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Donald Trump, Kim Jong-un, and the End of the World – or Diplomacy?

by John Brian Shannon

Review: North Korea Invades South Korea in 1950

Let us never forget that it was North Korea, acting with the approval of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin that attacked a peaceful South Korea on June 25th, 1950 — an invasion that was opposed by all UN member nations except China, which later provided significant support to the North Korean side.

In all, more than 2.5 million civilians and over 1 million military personnel were killed (some 32,975 military personnel are still listed as ‘missing’) for a likely total of 3.5 million deaths attributable to the Korean War.

However, a since reclassified report said that 4.4 million deaths occurred as a result of the Korean War (and that number includes those who died from lack of food, water, medicine, or proper sanitation as a direct result of the war) and the responsibility for those deaths lay squarely on the people who initially approved the unprovoked invasion of South Korea: Kim Il-sung of North Korea, Joseph Stalin of the USSR, and while providing only minimal support at the beginning of the war it was China’s Mao Zedong who provided a dramatic increase in men and matériel to fight the UN force defending South Korea.


Armistice Signed in 1953

Since July 27, 1953 an armistice has remained in place between North Korea, China and Russia on one side of the conflict, and the countries of the United Nations on the other.

NOTE: An armistice is regarded as a state of ‘ceasefire’ and is also called a ‘cessation of hostilities’ but it isn’t an actual long-term peace agreement.


Not at War, But Not at Peace

From June 1954 when the official negotiating teams representing both sides wrapped up their work because they were unable to forge a long-term peace agreement due to the intransigence of North Korea’s political leaders (although North Korea’s military agreed on the need for a durable peace agreement during negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland “the Geneva Conference (1954)” and in fact, covertly floated the idea of UN powers helping them to stage a coup in North Korea) the Korean War hasn’t officially ended, although it’s important to remember that there has been no actual combat between the two sides in all those years, but there have been many instances of irritation between the former combatants.


A Country on a Permanent War Footing

In North Korea, the war never ended. At least the war mindset never ended. It’s a country that still prepares for war and it’s a country that expects to be attacked on any given day of the year. The economy is a ‘war economy’ which means that aside from growing food to feed its citizens and building homes to shelter them, everything is geared towards preparing for war.

“Women must serve in the army for about seven years, and men for 10 years.” — Newsweek 

‘No country in the world could successfully invade and occupy North Korea’ it has been said by many experts. Every adult in the country has served a minimum of seven years in the North Korean military, and some have served their whole lives. The standing army numbers 1.1 million with another 7.7 million army reservists that can be called-up instantly.

Every city, every village, every building, every street, every farm area has been designed to favour the defenders, including some bridges, buildings and roads prewired with explosives to destroy them and there are estimated to be as many as 20-million land mines installed in forested land and in (what appears to be) agricultural belts. When you add that to the fact that every adult has served in the army and knows where to access those controls and their associated explosives, it makes war in the north a virtual death trap for any invading army, no matter how large or powerful.

All of their serious military facilities are deep underground — so far down that only repeated direct hits with nuclear weapons will shake those underground buildings enough to kill everyone inside. And even then, some may still survive if they’re strapped in and not bouncing off the walls or ceilings hard enough to break their necks during the shaking. And if they’re alive, they can still push buttons. The kind of buttons we don’t like.

The North Korean air force is small and it has few 4th and 5th-generation aircraft, but it’s designed for, and their pilots are expert at, the close air support role, which is another important factor to consider for any country considering invasion of North Korea.

The North Korean Navy is tiny, but the ace up its sleeve is a large fleet of highly-modified Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines, some of which have been modified to accept ballistic missiles (although every attempted launch to date has failed) and the Kilo’s are generally noted for their stealth and are notorious for their ability to covertly deliver troops or supplies to any coast in the world. The USSR built hundreds of these small, but excellent submarines and conducted secret operations on every continent. Yes, every continent.

The Soviet Navy never installed ICBM missile tubes in Kilo-class subs, but the North Korean navy did. So, it’s just a matter of time before North Korea figures out the technical bits related to launching ballistic missiles from underwater.

