Speaking of the precarious situation with North Korea, Vlad Putin has given us the benefit of his geopolitical wisdom honed in the good offices of the KGB.
Further sanctions, he said, would be “useless” because North Koreans “would rather eat grass than abandon their nuclear programme”. This strikes me as confused.
In any criminal regime, such as N. Korea, China or Russia herself, the people who decide on keeping, abandoning or perhaps using nuclear weapons are in no danger of becoming herbivores. It’s their slaves who have to change their diet in extreme circumstances, and their nourishment is rather low on the list of such regimes’ priorities. Their very lives are of little concern when measured against some evil strategic objective.
Thus Lenin, the inspiration for all three states, frankly admitted that he didn’t care if 90 per cent of all Russians perished, as long as the remaining 10 per cent lived under communism. Mao put forth a lower proportion but a higher absolute number when suggesting he was prepared to lose half his population in a victorious nuclear war. And three generations of Kims have consistently spoken in the same vein.
Vlad probably meant that Kim would rather his slaves ate grass than abandon his nuclear weapons. If so, he’s right, and we should listen to the voice of an expert trained in the same cannibalistic philosophy.
So sanctions won’t work. What will? Not, according to Vlad, “ramping up military hysteria… It could lead to a global, planetary catastrophe and a huge loss of human life. There is no other way to solve the North Korean nuclear issue, save that of peaceful dialogue.”
Sounds lovely. All God’s children love peaceful dialogue. It’s much better than threatening or, God forbid, perpetrating violence.
But, for a dialogue not to be futile, the two parties have to have a desired end in mind. In this case, that can only be N. Korea abandoning her nuclear weapons. Yet Vlad tells us they won’t do so under any circumstances. So there goes peaceful dialogue as a possible solution. There’s really nothing to talk about.
Perhaps he meant that the dialogue should be conducted with China, on which Korea depends for her survival. China is the source of close to 90 per cent of all Kim’s trade and a similar proportion of his oil. That gives China leverage, but whether or not it’s sufficient to make Kim abandon his nukes is anyone’s guess.
Even more questionable is China’s desire to exert such influence, for that communist dictatorship isn’t without strategic objectives of its own. Xi probably sees N. Korea as some kind of regional scarecrow keeping Americans at bay.
Did Vlad perhaps mean a dialogue with himself? If so, we must realise that any such conversation with Russia, or for that matter China, would amount to nothing but extortion, with Russia (or China) practising the protection racket.
The dialogue would effectively be a monologue, with Putin telling Trump: “Lift the sanctions, give me a trillion dollars’ worth of respect, and I’ll keep Kim off your back.”
Even if Vlad could deliver on such an offer, and it’s a very big if, the US can’t succumb to such blackmail while still harbouring hopes of remaining a world power. In short, “peaceful dialogue” doesn’t seem to be a promising option.
That leaves Vlad’s dark prediction of the possible consequences of ramping up military hysteria: “a global, planetary catastrophe”. This sounds apocalyptic, especially if the two adjectives Vlad used aren’t a tautology.
I rather doubt it is: Vlad was trained in the KGB to express himself precisely. If he uses two modifiers, they must mean different things. As I understand it, a ‘global’ catastrophe is akin to a house suffering fire damage, whereas a ‘planetary’ one is the house no longer standing.
N.Korea may be able to inflict the former. A preemptive NATO attack could probably take out Kim’s nuclear capability and severely degrade his military strength altogether. But it’s doubtful that such an attack could prevent a retaliatory strike.
The northern side of the DMZ is packed with missile launchers and heavy artillery. These can’t be smashed in a matter of minutes, which is how long it would take for the N. Koreans to hit S. Korea. And Seoul, just 35 miles from the border, is within range of Kim’s 150,000 artillery pieces.
It’s also conceivable that the N. Koreans would be able to launch an ICBM that could flatten, say, Tokyo, Guam or – in an extreme scenario – even Los Angeles. That would certainly produce a nuclear response, which may indeed have ‘global’ consequences.
