The Tao of crisis diplomacy

In the written Chinese language, the ideogram character for "crisis" is made up of two Chinese words that are "danger" and "opportunity."  When dealing with Asian counties, it is wise to remember that small but important detail to gain insight into the thought processes of the leadership.

The current escalating crisis surrounding Kim Jong-un and his attempt to extort from the international community a carte blanche to build a stockpile of nuclear warheads and develop the missile technology to deliver them actually provides for a good opportunity to re-examine our own nuclear policy.

Many years ago, during the Cold War, we developed a nuclear policy of Mutual Assured Destruction or MAD.  This policy was essentially the same policy that two scorpions in a bottle will agree to in order to survive.  The USA and the USSR were exactly that: two deadly adversaries facing off with no avenue of escape, and so an arms race ensued, and ultimately, the USA outspent the Soviets, and the latter collapsed under the weight of the guns versus butter equation.

We were magnanimous in our victory and signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).  In that treaty, we agreed to do away with the neutron warhead and Advanced Cruise Missile technology along with the Peacekeeper missile, which could carry ten warheads; the list goes on.

We did not agree to stop developing the Strategic Defense Imitative (SDI) or, as the media called it, "Star Wars."  The SDI plan involved multiple facets of anti-missile technology, from space-based and airborne directed energy weapons to anti-missile missiles like the Patriot missile and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.  The criticisms against SDI were that it was destabilizing or that it could be overwhelmed by a massive missile launch.  But it turns out that it is not destabilizing, and this technology is perfect for preventing small rough nations from threatening the interests of the USA.

Now we find ourselves in a scenario that has been "war-gamed" numerous times by our strategic planners.  Although these scenarios have multiple and flexible options, war-game scenarios always involve war. 

In these war-game scenarios, either our adversaries back down, as in the Cuban Missile Crisis, or things escalate to bloody conflict.  But this is not a binary equation; there is, as the teachers of Taoist philosophy would say, a third way.

There are two other players who do indeed have a stake in this very dangerous game.  China and Russia have vested interests in the stability of the Korean Peninsula.  Both China and Russia share a border with North Korea, and neither wants to deal with a refugee problem of millions of people should armed conflict begin.  So what is the third way? 

The third way is that if China and Russia continue their policies of tacit encouragement of the little fat man in North Korea, then the USA should pull out of the START and begin strongly advocating for a nuclear-armed Japan and provide technical assistance to that end.  Russia does not want another arms race; it simply cannot afford it.  China does not want a nuclear-armed Japan.

The lessons from the Cold War are that an arms race can deliver peace without conflict.  If the Russians and the Chinese agree to become involved to de-escalate the crisis, then we win, and stability returns to the world stage.  If they do not pressure North Korea to end this madness, then we will win via an arms race.  

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