NOTE: The Soviet Navy preferred to create a whole new class of submarine (the Akula-class) from which to launch ICBM’s and was an excellent decision from every conceivable safety standpoint.

The book on North Korea’s military is this: ARMY: The army is an extremely well-trained and capable army — one of the largest in the world — and it is well dug-in and the entire country has been set up to foil invasion. AIR FORCE: Small, but extremely well-trained for the close air support mission, and very capable in that role. NAVY: Small, almost non-existent surface fleet, but well trained for coastal reconnaissance — but their submarine fleet is large, with growing size and capability, and their capabilities are regularly underestimated by other countries.


Now North Korea has Nuclear Bombs and ICBM’s

Now that North Korea has admitted to having a small number of nuclear bombs and is testing advanced missiles, its leader has decided to use his nation’s war economy and military to get what he wants for his country.

That’s the basic psychology at work there, and we’ve seen this before. In fact, every war begins the same way.

Except, because negotiations between the UN nations and North Korea have been practically non-existent, nobody really knows what Kim Jong-un wants!

Obviously he wants something or he wouldn’t be firing nuclear-capable missiles across Japanese airspace or threatening the United States with nuclear missile attack.

And we don’t even know what the man wants…


At the Very Least, We Should Find Out What Kim Jong-un Wants

There’s no doubt that he will continue to improve the technology and capability of his submarine fleet. There’s no doubt his ICBM programme will continue to improve and there’s no chance of staging a coup in that country as the citizens and the military command are simply too loyal to the ‘Dear Leader’ as he’s known to his people.

So, as we’re stuck with him until he eventually passes away and North Korean politics becomes a lot more mainstream, we might as well engage in some high level diplomacy and find out what he wants. Perhaps he has some legitimate grievances and not-as-legitimate grievances, and some reasonable requests of the international community.

It costs nothing to talk. But not talking might result in nuclear war, especially if the present lack of communication continues past the time that Kim Jong-un’s ICBM’s become nuclear-capable and can travel thousands of miles.


Who Should Talk to North Korea?

In the war that was the Korean War, it was the UN member nations (with the exception of the USSR and China) that fought back against the North Korean invasion of South Korea — therefore, it was a war between the UN (minus two members) and North Korea — and therefore, any diplomatic initiatives which at this point are strongly advised, must be presented to North Korea by the United Nations.

At present, there’s nothing. Not even a weekly phone call.

Which is very distressing, if you’re a person who happens to know what the stakes are.


Time is On Our Side

In the long run, if the rhetoric is kept to a low level and if high level diplomatic engagement becomes a number one priority for the United Nations negotiating teams and communications staff, and if reasonable requests from Jong-un are approved, all of us, including those in North Korea, will get to live. Yes, nuclear war is like that.

Constant diplomacy works every time but only because diplomacy takes place between human beings on both sides of any issue or conflict — and not between opposing computers. The application of professional diplomacy to any problem can solve anything, given enough effort and time.

Here’s the equation: Conflict between human beings + Diplomacy/Human Psychology = Positive Outcome

It’s just that it takes a high level of commitment to stick to it, and each and every action (not words, but actions) taken by the Jong-un regime will need to be carefully weighed and North Korea ‘punished’ or ‘rewarded’ as appropriate, using ‘soft power’ only, and we need to realize it’s going to take some amount of time.

The best way that human beings learn anything is via ‘carrot and stick’. Reward a person (even foreign dictators) every time they do something right (within reason) and punish them every time they do something wrong (within reason) and you are training that person to be your ally. Yes, with the right diplomacy, time is on our side.

A NATO Equivalent for the South China Sea

by John Brian Shannon | July 31, 2016

China is growing and modernizing rapidly, of that there’s no doubt. With an economy second only to the United States, and home to 1.35 billion citizens, it’s the country that created the largest manufacturing sector in recorded history.

Due to globalization, events in China (whether positive or negative) can have profound and worldwide ramifications

Therefore, it makes sense that China is attempting to shore-up it’s marine security in the South China Sea through which $5 trillion worth of goods pass annually.

