Dif­fuse ten­sion with po­lit­i­cal and diplo­matic so­lu­tion

New Straits Times - - Opinion -

THE re­cent de­ploy­ment of the Ter­mi­nal High Alti­tude Area De­fence (THAAD), a United States Army anti-bal­lis­tic mis­sile sys­tem, to South Korea, will make it more dif­fi­cult for China to co­op­er­ate with Wash­ing­ton. China be­lieves that THAAD is in­tended to spy on them.

The mount­ing mil­i­tary ten­sion be­tween North Korea and the US, to para­phrase Robert Op­pen­heimer, can be likened “to two scor­pi­ons in a bot­tle, each ca­pa­ble of killing the other but only at the risk of his own life”.

The risks of a war with North Korea are high. The risks of a mis­cal­cu­la­tion aris­ing from un­pre­dictable per­son­al­i­ties are equally high. Al­though the US has a higher chance of sur­viv­abil­ity, in an un­think­able sce­nario, the out­come of a pre-emp­tive strike by Wash­ing­ton could be a strate­gic mis­take.

The thought of North Korea down­ing the USS Carl Vin­son is crazy. If that hap­pens, all air­craft car­ri­ers, in­clud­ing China’s Liaon­ing, are vul­ner­a­ble to tar­get prac­tice by a Third World na­tion. Com­mu­nist lead­ers in Py­ongyang must think through the con­se­quences of such folly. It is not that sim­ple to crip­ple an air­craft car­rier! It is also un­think­able for the US to de­stroy North Korea, a sovereign na­tion and mem­ber of the United Na­tions.

Al­though Wash­ing­ton has all kinds of bombs to shut out North Korea for good, a more sen­si­ble strat­egy is to use a virus to fur­ther dis­able the nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties in the coun­try, as it did in Iran. Yet, it is more ra­tio­nal for lead­ers in Wash­ing­ton to fully ap­pre­ci­ate the im­pli­ca­tions of a mil­i­tary op­tion on re­gional se­cu­rity and life of Amer­i­cans in South Korea and Ja­pan.

A rogue na­tion like North Korea has noth­ing to lose. Be­sides, it looks silly for a su­per­power to be seen bul­ly­ing yet an­other Third World na­tion after Viet­nam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and now, Syria and Ye­men. So much Amer­i­can trea­sure and blood has been wasted with­out com­men­su­rable strate­gic gains.

The col­lat­eral dam­age from a regime change in North Korea will be colos­sal. At risk are the lives of more than 20 mil­lion South Kore­ans in greater Seoul. The up­shot of the tur­moil could be a uni­fied Korea, in­creas­ingly look­ing like a sharp dag­ger at Ja­pan’s heart. A uni­fied Korea un­der Seoul is bad for Bei­jing. A desta­bilised North Korea will en­gen­der a po­lit­i­cal vac­uum that China is likely to fill.

The right­ful thing to do with North Korea is pur­sue a po­lit­i­cal and diplo­matic so­lu­tion. Re-en­gage Kim Jong-un. Stop taunt­ing him with joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises. Instead, work with China and Rus­sia to re­strain Kim from con­duct­ing fur­ther mis­sile test­ing. For all his an­tics, Kim has held North Korea to­gether.

Bet­ter to deal with the devil we know than the devil we do not know.

BA HAMZAH Kuala Lumpur

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