By M D Nalapat
Theresa May, the UK Prime Minister has warned US President Donald Trump against any action concerning North Korea, except through the Peoples Republic of China and the UN Security Council, in which of course Beijing has a veto. Mrs May is presumably not among those who favour Kim Jong Un developing nuclear weapons and delivery systems that have the destructive power and range to take out much of San Francisco and subsequently, New York or indeed London. However, the course of action recommended by her would lead inevitably to such a result in under ten years, while within five at most, the North Korean regime would have a nuclear weapons and delivery system sufficient to reduce much of Tokyo or Guam to radioactive dust. That would be the stage at which the North Korean WMD program would in effect be immune to assault, given the level of its destructive capabilities. It is only within the present term of President Trump that a decapitating military strike against the Kim Jong Un regime would be feasible. In case such an operation gets carried out with the full power and ferocity available to the US, Japan and South Korea ( given her faith in China, it is unlikely that Prime Minister May would consent to be part of such a coalition), it would be possible for South Korea (RoK ) to be spared any except eminently bearable damage during such an exchange of hostilities between itself and North Korea (DPRK). Of course, significant damage would be caused within the DPRK, with casualty totals that would send Amnesty International into hysterics. However, when weighed against the possibility of Kim Kong Un unleashing a more extensive nuclear arsenal against South Korea, Japan and the US, such loss of life would be a much lesser price to pay than doing nothing while Pyongyang crosses the nuclear threshold to acquires a usable weapon and delivery system.
Prime Minister May is evidently among those who like to see the good in every human being. It would be obvious to her that the PRC has thus far done little to restrain the DPRK, for the reason that (as in the case of Pakistan), its own technical staff - including from the military - remain close at hand in any North Korean facility. They can turn off the tap at will, should they choose to ever do so. Of course, fake news is regularly repeated that Beijing's relations with Pyongyang are not just cool but resemble winter in the Arctic. Reconciling the latter hypothesis with the reality of China continuing through its alleged falling out with the DPRK with supplying almost all the power consumed by that country, and almost all the food, may sound difficult for a logical mind to accept. Strangely, however, the claim that Beijing is as helpless as Washington and Tokyo in influencing Pyongyang has been repeated by so many "experts" that this has been adopted as truth by the media and the public in most countries. However, the geopolitical reality is that Beijing has little to fear and much to gain from a situation in which Pyongyang effectively acquires immunity from retaliation by the Us and its allies for its actions. A consequence could be a ramping up of Kim Jong Un's shenanigans, including very possibly the gifting of nuclear capability to extremist groups now under siege from the West. Given the gentleman's proclivity for violence, expressed for example in the way in which his uncle or others falling foul of him were executed, it would be folly to permit the North Korean dictator to acquire weapons that would make him immune to punitive action.
The good news for Prime Minister May would be that Pyongyang would reward her good behavior by most probably desisting from similar actions directed against the UK.
As for relying on Beijing to roll back the DPRK's WMD programs, Communist - repeat, Communist - China little to fear from a fully nuclearized North Korea under the Kim family. Why? Because rule by that family would ensure that the DPRK remain dependent for its very survival on the PRC, a situation not very conducive towards hostile action against it by Pyongyang. Of course, a DPRK now made immune from retaliation could well decide to accelerate its activities against the US and its allies, now that its sole lifeline China would be in what may be described as the "Theresa May position" of being the sole controller of action on North Korea. Such moves could prove intensely troubling and perhaps even destabilizing for South Korea, the US and Japan in much the same way as another of Beijing's nuclear proxies, Pakistan, is for India. Thus far, barring anodyne admonitions to both sides to "observe restraint", Beijing has done the opposite of blocking the development of Pakistan's nuclear and missile program, either of which would be severely affected were the PRC to withdraw its support systems. Both Pakistan as well as North Korea play the role of lightning rods, attracting retaliation from specific geostrategic rivals of China while leaving Beijing in the comfortable position of being the referee in the boxing ring. It is therefore hardly a coincidence that both are steadily scaling up their nuclear and missile capabilities, courtesy a country which shall remain unnamed, in view of Theresa May's evident affinity to it.
It was Lee Kuan Yew who said that much of his ideas for developing the Singapore economy into a global powerhouse originated in a study of where Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi had gone wrong in their policies for India. In much the same way, it would be possible for other countries to look at the errors made by India so as to avoid such pitfalls. In 1948, the Indian army was on the cusp of freeing the whole of Jammu & Kashmir from Pakistani occupation when Prime Minister Nehru agreed to a ceasefire. The consequence was not simply the loss of strategically vital territories such as Gilgit-Baltistan to India (thereby, for example, making it possible for China to begin to carve a corridor through the length of Pakistan bypassing India) but the creation of a sore that has oozed trouble for Delhi for close to seven decades. Again, in 1988, informal approaches were made by Israel that it would assist India in taking out Pakistan's (then very limited) nuclear facilities, notably at Kahuta. This was turned down by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was fearful of the consequences of a conventional air attack by the Pakistan Air Force on Mumbai. When word of the lack of retaliatory spirit within the Indian leadership reached General Zia-ul-Haq, he ordered the launch of the non-conventional war in Kashmir that still continues to take lives nearly three decades later. Subsequently, once GHQ Rawalpindi believed that it had built up a sufficient nuclear head of steam to deter any except token kinetic responses from the Indian side, the terror and insurgency campaign against India was steeply accelerated. Once North Korea gains immunity from a decapitating first strike through its nuclear assets, it is a given that the intensity and frequency of non-conventional and indeed unconventional sword-pricks into the security and societal tissue of South Korea, Japan and the US would rise by magnitudes. The good news for Prime Minister May would be that Pyongyang would reward her good behavior by most probably desisting from similar actions directed against the UK.
Prime Minister May is a quick learner, and therefore must be aware of the futility of either expecting the Chinese to rein in a force multiplier designed to enervate their rivals, especially Japan and the US. She must know that there is zero chance of Beijing not vetoing a UNSC resolution authorizing action sufficient against Pyongyang to ensure that the threat from Kim Jong Un does not reach an intolerable ( albeit incurable) level. Or that given such realities, the only option that could prevent a future catastrophe would be to offer Kim and his accomplices a sweetheart deal, and be ready to decapitate them should such an offer be turned down. In the meantime, THAAD and other offensive-defensive deployments need to get speeded up, even as the neutrality of Moscow in a fresh Korean conflict be secured, not through treating Russia as a pariah but as a potential partner. Similarly, Taiwan needs to be incentivized to join the coalition against the DPRK, while a menu of sanctions needs to get implemented against all entities feeding the Kim Jong Un military machine, especially its nuclear and missile component. All this can come about only through the unilateralist approach of Donald Trump rather than the Sino-centric, UN-reliant policy articulated by the UK Prime Minister. Now that North Korea is just a few years away from gaining the immunity that would enable it to be a hideous running sore on the strategic hides of South Korea, Japan and the US in the first instance, now is not the time for such policy recommendations on a matter of existential import for the globe, least of all from a successor to the Iron Lady.