No missiles to Guam, but North Korea’s threats are not removed


Another successful provocation – ‘trap’ – of North Korea for the United States.

The leadership of North Korea – Kim Jung Un – must walk a fine line to ensure its survival in the face of two existential threats: The continuous aggression of the United States and its allies, and the risk of social unrest and collapse in North Korea.

The last round of mutual threats and provocations, was a resounding success for Kim Jung Un – at least for now – who confirmed its hero-status at home, while the United States and its allies are still confronted with North Korea’s growing military capabilities.

Again, Kim Jung Un cunningly used North Korea’s increasing and developing weapons capabilities – and the United States’ predictable response – to show to its population that its leadership is indispensable for North Korea’s survival: The United States threatened to destroy North Korea – by fire and fury –  but that threat is now averted. Kim Jung Un’s position is strengthened. Not only in North Korea, but also abroad.

The fact that – from the perspective of the United States – North Korea backed-off (by not firing missiles in the direction of Guam, as was considered by North Korea ) – does not really matter: Kim Jung Un has shown that he is a force to be reckoned with.

Trump praises North Korea’s Kim Jung Un for backing down on missile threat“. In his tightly controlled North Korea, Kim Jung Un without doubt successfully boosts the opposite, that the aggressive United States and its allies backed down, because of Kim Jung Un’s courage and strategic brilliance. A new lease of life for Kim Jung Un, at least temporarily.

However, it is not ‘game over’; the (underlying) dysfunctional dynamics between North Korea and the United states are not resolved. Not for North Korea, and not for the United States. North Korea has to deal with more extensive sanctions – its leadership will use as further proof of more aggression and exploit for its own advantage – while the United States and its allies are still confronted with more serious threats from North Korea.

There only are limited options that could avoid war it seems, but which do not seem realistic: (1) The US could accept continuing provocations and threats from North Korea; the United States will not accept; (2) North Korea could accept denuclearization: which will not happen because North Korea’s leadership derives its right of existence from its ability to counter increasing external threats, or (3) a deal is  struck which ensures that no regime change will take place, this also is a very unlikely option, given the US its dubious track record for these type of promises.

The question is: on whose side is time? A number of questions to consider:

  • How long can Kim Jung Un’s latest threat (‘Guam’) be effective to ensure North Korea’s internal stability, according to Kim Jung Un’s own assessment? Does he feel forced to continue to accelerate his provocations, especially now when the latest round of sanctions could cause the destabilization of North Korea; a scenario Kim Jung Un can not ignore.
  • How will – and can –  the US react to a weapons test in for example two weeks time?
  • What impact will Great Power rivalries (especially between the US, China and Russia) – and developments elsewhere (Iran, Venezuela, internal US, etc.) – have on the United States’ freedom of choice/action concerning North Korea, and risks it confronts? Obviously, the US lacks a coherent political strategy, and Trump’s unlimited talent to make enemies and rapidly decreasing credibility are not very helpful.
  • What will be the (longer term) impact of United States trade measures against China? Can China be forced to comply with US directives, that are (ultimately) not in its interest (I refer to an America controlled unified Korea)?
  • Does the United States think that they can win the battle and the war for North Korea, and establish a ‘peace’ that will serve American interests? America’s lost wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria – where its influence is seriously diminished at a high price, and of Russia and Iran have increased significantly – do not predict much good. Afghanistan, Irak and Syria – and now also the US its domestic instability – show America’s weakness, not its strength.
  • What is the impact of the increasing linkages of issues in the System, and the increasing dysfunctionality of the current international order?

Time could well be in favor of North Korea, and could feel United States forced, to adopt an even more aggressive stance, or accept a compromise.