Even an inexperienced Risk-player is well aware of the ill-considered strategy of the United States.
This is part II in a series of two articles, in which I discuss the courses of action open to the US regarding North Korea and Iran.
I make a distinction between two courses of action available to the US concerning respectively ‘North Korea’ and ‘Iran’. The two courses of action represent ‘extremes’: (1) ‘Accept North Korea’s and/or Iran’s (nuclear) ambitions’ or (2) ‘Contain North Korea’s and/or Iran’s (nuclear) ambitions’, for example through (coercive) diplomacy, alliance-formation and (if necessary) military action (war).
I assume that it is the objective of the United States (US) to ensure and enhance the fulfilment of its basic requirements: Security and well-being for its population, and that the US for that reason wants to maintain and enhance its dominance, control and its reputation in the international system.
I also assume – as I explained in the first article of this series – that both issues (North Korea and Iran) are connected/related, and cannot be dealt with in isolation.
Based on this approach (see matrix below), it is possible to distinguish four scenarios. For each scenario, I describe what the impact is – or could be – of probable events (related to the respective scenarios), on the objective of the US to ensure and enhance its security and well-being.SCENARIO I: Acceptance of North Korea’s and Iran’s (nuclear) ambitions.
Acceptance of North Korea’s and Iran’s (nuclear) ambitions is (more or less) equivalent with an isolationist approach (not to be confused with ‘America First’). Such an approach would be interpreted as a retreat by the US from the international arena, and consequently its dominance, control and reputation will be diminished/damaged.
China and Russia will seize on the opportunity, and (try to) increase their (regional) influence/dominance.
A more powerful – nuclear – North Korea and Iran will fuel regional rivalries (respectively with Japan, South Korea, etc. and Saudi Arabia and its allies), and will trigger (regional) nuclear arms races.
This course of action does not serve American interests. The US – especially the US – is dependent on a functioning and for that reason balanced international system.
SCENARIO II: Acceptance of a nuclear North Korea and containment of Iran’s (nuclear) ambitions.
Acceptance of a nuclear North Korea would confirm to other states in the anarchistic system that it is worthwhile to acquire nuclear capabilities, and that such a strategy (eventually) pays off.
East Asia will be (further) destabilised (see also scenario I). The US will lose dominance and control; its reputation will be damaged.
The US – president Trump, the US commander in chief – will be unmasked as a bluffer. The US its influence (elsewhere) will be undermined.
The chances that Iran’s ambitions can be contained, is also doubtful. Iran will be emboldened by North Korea’s success, and the US its hollow rhetoric. This course of action will also not serve American interests.
SCENARIO III: Containment of North Korea’s (nuclear) ambitions and acceptance of Iran’s (nuclear) ambitions.
The question is if North Korea can still be effectively contained, given its (by now) significant nuclear capabilities: North Korea’s present day possession of (nuclear) capabilities are in fact proof of a failed (US-led) containment strategy.
More pressure and military action directed at North Korea, could trigger a devastating military response from North Korea, aimed at regional adversaries (like South Korea and Japan) and/or the United States. The target of preference is probably the United States.
A preventive strike on North Korea’s military capabilities/facilities cannot (never) be (hundred percent) successful: North Korea will maintain significant conventional and probable nuclear second strike capabilities.
Acceptance of Iran’s (nuclear) ambitions will (further) destabilise the Middle East and further fuel regional rivalries (as explained). An Israeli preventive strike on Iran’s (nuclear) capabilities is to be expected.
In this scenario, the prospects are also not favourable for the US. This course of action will also not serve American interests.
SCENARIO IV: Containment of both North Korea’s and Iran’s (nuclear) ambitions.
For the feasibility and consequences, see also scenario II and III. Despite intense efforts by the US, North Korea’s (nuclear) ambitions are not contained, but are instead ‘intensified’ by the US-pressure and threats.
The US its impotence is on display, not North Korea’s. The US strategy regarding North Korea undermines its credibility.
The US – with its president in the lead – now intentionally provokes Iran, and questions its (the US) willingness to abide by the Iran nuclear agreement. The US’ provocations are supposed – it seems – to forge a Saudi-led coalition against Iran. This is obviously playing with fire.
Furthermore, the US its unwillingness to stick to the agreement the US itself has forged with Iran and several coalition partners, shows to North Korea (and the US coalition partners) that the US cannot be trusted, and that a (nuclear) agreement with the US is worthless. This course of action also not serves American interests.
All four options – courses of action – do not serve American interests. The scenarios that will unfold will result in (further) escalation; both issues – whatever the course of action – will eventually result in war, it seems.
Only a fundamental change in American behaviour and in the ambitions of both North Korea and Iran, can prevent a collision.
The most unfavourable scenario for the US is scenario IV: a ‘simultaneous’ confrontation with North Korea and Iran (which also seems to be a matter of time in case of the other scenarios).
Scenario IV has the largest negative impact on America’s objective (to maintain and enhance its security and well-being); it would force the US to fight two ‘regional’ wars simultaneously.
Although scenario IV is the most negative scenario for the US, this is the scenario that is now unfolding, and is further reinforced – also with every tweet sent by the US commander in chief – by the ill-considered and inconsistent ‘policies’ and actions of the US.
Even a starting Risk-player knows that a simultaneous war with two adversaries must be avoided, especially if the two most powerful rivals in the game (I refer to China and Russia) have the mission to destroy your military capabilities.