“Are you willing to rrrisk it?”
The Korean scenario seems to be heading for an endgame. The Trump administration is reinforcing its strike capacity here in Northeast Asia.
I think the chances are better than even that Trump will just go for it. It will throw decades of caution to the wind (failed caution, to be sure, from the US perspective).
Technically, for what it is worth (not much), international law requires UN Security Council authorization or a direct or “imminent” attack from North Korea – the latter of which would justify a “pre-emptive” strike.
Technically, a US “preventive” strike would be illegal (as “preventive war” to eliminate a potential threat has been always regarded as illegal).
But the world no longer cares about the letter of the law. Chances are, 60 – 80%, that Trump will order a strike on North Korea.
Here there are two main scenarios.
Personally, neither of these two scenarios are ideal. In a better world, we would see the armistice convert to a full peace treaty and the recognition of “one civilization, two systems.” But we don’t live in a very nice world… So…
The first scenario does not seem likely within the American paradigm (the facts and figures it uses): that there will be a protracted war with an unpredictable outcome. Of course, there are many “known unknows” and even some “unknown unknowns,” so all bets are off. Perhaps North Korea really has more military capacity than has been described in the western media. I have no idea.
The second scenario is a bit more likely, but only if we are to accept a standard interpretation (with no surprises), of the relative balance of power: that the conflict will be short and decisive, with the US immobilizing or destroying North Korean military capacity (nuclear and perhaps conventional).
Perhaps such a strike will be limited and symbolic, as was recently the case for Syria. Another scenario is that it becomes sustained, toppling the political order in North Korea.
In that scenario, a US attack would theoretically be followed by a Chinese occupation. Ultimately, the Chinese might even agree to a reunification of the peninsula of some kind, but only if all US forces are vacated. Then both the US and China would simultaneously declare victory and leave.
Actually, it is very risky for the US to attack North Korea. While questions abound regarding North Korea’s nukes, it has been clear for decades that North Korea has a vast array of rocket launchers – set on a hair trigger – that can destroy the capital of Seoul, South Korea, which is located very close to the border. (I spent lots of time in Seoul and even toured the de-militarized zone on the border.)
Almost certainly, North Korea will have enough time (during an attack) to pull the conventional trigger on South Korea, if it decides to. So there is a lot at stake. Thousands and possibly millions of Korean lives.
South Korea is now the real pawn in this game. It is a pawn because it elected to be a pawn. In the 1950s, South Korea outsourced its national security and agreed to semi-colonial political and military status.
Now South Korea finds itself sandwiched between North Korea and the US, with China another factor. And South Korea currently has no acting President…
For the Trump administration, if its strike on North Korea is successful, without heavy South Korean casualties, then it will feel empowered to keep the war machine turning elsewhere, specifically in the Middle East. Trump would be lauded as a military genius.
However, a US strike that produces a deadly North Korean backlash (destroying Seoul and killing thousands or more South Koreans) will lead to many more countries seeking to quarantine American power once and for all. Washington would be fully recognized as a dangerous and reckless menace to the international system.
As for Trump, he would probably be on the business end of the words “you’re fired,” and he would be suddenly removed from office by the controllers – or by a cadre of Pentagon officers.
I have no idea what will happen. I’ve only described some likely scenarios.
“Are you willing to rrrisk it?”