North Korean Conundrum – Analysis


One wonders where Robert Kagan, Niall Ferguson, Paul Wolfowitz and other neo-cons have disappeared when President Donald Trump is sounding “fire and fury” and “locked and loaded” at North Korean mad leader Kin Jung-un’s threats to attack Guam. True though Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford jr’s current visit to China, South Korea and Japan is to reassure US’ allies that the US army is on the same page with Defense Secretary General Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who co-wrote an opinion column in The Wall Street Journal that the US and her allies wanted a peaceful resolution of the dispute. Without mentioning President Trump’s ‘fire and fury” threats the duo wrote “the administration was applying “diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea to achieve the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and a dismantling of the regime’s ballistic-missile programs.” The world by now is well aware of President Trump’s often contradictory tweets which the global leaders try to decipher to find out the real US foreign policy.

US administration got worried when the North Korea flight-tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles last month, the second of which appeared to have the capacity to reach the American mainland. Though the Americans are not certain of the technological knowhow of North Korea it is difficult for any US President to take a chance of being hit with nuclear weapons on the US mainland. The Chinese who supposedly have the most influence on Kim Jong-un had to agree with the US and Russia to impose the toughest UNSC sanction on North Korea affecting the country to deprive it of almost a third of its external export revenue. China has announced fully banning imports of aquatic products, coal, iron, iron ore, lead and lead ore from North Korea.

Brooking’s Evans Revere’s assertion (The Trump administration’s North Korea policy: Headed for success or failure? Monday, July 10, 2017) that US and Chinese interests in the diffusion of North Korean problem may have different angles. Revere contends that Beijing values North Korean stability and the preservation of the regime more than it fears the implications of a nuclear-armed DPRK. As Chinese interlocutors often remind the Americans that Beijing fears peninsular instability and the consequences of reunification under Seoul. China therefore has little interest in a U.S.-orchestrated “maximum pressure” campaign that could bring about exactly what China fears. But at the same time would the Chinese countenance a war devastated economy and survivors of a nuclear holocaust pouring into China which despite bright economic indices remains decades behind the US in wealth and military power?

Sino-Russian proposal that the US-South Korea suspend joint military exercises has already been rejected by the US administration. Could regime change be a possibility? China, Russia, Japan and South Korea could agree on a Korean reunification with a denuclearized Korea acceptable to China. Such a solution Trump could sell to the American people as his “victory” comparable to Bush era “New Sovereigntist,” a group of highly credentialed academics who has developed “a coherent blueprint for defending American institutions against the alleged encroachment of international ones”.

One of them Jeremy Rubkin (of Cornell University) advances the deterministic argument for safeguarding US sovereignty and security of the US constitution on the ground of the US being fully sovereign. They argue that the US sovereignty is absolute, illimitable and non-dissipatory as opposed to sovereignty of most countries of the world that is now pooled (in the EU), or circumscribed by international agreements/ covenants. The “new sovereigntists” do not apologize and on the contrary fully endorse US rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, refusal to sign on to the Landmine Convention, Rome Treaty on International Criminal Court, and administration’s refusal to sign on to the Climate Change Agreement ( already agreed upon by President Barak Obama). They find most international laws as too amorphous to justify US consent, intrusive on domestic affairs, unenforceable, and the international law making process as unaccountable.

Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of “new sovereigntism” is the notion that the US can opt out of international regimes on ground of her unquestioned power and duty to the US constitution. That these arguments smack of arrogance and can be proved to be invalid have not impressed their proponents. They are convinced that the wealth and the might of the US offering market and other cooperative arrangements would compel the rest of the world to conform to American positions even if the US were to stand aloof from various international undertakings. Neither isolationalist nor afraid of international engagements but confident of unparalleled economic and military might they advocate an international order that would suit American preferences. But the twin mistake of the Trump–withdrawal from Climate Change Agreement—more than 190 nations agreed to the accord in December 2015 in Paris, and 147 have since formally ratified or otherwise joined it, including the United States — representing more than 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also heavily backed by U.S. and global corporations, including oil giants Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil and BP and secondly withdrawal from Trans-Pacific Partnership—have raised questions in the minds of the allies of US leadership in global affairs and consequent filling up the vacuum by China.

No wonder in another context Irving Kristol lamented “”It’s too bad. I think it would be natural for the United States . . . to play a far more dominant role in world affairs . . . to command and to give orders as to what is to be done. People need that. There are many parts of the world — Africa in particular — where an authority willing to use troops can make . . . a healthy difference.” Likewise Niall Ferguson in his book Colossus attempted to persuade, writes George Monbiot, a British writer and a columnist to The Guardian, the United States that it must take its imperial role seriously, becoming in the 21st century what Britain was in the 19th. “Many parts of the world,” he claims, “would benefit from a period of American rule”. The US should stop messing about with “informal empire,” and assert “direct rule” over countries which “require the imposition of some kind of external authority.” But it is held back by “the absence of a will to power.” Ferguson would rather forget the horrors of colonialism and put the blame on misgovernment, corrupt and lawless government in Africa and completely miss out the role of International Monetary Fund who controlled their economies and virtually ran the economies for the US capital that made these countries as supplier of primary products at low prices only to buy back finished products at abnormally high prices.

The recent regrettable incident caused by white supremacists in Virginia and daily criticism of President Trump for his tweets and delayed responses( Virginia is an example) coupled with ordinary Americans rising up to protect their values give ample testimony that US is expected to remain a country where dreams may come true. Though since nineteen sixties post nationalist authors have rejected the claim of American Exceptionalism, popularized by Martin Seymour Lipset, on the grounds that the US had not broken off from European history except that when Europe was under the shackle of monarchs the Americans had fought for republicanism, based its society not on inherited wealth, discarding of feudalism, puritan roots, democracy and immigration.

President Trump may wish to be reminded that the United States has the largest population of immigrants in the world—over 38.5 million people living in the United States are first-generation immigrants, although on a percentage basis the immigrant population ranks 48th in the world. On an annual basis, the United States naturalizes approximately 898,000 immigrants as new citizens, first in the world in absolute terms, and 8th in the world in per capita terms. From 1960 to 2005, the United States was ranked first in the world for every five year period but one for the total number of immigrants admitted—overall, since 1995, the United States has admitted over 1 million immigrants per year.

Critics of American Exceptionalism may quote Roger Cohen “”How exceptional can you be when every major problem you face, from terrorism to nuclear proliferation to gas prices, requires joint action?” In an article in New York Times Colin Powell wrote: “The idea that putting Americans “first” requires a withdrawal from the world is simply wrongheaded, because a retreat would achieve exactly the opposite for our citizens…With 95 percent of the world’s consumers outside our borders, it’s not “America first” to surrender the field to an ambitious China rapidly expanding its influence, building highways and railroads across Africa and Asia(American Leadership — We Can’t Do It for Free MAY 24, 2017)”. We have traversed a long way from North Korean crisis to American Exceptionalism to necessity of US leadership in global affairs in a coherent framework that allows for role for a multi-polar world. US by itself cannot solve a problem created by a tinpot dictator without the help of other great players. It is hoped that Trump administration would know where to draw the red line thus saving the world from unimaginable catastrophe.

Kazi Anwarul Masud is a former Ambassador and Secretary of Bangladesh.

Ambassador Kazi Anwarul Masud

Kazi Anwarul Masud is a former Secretary and ambassador of Bangladesh

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