Trump’s Tantrum At The G7

Trump’s performance at the G7 can only be considered a disaster. Trump showed up with a list of grievances for U.S allies and asked for the reinstatement of the Russian Federation, which was ejected for its invasion of Ukraine.

Like a petulant child, Trump demanded trade concessions, singling out Canada for punishment for Trudeau’s refusal to bow to his demands on tariffs. He refused to sign on the joint communique and then referred to Trudeau as “meek” and “dishonest”.

Trump ended his tantrum by announcing that he had “instructed our U.S. Reps not to endorse the Communique as we look at Tariffs on automobiles flooding the U.S. Market!“ A clear reference to his earlier threats against the German automobile industry.

Trump’s blow up at the G7 puts the international order in a very precarious position. The post-war western and international order was built around the protection of democracy and free trade in the mutual interest of the free world.

Historically, the United States has insisted on an end to abusive colonial economic practices and protectionism that gave empires like Britain and France monopolies on overseas markets; the British control over India’s textile industry is the most well-known example.

America insisted on freedom of navigation so that commerce could flow from every corner of the world. America had long seen tariffs and imperialism as barriers to its own economic power and growth. American capitalism thrived on opening new markets for American goods and allowing America’s advanced industrial economy to compete on equal terms with other great powers.

The United States would not stand for a world order where strong nations could claim parts of another by force. During the Suez crisis, the United States even threatened Britain and France with sanctions and the liquidation of British currency reserves and an end to IMF assistance.

The fabled China market is the archetype. From the beginning of the 20th century, the United States sought to open up the Chinese market by freeing it from colonial domination. The thinking went that if American manufacturers could sell something as simple as a toothpick to every one of China’s 400 million inhabitants the economic opportunity would be immense and a boon to America’s advanced industrial economy.

Throughout the past 100 years, the idea of expanding markets, combined with Wilson’s internationalism has laid the groundwork for American foreign policy. America’s rise to military and economic dominance after World War Two and the Cold War cemented America’s global hegemony and a global order based sovereignty, free trade and equality (in theory).

If Trump continues to spurn this legacy, American hegemony will end. The relationships that underpin this order are based on mutual benefit for all involved; not imperialism of old Europe or Trump’s ring-kissing gangster capitalism.

If the economic basis of the American alliance system falls apart the military alliances will crumble soon after. In the Clausewitzian sense, trade and war are on the same continuum of politics. Placing tariffs on another nation is an act of aggression just like placing troops on the border.

If this aggression continues, Trump will drive allies to seek accommodation elsewhere. One could imagine a scenario where Canada, Mexico, and the Eurozone enter a joint trade agreement rather than continue to engage with a belligerent United States over NAFTA.

One could also see the breakdown in trade relationships interfering with American military commitments. If an alternative exists, why would any self-respecting nation allow a nation hostile to their prosperity to base troops in their territory?

I cannot foresee NATO falling apart overnight as no alternative exists for securing Europe exists, or will exist in the near future. Germany, France, and Britain’s militaries are not capable of handling a full-scale war without the United States and even smaller operations like the one in Mali are reliant on American logistical assistance.

At the same time, the path forward in the East is far from certain. Shino Abe has long been suspected of harboring militarist tendencies. The remilitarization of Japan and the scrapping of the peace constitution would profoundly change Japan’s relationship with the United States, which has guaranteed Japanese security since it’s surrender in 1945.

At the same time, China is seeking accommodation from the current world order and the expansion of its economic influence across the Eurasian landmass via it’s “belt and road” initiative. The People’s Republic also has its sights set on Africa, challenging American dominance across the Eastern Hemisphere.

This is the situation we now find ourselves in. The world order that America sacrificed thousands of lives and trillions of dollars to build is now under threat by a reactionary imbecile who now heads the executive branch.

With no clear guidance coming from Washington the world order is likely to deteriorate further. No nation or group of nations has the capacity to lead to the world like the United States and it is unclear whether the world order can be pieced back together when Trump leaves office.

Currently, our only hope is for the U.S Congress to halt Trump’s economic and geopolitical rampage by restaining his ability to impose tariffs and speak out against his idiotic bashing of American allies. But even with millions of dollars from billionaires and business interests, getting Congress to do anything is going to be quite a feat, especially given how spineless they have been in the face of Trump.

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A Way Forward On North Korea

With North Korea on the precipice of an nuclear deterrent the United States will face some very tough choices in the coming years that will determine the course of the American policy in East Asia.

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THAAD systems rolling off of a Strategic lift aircraft in Osan Air Base South Korea. (source)

I’ll be frank; I have no confidence that we can stop the North Korean missile or nuclear program at this point with diplomacy or any other non-Kinetic means. Even with a whirlwind shift from both China and the Trump administration I don’t see a positive outcome given the time constraints and the political situation.

The window for denuclearization has passed. Even peace advocates agree that North Korea is unlikely to accept, or even consider such a proposal given the current state of their nuclear program and the investment in pro-nuclear propaganda both domestically and internationally.

The Perry doctrine then, where the end result of pressure and sanctions are negotiations to stall the DPRK’s missile and nuclear programs is becoming increasingly unrealistic given the advanced state of those programs. Freezing this program where it stands is simply not a politically viable option. The North already has the ability to mount a warhead onto a missile that could reach American bases in the region.

