Numerous reports have appeared in the last few days suggesting that China and Russia are both violating the UN Security Council Resolution (2397) passed with their support, imposing sanctions on North Korea for its refusal to stand down from its bellicose development and deployment of nuclear weapons. Though these reports do not point to evidence of a ‘smoking gun’ linking the Chinese and Russian governments to specific violations of the sanctions called for in the resolution, it is, as one commentator put it, “unlikely that state level smuggling, worth tens of millions of dollars would go unnoticed or unsanctioned by two centrally controlled regimes.”
Americans concerned on account of Kim Jong Un’s specific threats against the United States thus have reason to suspect that the Chinese and Russian governments, despite their public show of support for efforts to curtail North Korea’s development of a nuclear arsenal, are quietly aiding and abetting it. Particularly with respect to China, this suspicion further undermines the assumption that North Korea is a “rogue” state acting on its own, in spite of its de facto status a Chinese dependency. In a previous article I took note of the history of this dependency, which began with China’s intervention on behalf of North Korea after UN forces, with the United States in the lead, successfully repelled the North’s invasion of South Korea; and then counterattacked, with sufficient success to threaten the North’s communist government with extinction. In this respect, the existence of the Kim dynasty in North Korea is a consequence of China’s anti-UN (read also, US) military intervention.
China and North Korea continue to be bound by a mutual defense agreement. This means that, if North Korea’s nuclear threats impel countries under threat (including the United States) to initiate military action to forestall a North Korean nuclear missile attack against their territory, China will have to decide whether or not to intervene in North Korea’s behalf, as it did in June 1950. Though it still ranks behind the United States in overall military power, China has made strenuous, and on the whole successful efforts to hone the contemporary effectiveness of its military (in manpower, the largest in the world.) There is no reason to assume that fighting a second Korean war, with conventional forces, and in its own backyard (as it were), the Chinese wouldn’t be more than able to their own militarily, and perhaps even prevail if it came to a contest of political will with the United States.
Though obviously speculative, this prospect should prevent Americans from simply dismissing the idea that China stands to gain from North Korea’s purportedly “roguish” behavior, especially if it does, in fact, acting have China’s covert approval. Putting the United States in the crosshairs of a nuclear attack, in circumstances that cast doubt on the assumption that China would inevitably be targeted in a U.S. counterstrike, should give us pause. If China’s government is willing to bet on that doubt, the result, even if it devastated North Korea, could also leave the United States suffering from the physical, emotional and moral damage of a nuclear attack against our territorial or other assets. Under certain assumptions (e.g., an attack concentrated against our communications or power infrastructure) that damage might be crippling.
All this, leaving China unscathed, and without having fired a single shot. It makes no sense to leave this hanging about. In both private and public ways, the United States needs to make it clear that China cannot escape its responsibility for North Korea’s threatening policies. In this respect, though many
Americans have good reason to scoff at the UN, this shouldn’t lead us simply to disregard its usefulness when it comes to putting nations on the spot to prove the sincerity of their protestations in behalf of international peace. If China (and for that matter Russia) are in fact violating the UN call for sanctions against North Korea, it should be a major and immediate goal of U.S. policy to call them on it, demanding that they show their hands. One way to do so would be to press for a UN blockade of North Korea, targeting implementation of UNSCR 2397’s provisions. If the Chinese and/or the Russians balk at or obstruct such an effort, their recalcitrance would make clear to all the world our reasons for doubting that they really share the aim of forestalling North Korea’s threatening policies. On the other hand, If China and Russia were amenable to a UN blockade, pursuing its implementation would provide an opportunity to test the sincerity of their willingness to accept a leadership role, in partnership with the United States, when it comes to drawing the line against Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear brinksmanship.
It would also make it clear that our determination to give priority to serving our nation’s best interests (“America First”) includes the interest all sane nations must have in making every effort to prevent nuclear war. But what if China and/or Russia simply won’t co-operate in mounting a blockade under UN auspices? The effort to obtain their involvement would put in favorable perspective any decision we have to take to partner with those who are willing, in order to implement such a blockade despite their opposition.
If and when North Korea persisted in its warmongering pose, despite the blockade, China and Russia would be tagged with the responsibility they in fact bear for his actions, and their consequences. If and when the United States and others under threat, have to join in military measures to destroy his capacity for nuclear aggression, both the Chinese and Russian governments would be burdened with the world’s perception of their complicity.
This would be particularly true of China, if they are tempted to intervene on North Korea’s behalf, as they did before. The United States must give them reason to think carefully about whether it is better to share in preserving nuclear peace, or bear blame for unleashing nuclear devastation. And we must give ourselves no reason to doubt that we did all we could to serve the better alternative—for us and the world at large—, for that is a moral fact whose light will help dispel darkness and the temptation to doubt ourselves if the way of peace is barred by the inaction and complicity of others
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.