrew, North Vietnam conquered the South, and today Vietnam buys weapons from the USA. Even the recognition of communist China seemed impossible in 1949 when the legitimate government (and US war ally) of China fled to Taiwan and the Mao's communist militias seized power in Beijing; nonetheless, today the USA is the main importer of Chinese products.
- The USA and North Korea will sign a peace treaty, officially ending the Korean War of 1950.
- The USA will officially recognize the regime of North Korea as legitimate rulers (instead of calling them "rogue" and "axis of evil"), entiteld to nuclear weapons just like Pakistan and Israel
- The USA will remove all sanctions and even provide economic aid to North Korea to raise the living conditions of the population
- The USA will withdraw all military forces from the Korean peninsula
- In return, North Korea will freeze its nuclear and missile program to its current state
- After two or three years North Korea will invade South Korea and annex it, with little or no resistance from the South Korean population
- The unified Korea will remain an Asian tiger, with Samsung and Hyundai and all the rest just like it is today
- China will be the first country to recognize this unified, nuclear Korea, happy to have "liberated" mainland Asia of US troops and to have a friendly regime on its neighbor instead of today's US puppet state of South Korea
- Kim Jong-un will last several decades, presiding over a stable society and a decent economy, with conditions in the North rapidly improving
- Twenty or thirty years later, even before Kim's death, the USA will establish cordial business relationships with this unified Korea, and even gladly sell weapons to its regime
This prediction is the consequence of analyzing rationally the current
After seven months of the Trump administration, North Korea has made more
progress in its missile and nuclear programs than in the previous 20 years.
We used to have a yearly crisis, now we have an almost weekly one.
Obviously, North Korea must see a unique opportunity.
Trump affiliates like Fox News describe North Korea's regime as "mad",
In reality, that regime is very rational, way more rational than the US regime.
First of all, North Korea and the USA are still legally at war. North Korea
would obviously lose a conventional war against the USA because its
army, navy and air force are so much
inferior to the US army, navy and air force. It would cost a fortune for
North Korea to build up a conventional military that can compete with the
multi-trillion dollar US military. On the other hand, it costs relatively little
to develop a bunch of nuclear weapons and a few missiles that can hit the
USA. It is perfectly rational that North Korea is doing what it is doing:
it is the least expensive and most effective strategy to counter the US
military. In fact, today the USA is the one that is panicking.
North Korea's dictator is not panicking, the USA's president is.
It seems obvious to me who has done the rational thing and who has done the
A few weeks ago Trump threatened North Korea with
"fire and fury like the world has never seen". Mao used to call these people
"paper tigers". I will call it "irrational" behavior. If you threaten
"fire and fury", you have to be ready to deliver it, and Trump obviously
wasn't, so it was a very irrational comment.
The whole world is giggling.
North Korea's regime has also done another thing that Trump has not done:
it has learned from history.
The USA has a spectacular record of "regime change" operations that goes back
more than a century. Just over the last two decades, the USA has removed from
power the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and helped remove
Qaddafi in Libya and tried to remove Assad in Syria.
Further back in time, the USA removed the democratically elected prime minister of Iran and the dictator of Panama.
No other country even comes close to the USA's passion for changing regimes in
A president of the USA (George W Bush) once named North Korea as a member of the "axis of evil", so obviously North Korea thinks that the USA has been
planning all this time for removing its regime too.
This is a perfectly rational conclusion: the USA will remove the regime of North
Korea if it gets a chance.
North Korea's rational strategy is to make it very costly for the USA to do so.
All the dictators who renounced weapons of mass destruction (Saddam Hussein and
Qaddafi) or whose weapons of mass destruction were destroyed (Assad) have
been left powerless against the USA's regime-change program.
At the same time, North Korea is also very aware of what
happened to the countries that built weapons of mass destruction in violation
of United Nations treaties: both Israel and India are close allies of
the USA, and Pakistan is receiving weapons from both the USA and China.
No country has ever been punished by the USA for going nuclear.