An agreement to freeze their program would also come at the cost unacceptable political and military cost to the United States. Kim has made his demands clear: the U.S would be asked to abandon or roll back it’s commitments to South Korea and release most of the sanctions on the North in exchange for a deal that would allow North Korea to keep it’s nuclear weapons.

With political options lacking viability we find ourselves on the losing end of a stalemate, where the North Korean’s are able to use our  risk aversion of it’s advantage.

With the United States is in willing to accept a De Jure nuclear armed North Korea or lose face to the Kim Regime in the domestic or international arenas, the crisis has festered. As time passes Kim will continue to build up it’s nuclear program.

Trump’s Approach

Donald Trump’s approach to the DPRK is essentially a more aggressive rebrand of the failed Bush and Obama policies. Trump (really Mattis and McMaster) are sending carriers to the region and continuing to hold exercises with South Korea. There is also engagement with China to stop accepting coal shipments from the DPRK and new sanctions are being discussed. It’s what you might call “strategic impatience.”

Trump’s strategy, much like the past two administrations, is less of a strategy and more of a tactic. There is no clear political end game in mind. The U.S continues to impose sanctions and shift military assets around the Pacific as a show of strength hoping that Kim Jong Un will either be deposed or the regime will ask seek terms.  This is also highly unrealistic given the goals and strategic position of the regime.

Goals of the Kim Regime

The primary goal of the North Korean regime is to sustain itself regardless of the cost. With the bomb they see themselves as safe from an American intervention A la Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Grenada, Panama. etc.

In this calculus the needs of the North Korean people, biological or otherwise are not given much weight. Their society is militarized to the extreme. Billions of dollars out of North Korea’s tiny economy are spent on it’s nuclear program and the military even as basic needs like subsistence go unmet. Even with the food shortages the regime still pushes large families to keep the population up. Any argument that the regime sees the populace as anything more than potential soldiers is hardly a strong one.

Because of this, sanctions that effect the ability of the people to live will not weigh heavily on the regime unless the situation becomes completely unbearable as in the 1990s where an estimated three million people died of starvation.

There is little chance the people would rise up against the regime in any case. The DPRK is a sealed society based around the cult worship of the Kim family. The denizens of the DPRK are virtual slaves; many of which know no other reality than the one presented to them by the regime. A coup would only possible from the higher echelons of regime where the power is concentrated and then, only if they believed catastrophe was imminent.

The threat of force also has little effect on the regime. Kim knows the bluff. He knows the United States is hesitant to attack him when he has over 1100 pieces of artillery aimed at the South Korean capital, along with dozens of submarines and an arsenal of ballistic missiles that could kill thousands of Americans, Japanese and South Koreans.

To Kim, both approaches, the sanctions and the threat of force become two sides of same regime change strategy. He does not trust the United States to keep a bargain and every day the United States fails to topple his regime is a day the North gets closer to a functional nuclear deterrent. Kim has every reason to keep going ahead with his nuclear weapons program and very little reason to negotiate.

The Strategic Dynamic

Clausewitz noted that war (and politics by extension) is like a duel where two opponents actively attempt to overpower each other. American views of North Korea however, describe them as a problem, rather than as an active and dynamic opponent that has it’s own goals and will resist attempts to disarm it.

There is also an element of hubris that is blinding America to the reality of the situation. There is a belief that because the United States is so powerful it can exercise unlimited control over another country if it is willing to try hard enough. We see this today with people who still contend that we lost in Vietnam because we were unwilling to use enough force.

The same basic issue applies today in the politics of North Korea. Even though America’s power dwarfs the DPRK in nearly every dimension, the advantages of the defense put Kim on the high ground. America has limited goals but is unwilling to employ even limited force (i.e “all measures short of war”). North Korea on the other hand has even more limited goal (survival) and is willing to use unlimited force (i.e begin a nuclear war) to achieve to it.

There is also a fundamental misunderstanding of the DPRK’s nuclear program. It is not some token they are willing to part with, it is an integral part of their defense complex and increasingly, their society. They view it as an existential necessity and unless the U.S and South Korea are willing to wage total war there will be no disarmament. The force needed to take away the bomb is likely equivalent to the amount of force needed to topple the regime.

These strategic imbalances and misunderstandings make it impossible for the U.S to stop the DPRK nuclear program through current measures and has created a path toward continued nuclear weapons development in North Korea.

Conclusion

It’s time to admit that North Korea’s program cannot be stopped through non-kinetic means. The United States has nothing to offer the regime and they do not trust The U.S to keep promises. Nor do they care if their people starve. All of the pressure in the world is not going to make Kim humble himself and put a gun to his head, especially when he’s so close to a functional deterrent.

In short; the Kim dynasty has played their hand extraordinarily well and will likely achieve it’s deterrent. But, as Clausewitz said, one of the things that keeps war from it’s extremes is the fact that there is almost always a round two. This is next stage is what the United States needs to be preparing for, not doubling down on a failed policy with an unachievable goal.

 

Why Japan Must Never Go Nuclear

Recently Donald Trump implied that he might be okay with South Korea and Japan acquiring nuclear weapons. Shortly after these comments were made, Japanese Prime Minister Shino Abe made a shocking claim of his own. Abe stated that the Pacifist constitution that Japan adopted after the Second World War does not prohibit it from processing nuclear arms. The subtext is clear; Japan can have a nuclear bomb if it wants to have one.
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