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marctomarket.com / by / Aug 13, 2017

An escalation of threatening rhetoric by the United States and North Korea emerged as the key driver last week.  The US was unable to build on the success it enjoyed at the UN on August 5 when the Security Council unanimously voted to impose the stiffest sanctions to date on North Korea.  Even if President Trump’s “fire and fury” threat was more visceral than strategic initially, there have been several opportunities to backtrack, and instead, the administration seemed to double down.

Many observers in the US draw parallels with the Cuban Missile Crisis when the Soviet Union tried to install nuclear missiles in Cuba.  The takeaway is the need for a forceful US response.  However, the alternative analogy is Iran, as well as a few other countries, that surrendered its nuclear weapons capability and/or development.  It is a negotiated settlement, not one dictated by military superiority.  This is what US allies, such as Germany, and China and Russia will support.

The US strategy was to deny North Korea nuclear capability.  It did not work.  The US sought to deny North Korea the delivery mechanism.  This did not work either.  It is unfortunate, but the human cost of trying to turn by the clock is significant.  As sour as it tastes, the US must accept a fait accompli and go from there,

Some military experts argue that North Korea may not only use its nuclear capability to deter a US (and/or South Korean), but it can be used offensively.  One such scenario imagines North Korea invades South Korea to unite the country and threatens to its nuclear weapons if US forces join the conflict.    Of course one can create all sorts of scenarios, but this one and many like it, seem to misunderstand the role of US forces in South Korea  (23.5k).  They cannot withstand a full fledged assault by North Korea.  Their function is as a tripwire.  Moreover, the US has a large military footprint in Asia, including 39k troops in Japan, and bases in Singapore and Guam.  On top of this, add US naval power, including submarines, and aircraft carriers.

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