It is very rational NOT to surrender a program of weapons of mass destruction
to the USA. It is very irrational to ask an enemy to do so: why would an enemy
of the USA unilaterally disarm? Why doesn't the USA surrender its nuclear
weapons? North Korea is being perfectly rational, and dozens of countries
around the world are probably taking notes.
The USA views the North Korean regime as an illegitimate regime, and rightly
so. But North Korea sees the South Korean regime as a puppet of the USA, and
that also happens to be the view that the rest of the world has, including South
North Korea thinks that the USA shouldn't have any business in that part of
the world, thousands of kilometers away from the USA. It also happens to be
the view of most people how live in that part of the world. Imagine if China
had military bases and air carriers in Canada, Mexico and the Caribbeans.
That's precisely what the USA has in the China Sea: military bases and air
carriers from Singapore to Seoul.
This also explains China's attitude. China never seriously tried to dissuade
North Korea for going nuclear.
China (another very rational state) sees two possible solutions to the
North Korean crisis:
1. North Korea, crippled by economic sanctions and possibly military interventions, collapses and is annexed by South Korea, and the Korean peninsula is unified under a US-friendly democratic regime;
2. North Korea becomes a nuclear state so powerful that the USA eventually gives up and surrenders South Korea to the North in exchange for a freeze in its nuclear and missile programs, and then the Korean peninsula gets unified under a Chinese-friendly communist regime.
Which one sounds more appealing to you if you are China's president?
North Korea knows for a fact that the first country NOT to take the USA seriously is China. China's trade with North Korea went up after Trump proudly claimed that China's president had promised help to contain North Korea: China is doing precisely the opposite. China probably senses that it has a unique opportunity to mediate a strategic deal: the USA leaves the region and in return North Korea somehow curbs its nuclear program. China doesn't really care about the nukes (that are aimed at the USA and its allies), but does care about excluding the USA from East Asia. Thanks to Trump's decision to kill the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) at the same time that China launched the the OBOR project ("One Belt One Road"), USA's influence in the region has declined dramatically. If the USA were to move out of South Korea and Japan, China's supremacy in East Asia would be indisputable.
In fact, a nuclear North Korea becomes a valuable bargaining chip for China vis-a-vis with the USA: the USA would not have negotiated with China when North Korea was a poorly armed country.
When the Chinese look around at the nuclear club, they see mostly US allies: USA, Britain, France, Israel, India, Pakistan. Russia is nobody's friend. Is China truly sorry that there is now a new member of the club, and that this member is, finally, an ally of China instead of being an ally of the USA?
China is playing the North Korea card, and, at the same time, North Korea is playing the China card: North Korea knows that China is unlikely to truly squeeze the North Korean economy.
The USA views North Korea as a small and starving country, which may be true
to some extent, but the North Korea views the USA as a country whose military
force is stretched around the world to the point that it can no longer win
any war: the USA lost in Vietnam, lost in Lebanon, lost in Afghanistan and
lost in Iraq. The USA is also widely viewed as close to bankruptcy because
of all the decades of continuous military engagements, with a war in Afghanistan
that has been going on for a ridiculous 16 years with no end in sight.
How can such a country afford yet another war, in yet another region of the world?
North Korea's calculation is very rational.
North Korea (and most of the world) is probably also convinced that the USA would not want to start a new war under the kind of illegitimate, despised and incompetent president that it has in 2017. Nobody in Washington (neither the generals nor the Republican Party hawks) would want to go to war with "Vladimir" Trump (who colluded with Russia ) as the "commander in chief".
This is a unique opportunity for North Korea: it can do virtually anything without risking US reprisals.
(To make it even easier, both the South Korean and Japanese governments have their own internal political problems and are ill-prepared to face an external problem).
North Korea's dictator declared that "all components of the H-bomb were homemade" including "all the processes ranging from the production of weapons-grade nuclear materials to precision processing of components and their assembling". That is indeed a major achievement. He concluded that this enables "the country to produce powerful nuclear weapons as many as it wants". Meanwhile the Trump administration declared that... well, not sure what they said (or tweeted) but it was hardly something that stands out as a major achievement.