A good case could be made that China would be remiss if it didn’t take reasonable measures to ensure that all shipping in the region (whether it is en-route to China or not) is safe from at-sea piracy attempts and seaborne terrorist attack

It has been noted by sailors for hundreds of years that complex navigational hazards await those ships that navigate through the busy South China Sea.

The waterway is full of sandbars, shoals, partially submerged islets, and some islets are only visible at low tide, while others lurk only a few feet beneath the surface of the sea — safe enough for 5-person sailboats to pass over, but exceedingly dangerous for container ships to traverse. Running aground and getting stuck half-out of the water on top of the shoal or sandbar is incredibly dangerous.

Once a distress call goes out, pirate ships operating in the region are ‘magnetically attracted’ to those grounded ships. If you think that piracy-at-sea is a big problem with a ship capable of running at full speed and able to quickly change course, you’ll understand what happens to a ship and crew that is stuck on a sandbar for a few days. You don’t want to be that crew, ever. Just one more reason to have a strong anti-piracy component operating in the South China Sea.

South China Sea dispute

South China Sea nations. Image courtesy of AFP.

Where such islets are located in North American waters, they were long ago deemed navigational hazards and were either destroyed via explosive charges or had lighthouses with foghorns installed on them to constantly warn ships of their location. A few have a runway installed so that patrol aircraft can refuel. Which is exactly what China has been working on in recent months.

Surprising to nobody is that some of China’s neighbours are concerned that the huge and powerful nation not all that far from them could become even more powerful than now, and it could decide to be not as nice to deal with as it has been in recent years.

In such case, those islets could be heavily militarized and used as jumping-off points for an attack on the much smaller South China Sea nations. (At least, that’s the fear)

Which gives more reason for all South China Sea nations to work together to craft a common strategy for China’s security and their own security.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of China to the global economy which depends on it to drive demand for resources and agriculture

Building upon the uber-successful NATO model, an organization of Atlantic Ocean member nations and having conducted millions of operations in the Atlantic ocean since it’s creation on April 4, 1949, is the most logical way for China to gain the additional security it needs — while proving to regional neighbours that it poses no threat to them and is merely working towards a clearly demarcated, safe shipping zone for the South China Sea.

Even the leaders of the world’s most powerful nation the United States of America, know that nothing of lasting significance can be achieved by one country acting alone.

Therefore and in that context, I respectfully urge President Xi Jinping of China to work with all of the nations of the South China Sea in a spirit of mutual trust and goodwill in an effort to jointly address the opportunities of regional maritime security.

Mr. President, please make the South China Sea nations ‘part of the solution instead of part of the problem’

In this way, by taking the lead in the creation of a mutually beneficial organization, not only will maritime security in the region improve, but other upgrades to diplomatic relations around the world will surely follow.

‘Free Riders’ or ‘A New Hope’?

by John Brian Shannon | April 27, 2016

In a recent interview, President Barack Obama called some U.S. allies “free riders” in regards to perceived American largesse, but supposedly “cleared the air” while meeting with King Salman of Saudi Arabia at the April 20th Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Now that one side has ‘cleared the air’ let’s allow the other side to share their grievances publicly — except they won’t because there is danger in that for them — and also because ‘it’s just not done’ diplomatically-speaking.

FACT: From 1932 through 1973 (in almost every year) the U.S.A. purchased Saudi oil at a price lower than the cost of production.

Yes, you read that correctly. For most of 41 years, Saudi Arabia massively subsidized the American economy by selling it’s oil for lower than the cost of production. (“Otherwise, the West will lose the Cold War.”) Does everybody understand how that card was played?

I’d call that a very big debt.

(Yes, such treatment ultimately led to the Arab Oil Embargo, although events surrounding Israel were cast as the publicly-stated reason for the Embargo. ‘Those in the know’ at that time are very well aware of this and it’s an open secret among historians and the people who were present in the halls of power in that era)

FACT: During the Cold War, Saudi Arabia mounted more Cold War operations against the former Soviet Union than all other countries combined. (Let that one sink in for a moment!) Saudi Arabia’s Cold War operations against the Soviets were second only to the United States — and countless operations were joint U.S./Saudi operations.

