Tuesday, July 16

Is North Korea next after US Syria strikes



The US strike in Syria could have repercussions far beyond the Middle East.

By authorising military action, Donald Trump is differentiating himself from his predecessor – showing that he is prepared to act, that crossing a red line will have consequences – and that is a message designed to be heard by the leaders of China and North Korea as well.

The timing could not underline the President’s point more powerfully – hosting Xi Jinping for dinner at the time as he was, ahead of their first serious meeting on Friday, at which Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear programme is expected to top the agenda.

Now Mr Trump doesn’t need to just tell the Chinese president he is serious – he can point to the satellite imagery.

But Syria is not North Korea.

Ordering what looks like a limited strike on an airbase, after warning Russia, and by extension then Syria, to get their troops out of harm’s way, is a very different prospect to targeting North Korea. There are 10 million civilians in Seoul, a US ally, within artillery range of a response.

In the weeks since Rex Tillerson announced that all options were now on the table in North Korea, including pre-emptive military strikes, a range of analysts have been examining how that would likely play out.

Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un I have yet to read a scenario that does not involve substantial retaliation from Pyongyang, likely including a ground invasion of the South, the resumption of large-scale conflict on the peninsula and heavy civilian casualties.

It would end with the demise of the Kim regime, but at substantial cost.

North Korea’s missile launch capability is developing, to include mobile, and possibly submarine-launch options, making its weapons harder to detect and destroy before they could cause serious damage in return.

It would be difficult to calibrate a commensurate strike on North Korea that didn’t trigger this all-out response.

This is not a new problem.

In 1969, President Richard Nixon had to decide how to respond when North Korea shot down a US spy plane with the loss of 31 American personnel.

The leader along with the tank crew from the competition He was presented with options up to a nuclear strike, but in the end he opted for a relatively brief show of force at sea: the risk of reigniting the Korean conflict was too great.

The options haven’t improved much in the four decades since, only now Pyongyang has nuclear and chemical weapons too.

Both China and the United States know this – that this strike on Syria and the decision to attack North Korea are very different beasts, but Mr Xi’s impression of the man he is now negotiating with may be coming into sharper focus.

The unpredictability, the Twitter feed, the red-faced rants – all of that is just ephemera. Since his election, Chinese officials have been trying to get a sense of what Mr Trump will actually do.

They now know this much at least – he’s not Obama.