Options open to the US regarding North Korea and Iran: The US is on a collision course, Part I


In two posts, I discuss the courses of action open to the United States regarding ‘North Korea’ and ‘Iran’. Escalation is unavoidable, I argue.

In this article – the first in a series of two – I discuss a number of observations that underpin my analysis of the courses of action that are open to the United States (US) regarding ‘North Korea’ and ‘Iran’, and the probable consequences of these courses of action for the US and the international order.

In the second article, I discuss the four courses of action in more detail.

The prospects – also given American’s heavy (and increasing) reliance on military capabilities, its dysfunctional ‘commander in chief‘, and internal (US) political dysfunctionality – are disturbing.

For the analysis, it is essental to take the current condition of the System (consisting of interacting societies and states, and their environment on which they depend) into consideration.

As I show with my research, presently, the (current) international order (the United Nations international order) is in its high connectivity regime, since the tipping point of the current war cycle (1945-….) was reached in 2011.

Since 2011, instead of tensions being released and issues being resolved, tensions and issues accumulate in the System and (have) become increasingly connected. The current international order is (increasingly) obsolete. The accumulation of tensions and unsolved issues result in (increasingly) volatile politics and dynamics. The System is about to reach a critical point.

Although, the (geo)political situation concerning ‘North Korea’ and ‘Iran’ differ in some fundamental respects, there also are some significant ‘similarities’, including: (1) both North Korea and Iran have experienced – and still experience – traumatic experiences with the US, and to a degree with the international order (United Nations), (2) both North Korea and Iran challenge the US and ‘basic’ arrangements of/in the current international order, that to a very high degree represents American interests, (3) both states have (or had) nuclear ambitions the US and the international order tries to keep ‘in-check’, but both states (see also points (1) and (2)) consider essential to safeguard their security as sovereign states, (4) both North Korea and Iran pose a threat to the regional balance of power (respectively involving Japan and South Korea, etc. and Saudi Arabia and its allies), (5) both North Korea and Iran are perceived by the US as a direct threat.

Since the inauguration of Trump as president of the United States, on 20 January 2017, the international situation has changed dramatically; especially for the US itself.

The US now favours unilateral action – America First – and has in record-time dismantled the international order, and its network of allies.  The US has become increasingly dependent on military capabilities; its soft-power – the goodwill the US enjoyed – is depleted.

The (inter)actions of the US are opportunistic and aggressive, and reflect the personality-traits of its (new) leader. The (internal) politics in the US are highly dysfunctional and unbalanced.

‘North Korea’ and ‘Iran’ are no longer issues that can be dealt with in isolation. Both issues are connected – related – in several respects, because of (including): (1) America’s involvement in both issues, (2) the interests that are at stake in these issues for other Great Powers (especially China and Russia), and the opportunities these issues provide to other states (especially for China and Russia), (2) the increasing dysfunctionality of the United Nations, (3) the opportunities US military action against Iran would provide to North Korea, and vice versa; the opportunities US military action against North Korea would provide to Iran, and (4) the opportunities US military action against North Korea and/or Iran would provide to China and Russia.

Action against Iran or North Korea will ‘reverberate’ through the System.

What further complicates the issues – a fact the US is not willing to accept its behaviour shows – is that the utility of military power and capabilities has reduced dramatically: War has become increasingly complicated (and consequently unpredictable) because war no longer (as was especially the case during the 19th and early 20th century) is an exclusive affair between armies and the states these armies represent. States and armies are no longer the sole – and dominant actors – actors. Wars now involve civilisations, communities and individuals; furthermore, the cyber-domain increasingly impacts on war(fare).

War can no longer be considered a continuation of (rational) policy by other means; an adagium from Von Clausewitz which still dominates military thinking and international relations theory (especially the so-called ‘Realist School’).

The decreasing utility of military force and capabilities – especially of US military capabilities – are already more than 16 years on full display in Afghanistan, where a local issue (the capture of Bin Laden) has escalated in a regional conflict, which has significantly contributed to the destabilisation of the Middle East, and undermined US credibility and good will. These lessons are hard to accept and to learn for the US: Reinforcing failure is now seen as an acceptable option.

In the next article of this series I will focus on the courses of action open to the US concerning ‘North Korea’ and Iran, and their probable consequences. The analysis – and weighing – of these options are based on the observations in this post.