The first part of the story is pretty straightforward. The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, signed onto a statement today in which China agreed that North Korea needed to be curbed and China agreed to help.
In an off-camera briefing with reporters on the second and final day of President Trump’s summit with his Chinese counterpart, Tillerson said the two leaders recognized the imminent threat North Korea poses and agreed to respond accordingly.
“The two sides noted the urgency of the threat of North Korea’s weapons program, reaffirmed their commitment to a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, and committed to fully implement U.N. Security Council resolutions,” Tillerson said, adding that the conversation was “wide-ranging [and] very comprehensive.”
“I think President Xi, from their part, shared the view that this has reached a very serious stage in terms of the advancement of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities,” he continued.
Trump and Xi agreed on the need to work with other foreign powers to convince North Korea “to peacefully resolve the issue and abandon its illicit weapons programs.”
The most significant part is probably the joint characterization of North Korea’s nuclear program as illicit. What does this mean? It probably means that China is going to distance itself a bit from North Korea but probably not in ways we will either notice or appreciate. China probably isn’t all that fond of a nuclear North Korea because it is convincing the South Koreans they need nukes, too. But China is also sort of captured. It wants a buffer state between its border and South Korea because, by comparison to North Korea, living in a sh**hole in rural China looks a lot like heaven. South Korea? Not so much. China also doesn’t want a political meltdown in the DPRK because the refugees stream will head north to China, not across the trenches, minefields, and barbed wire of the DMZ.
Now the funny part. Well, humorous right now but maybe not later on because American humor doesn’t translate very well into North Korean dialect. NBC has a report on options being developed to deal with North Korea:
The National Security Council has presented President Trump with options to respond to North Korea’s nuclear program — including putting American nukes in South Korea or killing dictator Kim Jong-un, multiple top-ranking intelligence and military officials told NBC News.
Both scenarios are part of an accelerated review of North Korea policy prepared in advance of President Donald Trump’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping this week.
The White House hopes the Chinese will do more to influence Pyongyang through diplomacy and enhanced sanctions. But if that fails, and North Korea continues its development of nuclear weapons, there are other options on the table that would significantly alter U.S. policy.
A third option is covert action, infiltrating U.S. and South Korean special forces into North Korea to sabotage or take out key infrastructure — for instance, blowing up bridges to block the movement of mobile missiles. The CIA, which would oversee such operations, told NBC News it could offer “no guidance” on this option. But Stavridis said that he felt it was the “best strategy” should the U.S. be forced to take military action. He described such action as: “some combination of special forces with South Korea and cyber.”
Options are always presented but most of the time they are constrained by “the way we’ve always done it.” Examining a full range of options is a useful mental exercise for staffs because often you are captives of your own assumptions.
Bear with me here for a moment: Back when the world was still young, I was involved in couple of high level “futurist” planning exercises in the Pentagon. The idea was to try to identify emerging trends, analyze how they would impact organizations, and start planning for those scenarios. One group, composed of Army National Guard general officers, was asked what was the most cataclysmic thing that would affect their organization. They quickly decided that the Soviet Union going belly-up would change the Guard from what it was into they didn’t know what because everything about the Guard was driven by the Soviet threat. Sometime after that I chaired a study group on threats in southwest Asia. Within minutes we accurately predicted that Iraq was going to snarf up Kuwait and the reason they would use for their invasion. In both cases, nothing happened because the risks of a leak — “National Guard says USSR Is Going Belly Up” or “Army Says Iraq Planning To Invade Kuwait”– scared the bejeezus out of important people. (As a gloat, I presented my group’s findings to a bright, fast moving brigadier general who said the Saudis will never allow American forces on Saudi soil and our involvement would be limited to air support. His name was Barry McCaffery and four months later he was commanding 24th Infantry Division in Saudi Arabia.)
The fact that the NSC is looking at these options and not being shy about it really is a sign that some fresh thinking may be taking place. Maybe we gamble that we can push enough cash and humanitarian aid into a North Korea that has melted down to forestall mass starvation because that risk is less dangerous than Kim Jong Un having a bad kae golgi and launching two or three or four or five nukes. Maybe knowing that we are seriously looking at a decapitation scenario causes some queasiness amongst the “caps” we intend to “de.” Maybe China decides to engineer a palace coup.
All options are not good options or even viable options but if you are negotiating with yourself over what you can do, you have limited your outcomes. If you are limiting your courses of action to things that have been tried and failed, you don’t have to be a genius to predict what happens.