However, when it comes to a ‘planetary’ catastrophe, N. Korea simply doesn’t have the wherewithal to destroy the Earth. The US, China and Russia are the only regional powers that can do that.
The US isn’t going to seek the end of the world, which leaves only two possibilities: China and Russia. Since Vlad can’t really speak for China, he’s implying that, should the US attack N. Korea, Russia could start an all-out nuclear war.
In other words, he’s repeating the same threat that his diplomatic, military and media mouthpieces have been screaming for the past 15 years at least: “we could turn America into radioactive dust”.
Here it’s useful to remember that N. Korea’s regime wasn’t born by parthenogenesis. It has two parents: the Soviet Union and China. The USSR armed Korean communists to the teeth and sent its pilots and tank crews to fight against the US in the Korean War. China sent a million ‘volunteers’ to stop Americans in their tracks.
Until 1991, N. Korea had subsisted on the largesse of her two foster parents, but thereafter Russia took a step back. She was otherwise engaged for another 10 years or so, at which point Vlad’s regime came into its own and revived the USSR, albeit with the Russians finding it easier to run away.
That was bound to turn Russia into a rogue state again, and, after several attempts, the country finally achieved that unenviable status in 2014. Traditional paranoia was encouraged to come back, with the whole world being depicted as aggressors ganging up on Russia.
The West, especially the US, is supposed to want either to occupy Russia physically or to suffocate her unmatched spirituality by imposing alien, Western ways on that land of pristine, monastic pursuits. Yet those who scream about this peril the loudest don’t themselves mind decadent Western ways all that much.
They spend as much time as they can in the West, where they keep their ill-gotten lucre, houses and yachts, where they get education for their children and medical care for themselves. That, however, doesn’t change the fact that Russia has established herself as a pariah, and the West as her presumptive enemy.
Friends have become hard to come by, and only other pariah states, such as Iran and N. Korea, are natural candidates for that role. If they do Russia’s bidding to some extent, Putin can use them as blackmail weapons when dealing with the West.
To that end, Russia has been arming N. Korea (and Iran) steadily if surreptitiously, often through third parties, such as China or Pakistan. N. Korea’s nuclear programme, for example, wouldn’t have got off the ground without a massive influx of Russian scientists, acting either as free agents or, more typically, on the government’s behalf.
Nor is it just the nuclear programme. Practically every weapon system N. Korea wields has a Russian provenance.
One is the Russian equivalent of the American anti-ship Harpoon missile. Called Kh-35 ‘Uran’ in Russia and the SS-N-25 ‘Switchblade’ by NATO, this radar-guided missile is state-of-the-art.
The N. Korean Hwasong-10 intermediate-range missile threatening Guam is a slightly modified version of the Russian R-27. And the surface-to-air Pon’gae-5 missile is a clone of the Russian S-300 system. (The Russians have deployed the next-generation S-400 to protect the Hezbollah rocket factory Iran has built just inside Syria.) N. Korea’s main battle tank is the Soviet T-62, and the multiple missile launchers threatening Seoul are modifications of the Russian system being used in the Ukraine.
Most important, the N. Koreans have begun to produce Russian RD-250 rocket engines, whose blueprints reached them having first been laundered through third parties, such as Pakistan. These engines, used in Russian ‘heavy rockets’, are now powering Kim’s missiles as well.
America faces a stark choice. Either she succumbs to N. Korea’s, China’s and Russia’s blackmail and puts paid to her global status, or she acts.
I certainly wouldn’t like to have to make that choice, but then I’m not president of the United States. Trump is, and his numerous detractors are gloating at his predicament. One wonders what solution they themselves would propose.
The president is doing perhaps the most logical thing under the circumstances: trying to explain to Kim what could happen if he doesn’t ease up.
The next step would be adding action to threats. The action could take the shape of surgical strikes against Kim’s strategic capability; the threat could be that of nuclear obliteration in case of an irrational response.
For the life of me, I don’t see an alternative to the possibilities I’ve outlined. I pray that the US administration does – and that their alternative works. But succumbing to Putin’s blackmail certainly isn’t part of it.