President Trump has demanded that China take steps to counter the growing threat on the Korean Peninsula. Beijing, it appears, is finally answering that call, though not in the way Americans would have hoped. Rather than cut off their errant ward in Pyongyang, Beijing is pressuring the South Korean government in Seoul so as to prevent the deployment of the American ballistic missile defense system, otherwise known as THAAD.
Congratulations! Beijing is screwing us again!
In the words of leading international relations and business scholar David P. Goldman, China is “acting as both the arsonist and the fire brigade” in the current North Korean imbroglio.
This should come as no surprise. The South Koreans have been playing fast-and-loose with their purportedly “unshakable” U.S. alliance for years. Between unfair trade practices and Seoul’s incessant efforts to undermine its military alliance with America and Japan (e.g., trying to prevent American command over the joint-American and South Korean forces in wartime, and refusing to join an American missile-defense network in Asia), it is clear that the South Koreans do not respect the sacrifices they expect Americans to make on their behalf.
Even as the standoff with North Korea has escalated, South Korea has sought publicly to assure their crazed cousins in Pyongyang that “trilateral cooperation between Seoul, Washington, and Tokyo did not amount to a military balance.”
The South Koreans have never really agreed with the U.S. view of the North Korean threat. While the North is an immediate physical threat to the South, the South must live with the fact that the North could obliterate Seoul within the first hour of any conflict, regardless of whether North Korea possesses nuclear weapons. The South has always preferred to build up its defenses but has eschewed any greater level of hostilities with the North, out of fear of what kind of costs the conflict would impose on South Korea. For the United States, excepting the presence of its 25,000 troops along the 38th parallel (with their families close by), the threat has been more theoretical.
Of course, now that Kim Jong-un has a demonstrated nuclear capability far beyond what analysts previously thought was possible—and the fact that he is no more than 18 months away from having a reliable intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States—the threat to America is increasing. But the South Koreans still resist greater solidarity with their American and Japanese partners.
Meanwhile, the Trump Administration maintains China is the key to ending the North Korean threat. But for China, the greater threat is the United States. They view America as both a destabilizing force on the peninsula (they view us as a threat throughout the region, in fact), as well as their primary competitor for global power, and so they are making covert moves to displace us entirely.
Apparently, it’s working.
The presence of U.S. troops and a working missile defense network so close to Chinese territory would nullify China’s nuclear deterrence. The fact that South Korea views the North Korean threat differently from the Americans indicates that the South is keen to adhere to Chinese wishes. This explains why the South has been so reluctant to show unity with their American and Japanese allies in the face of the growing North Korean threat.
China has won this hand. America must adapt accordingly and complicate China’s grand strategy at a greater level—in low-earth orbit.
I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of watching American troops and equipment continually deployed to an ungrateful South Korea. I’m tired of using American kids as tripwires in other people’s conflicts.
What is this, 1950? We live in a high-tech world now. So, let’s create a 21st-century solution.
The threat posed to America by North Korea, China, and Russia is their nuclear arsenals. The current ground-based American missile defense system is far too rudimentary to be totally effective against any of these threats. However, a space-based system would be extremely threatening. The money saved from deploying American forces in-theater could be funneled (along with other funds) into doing a rapid, new, Manhattan Project for space-based missile defense.
For years, the Chinese (and Russians) have insisted that any American weapons platform placed in orbit would be viewed as an unacceptable risk to them. We’ve adhered to their wishes and effectively deterred ourselves from developing real missile defenses. Unfortunately, the United States believed that both the Chinese and Russians viewed North Korea in ways similar to how we do: as a crazed state. So, we’ve left resolving the North Korean insanity up to the Chinese as well as the Russians. Neither has done their jobs, mainly because we are incorrect in our assessment of their view of the situation. Pull our troops back and deploy weapons in orbit, though, and these threats go away—without further risk to American lives and equipment.
That’s putting America first.
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