I’d call that a very large debt.

FACT: During the massive Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980’s, the CIA, Pakistan’s ISI, and the Saudis combined forces to evict America’s #1 enemy the former Soviet Union from Afghanistan. (See the movie, ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ which isn’t far off the truth — except it misses the point that Saudi Arabia paid for the whole effort)

The CIA provided a dazzling array of options (technical support, 3rd-rate new or refurbished weapons, realtime satellite intelligence to designated ‘advisors’ on the ground, and cover) while the ISI provided transport, shelter, fighters, and other logistical capabilities.

(In retrospect, in exchange for *being allowed* to get a reasonable price for their oil, it almost looks like Saudi Arabia was expected to shoulder the entire cost of the Soviet/Afghanistan war. Which probably removed most of whatever profits they had hoped to achieve from the new, post-Embargo oil price that the Saudis were *allowed* to charge)

Another big debt to Saudi Arabia.

FACT: “Saudi Arabia has *executed* more terrorists than the U.S. has ever *captured*.” (That was true until 2004, but it was a common refrain until then)

Yes, in Saudi Arabia, when they catch terrorists, they generally execute them with little fanfare. Good riddance!

Saudi Arabia has passed onto the United States intelligence agencies more information about terrorist individuals than any other country.

Of course, U.S. intelligence agencies and some law enforcement units are only too happy to take the credit for apprehending such terrorists, rendering them abroad, incarcerating them without trial, and then casting vague aspersions at Saudi Arabian culture for (possibly) creating them.

Which works quite well, I must say. It has kept the Saudis busy trying to dig themselves out of a contrived hole — a hole contrived by some Western intelligence agencies in order to keep the Saudis quiet about all the free riders Saudi Arabia has given the West since 1932.

I’d call that a moderate debt to the Saudis.

It’s interesting that there was little ‘Islamic terrorism’ prior to the Soviet/Afghan War. And what there had been, was tiny bits of terrorism scattered around Asia and the Middle East. (Usually it was a case of personal attacks — one warlord against another)

But there is a reason for the rise of Islamic Terrorism and we in the West, helped create it.

Instead of castigating people for being ‘free riders’ — trying to keep them ‘down’ and ‘on the defensive’ — we should be meeting every country ‘where it is’ and helping them to destroy terrorist networks and individual terrorists wherever they may be on the planet.

That’s the difference between managing a problem on the one hand and scoping out a much broader, more inclusive, and cooperative vision on the other hand — one that has an infinitely better chance of success.

Finally, terrorism didn’t suddenly just happen. We in the West helped to create it during the Soviet/Afghan War with CIA training, the ISI’s training, and Saudi money.

When our allies the brave Mujahadeen sometimes called the West’s freedom fighters returned home to places like Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and other Middle Eastern nations, their particular indoctrination did not simply vanish…

A New Hope

We need a better vision — one that is at least one order of magnitude better — for dealing with what is probably going to become a widespread problem in this world, with many Western-educated young people joining such groups.

Yes, thousands of Western non-Muslims are joining ISIS and other groups — and in the future it’s likely that other groups will arise with even more tantalizing ideologies (at least to easily-swayed and ‘out-of-place’ young people) who feel they haven’t a real chance at fulfilling their potential in our world.

Every one of our young people who leaves to join such a group represents a massive failure on the part of our society.

And we will only have ourselves to blame for what comes after — whatever that may be.

Therefore, let us put our efforts into providing real opportunities for our young people, and with some urgency, create employment opportunities in the Middle East where the youth unemployment rate ranges from 29% (Saudi Arabia) to 24.8% in Egypt and worse, in rural areas.

Young people from any country with a promising future ahead of them, do not run away from their communities to join groups like ISIS. Providing the opportunity for a real future for young people is where we must put our best effort — and we can’t afford to waste a moment in support of that important goal.


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