Everybody in the US military and government must be painfully aware that North Korea is now very close to having a missile that can strike Hawaii, Alaska and maybe California. It would be irrational for North Korea to stop now that it is so close to winning the big prize, and the knowledgeable US generals and politicians must be aware of it.
North Korea has mastered the game of holding South Korea's population hostage, brainwashing its own population to believe the most outrageous lies, and developing the most powerful weapons despite universal condemnation.
It is actually hard to point at something that the North Korean regime has
said and that it is "irrational".
It actually looks like
everybody is being very rational here (except the president of the USA).
The reason why North Korea's nuclear program has made more progress in seven months of the Trump administration than in the previous 20 years is simple:
the current situation presents a unique opportunity for North Korea.
All the declarations by North Korea's dictator have been met with facts.
After North Korea exploded the most powerful hydrogen bomb
ever tested in Asia, Trump's reaction was a pathetic sentence
("It is an embarrassment for China") that shows how little he understands
TM, ®, Copyright © 2017 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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- (september 2017)
North Korea just Proved that China is a Paper Tiger
I feel sorry for president Xi of China.
In May 2017 China was preparing a meeting of the giant OBOR project ("One Belt One Road"). Dozens of world leaders were invited. It was meant to steal the headlines all over the world. Instead, North Korea conducted a nuclear test and stole
the attention of the whole world. China got angry enough that, for the first
time, it approved United Nations sanctions against North Korea and seemed
serious about implementing them (China is the only nation that can truly
hurt North Korea with economic sanctions).
Four months later we are watching the same movie: while China is preparing to open the BRICS meeting, North Korea tests a hydrogen bomb.
In both cases the theoretical target is the USA and its puppet state of
South Korea, but in reality nothing changes for the USA, whereas a lot changes
for China: the world talks about North Korea, not about China's OBOR or the BRICS meeting. North Korea keeps reducing the impact of China's international
North Korea is not only insulting China but also creating the premises
for the very scenario that China abhors: what are
Japan and South Korea supposed to do now?
North Korea fired an intermediate-range missile over Japan, and
threatens South Korea with nuclear destruction.
The Japanese and the South Koreans are dreaming if they really believe that
the USA would enter a nuclear war to protect them. North Korea can invade
the South or even Japan at any time without risking much retaliation from
the USA. The USA is too busy in too many parts of the world to be able to
start another war, let alone a nuclear one.
Therefore Japan and South Korea have no choice but to arm themselves
To start with, the logical, rational action by Japan is not only to build
its own arsenal of nuclear weapons, but to make sure that it can match not
only North Korea but also North Korea's only protector: China.
At the same time, South Korea has additional motivation to install the US
missile defense that China strongly opposes: what is South Korea supposed to do,
just wait for North Korea's nuclear missiles to rain on its cities?
Of course, North Korea's nuclear tests will end up militarizing Japan
and South Korea. How can anyone in China doubt that Japan and South Korea
are entitled to defend themselves against a nuclear neighbor that openly
If Japan rearms, and if North Korea ends up being treated better (not worse)
by the international community for its nuclear program, why shouldn't Vietnam or Indonesia or even the Philippines follow suit?
Would China treat them the same way if they were nuclear states?
But China has no choice: it is no longer North Korea that is a puppet of China,
but, increasingly, China that is being manipulated by North Korea.
North Korea just reminded China who is in charge in that part of the world:
not president Xi but president Kim Jong-un.
After the sixth nuclear test by North Korea,
the social media of China were immediately flooded with comments by "ordinary
citizens" arguing that North Korea is entitled to develop nuclear weapons
to defend itself from US aggression. Nice try to save face. The truth is
that North Korea keeps insulting China and China is simply acquiescing.
China, the most populous country in the world, is now at the mercy of tiny
North Korea. Not quite what we think of a world power.
That's the message that North Korea's president sent to China's president
and to all the world leaders attending the BRICS meeting.
TM, ®, Copyright © 2017 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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- Articles on Korea before 2017