NightWatch Comment: The US and South Korea are still working on the plans for the show of force military exercises which are supposed to intimidate North Korea. The US is not sure it can afford to send an aircraft carrier because that will disturb China. Plus, the location has to be changed from the Yellow Sea to locations farther away from China because that also will disturb Chinese leaders.Well, nothing is every black and white. There are all those shades of gray. There is doubt about the theory that North Korea conducted a torpedo attack. On the other hand, there are those who believe 9/11 was a US Self-Inflicted attack.
The lesson of the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis is that a great power must act like a great power or it is not a great power. The US sent two carriers to deter China from intimidating Taiwan at that time. The US acted like a great power regardless of China's pique and military ineptitude.
Put another way, actions define a power as great or not. Thus, American concessions to Chinese concerns constitute US acknowledgement and investiture of China as the great power in Northeast Asia and present the US as voluntarily subordinating its actions to China's desires. Every Asian nation, especially the Republic of Korea, will interpret the message in this fashion.
A failure to hold show of force exercises off North Korea for any reason means the US is sending the message that it is no longer the great power of Northeast Asia and the protector of its allies. The North Koreans will have completed a clean sweep, sinking an allied ship, intimidating the UN, gaining Chinese support and forcing the US to back down in support of its ally.
Several press accounts of the UN statement last Friday reported that US diplomats were priding themselves about the cleverness of the language in the statement. That sentiment is curious because a statement is trivial compared to a resolution of the Security Council, which is not much better. Friday's bland exercise in diplomatic legerdemain succeeded in blaming the torpedo for shooting itself at the South Korean ship.
North Korean leaders are risk averse, but even they know a diplomatic victory in the rare occasions when they get one.
But, if we believe that North Korea did attack the ROKS Cheonan, then we do have to ask ourselves if we are letting this one slide. If we are letting it slide, then the question is why.
At this time there are two states breaking out of the non-nuclear regime, Iran and the DPRK. There is the Global War on Terrorism, sometimes called the Long War. There are various problems in the Levant, which are, these days, tied back to the Long War. Then there are a bunch of other small wars out there. Which is most important? Is one the lynchpin, that allows all the others to come apart when it is pulled?
And, for the $64 prize, is the approach to the DPRK best conducted in a way to intimidate the DPRK or to avoid a confrontation with The People's Republic of China?
Regards — Cliff