Analysts across the world have begun to justify North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s brinkmanship on the grounds that he is securing the longevity of his regime against any action that the United States (and its allies) might take. As long as Kim knows that China will not join hands with the United States in taking him out, he will keep upping the ante — thumbing his nose, so to say, at the United States.
US President Donald Trump may threaten fire and fury and an unimaginable scale of destruction, but he knows that the United States is on the horns of a dilemma. And now Russia too has come out in opposition to unilateral US action, insisting that dialogue is the only way out.
By the looks of it, Kim is not likely to stop his brinkmanship. But provoking the United States beyond a certain point is likely to invite pre-emptive action. Whatever the nature of a pre-emptive strike by the United States and its two major allies in the region — South Korea and Japan — the destruction that would ensue would, to use President Trump’s words, be unimaginable.
The scale referred to by the US president needs to be spelled out. Ira Helfand, co-President of International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War, published a paper in 2013 on the consequences of a limited nuclear exchange in South Asia. His findings: Chinese winter wheat production would fall 50 per cent in the first year and, averaged over the entire decade after the war, would be 31 per cent below baseline. More than a billion people in China would face severe food insecurity and the total number of people threatened by nuclear-war induced famine would be well over two billion.
The prospect of a decade of widespread hunger and intense social and economic instability in the world’s largest country has immense implications for the entire global community. These figures — which remain unchallenged — do not take into account the tens of millions of casualties in the countries where the exchange would take place.
If this is the scale of destruction resulting from a limited nuclear exchange, it is not difficult to imagine the scale in a situation where the United States hits North Korea as hard as it can.
An estimate can also be made of the effects of retaliatory action by North Korea against South Korea and Japan. Suffice to say that the casualties could be in the tens of millions in the first 24 hours and an order of magnitude of that figure, if not several orders of magnitude, over a longer period.
At the time of writing, the principal players remain the United States, North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan and now Russia. What about the remaining nations of the world? There does not seem to be any emergency planning for the survival of countries in the region that would surely be affected by the fallout and those beyond who would be affected over a longer period.
In short, practically nobody gets away unscathed. The situation described has to be taken as possible Armageddon, in worst case scenarios. Hence the ineluctable need for the major players to meet at the UN and find an immediate solution to this grave threat to humanity.
A possible way out would be for the United States, China and Russia to issue a joint ultimatum to the North Korean leader to come to the negotiating table and force him to put a cap on his country’s missile and nuclear production. This would be followed by complete dismantlement over a given period, with verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency and designated neutral country experts.
This would need to be preceded by the three big powers working out the compromises that need to take place between the US and North Korea. The broad outlines of concessions demanded from the United States before the ultimatum to the North Korean leader would include the complete withdrawal of all US forces from South Korea in stages and abrogation of the mutual defence pact with South Korea. Neutrality of the Korean peninsula would need to be guaranteed by China, Russia and the United States and endorsed at a special session of the UN Security Council. The United States would need to pledge to abjure military action against North Korea. Finally, the United States, China, South Korea and Japan would need to pledge a substantial sum, say US$50 billion, for the economic revival of North Korea. No attempt at regime change would be made by the United States or its allies.
Kim is unlikely to agree to this even if two of his supporters were to join with the United States. Here is where compellance comes in. After authorisation by the UN Security Council, China, Russia and the United States carry out a full-scale blockade of North Korea by land, sea and air. Simultaneously, leaflets would be regularly dropped over North Korea by China and Russia (not the United States) urging the population to force their leader to come to the negotiating table, failing which the army and the people would be urged to topple the leader before complete starvation sets in.
The blockade would be lifted only when neutral observers are allowed to come into Pyongyang to monitor the agreement, and the three powers feel assured that there is no possibility of the North Korean leader reneging on the deal.
As a final step towards peace in the region, the proposal — which is amenable to sensible tweaking — for the demilitarisation of both Koreas would commence, with guarantees of military protection from the major powers.
President Trump lashed back Friday at North Korea’s leader, calling Kim Jong Un a “madman” whose regime will be “tested like never before” amid new U. S-imposed financial sanctions.
A satisfactory outcome in North Korea would send a salutary message to any country aspiring to take the North Korean route. But the biggest take-away would be the coming-together of the leading powers to ward off the direct threats to humanity.
General Vinod Saighal is the Executive Director of Eco Monitors Society, a non-governmental organisation concerned with demography and ecology.