Trump boasts of his ‘nuclear button’ : Will the US push Pakistan closer to China? | Sunday Observer

Trump boasts of his ‘nuclear button’ : Will the US push Pakistan closer to China?

Did the world get closer to a nuclear holocaust in the very first week of 2018? On January 03, the world’s newest and most reckless nuclear power and the world’s biggest nuclear power – and, to date, sole wielder of The Bomb – exchanged threats of instant nuclear attack on each other. Yet recovering from its usual, ever-decadent, New Year’s Eve hang-over, the world froze at these threats of ‘nuclear button’. Of course, the northern hemisphere was also freezing in the coldest winter on record.

These threats are but the latest in a barrage of explicit and implicit warlike public threats and inflammatory insults that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and United States President Donald Trump have hurled at each other throughout last year. For the first time, though, both leaders seemed to be talking about their respective actual nuclear ‘trigger’ mechanisms, seemingly injecting a sudden nuclear attack dimension to the on-going bellicose exchanges.

Responding to a New Year speech taunt by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un that he had a “nuclear button” on his desk to deal with any US aggression, American President Trump tweed that his “nuclear button” was far more powerful. “Bigger button” was how Trump put it in his own taunting Tweet prompting many Trump critics, especially the feminist ones, to snigger at the macho rhetoric of these two equally bombastic men.

That the US, possessor of the world’s deadliest destructive power, far outstrips North Korea’s miniscule and make-shift military capability is not the issue. What shocked the world, especially the people of the two Koreas, was that these two powers actually publicly threatened an instant nuclear exchange – dramatized by their reference to the military strike mechanism they each have by their side to rapidly launch a nuclear war.

The beleaguered people of South Korea, having lived virtually in the cross-hairs of North Korea’s massive conventional artillery, armoured units and air force since the 1950s’ Korean War, quickly focussed on the seeming peace offer also made by Kim in his speech. While Trump ranted over this crude taunt by the North Korean dictator, most South Koreans preferred to focus on Kim’s offer to send a North Korean sports delegation to compete in the forthcoming Winter Olympics being hosted by Seoul.

That North Korea already has that kind of sophisticated technology and command and control systems required for such an ‘instant attack trigger’ is highly doubtful given Pyongyang’s very early stage of nuclear arsenal development. Even if the North Korean leader has such a trigger mechanism, he still does not have nuclear bombs designed for missile launch, nor the long-range ballistic missile capability.

On the other hand, the United States possesses over a thousand land-based, multiple warheaded, ICBMS – the world’s single largest such missile force – as well as the biggest nuclear bomber force and, the largest fleet of nuclear-armed submarines. If psychology and intellectual intent are factors, then America has the edge, given its ‘combat experience’ in the actual use of nuclear bombs in war. The Japanese, who were the victims of the American nuclear attack during the Second World War, must surely sympathise with their Korean neighbours who now see their homeland as a potential nuclear battleground.

On the Korean Peninsula itself, curious western journalists found that the South Koreans were used to the constant threat of war and thus unfazed by either Kim’s or Trump’s nuclear histrionics. They were more concerned about the business prospects of the forthcoming Winter Olympics and a possible dent in Olympics and winter tourism due to the rising military tensions.

One consolation is the tacit agreement between Washington and Seoul last week that the scheduled joint military exercise by South Korean and US forces be postponed till after the Olympics. Seoul had been pushing the US to agree to postponement of these potentially tension-raising military activity to ensure maximum success in the Olympics.

Washington, however, infuriated South Korea and its east Asian neighbours like Japan by dismissing the Olympic peace overtures by Pyongyang as a propaganda ruse and ploy to disrupt the long-endured US-South Korean military alliance.

Not satisfied with that recklessly warlike and undiplomatic geo-political repartee, Donald Trump also fired off other Tweets that shattered the New Year hang-over at least two other countries – Pakistan and, by implication, India.

Also last week, President Trump Tweeted crudely blunt criticisms of Pakistan for its failure to meet the US’ expectations in combatting Islamist insurgency and announced the cancelling of some US$ 250 million in military assistance to Islamabad. His blunt remarks immediately sparked angry protest demonstrations in Pakistan and a hardening of suspicions about the US’ bona fides as a long term close ally of Islamabad.

In its rivalry with far more powerful India, Pakistan not only needs its counter-vailing nuclear capability against India but also the reassurance of a big-power military alliance that vouched for Pakistani survival in a war.

Even during the Barak Obama administration, the US had begun to de-emphasise its dependence on the US-Pak alliance for regional geo-political influence. Consequently, Islamabad moved even closer to China.

Today, Pakistan is literally awash with billions of dollars in Chinese investments and major project credit. It is firmly part of China’s expansionist outreach via the trillion-dollar ‘Silk Road & Belt’ global economic alliance initiative. The newly expanded port of Gwadar is now a virtual Chinese naval outpost at the very mouth of the Persian Gulf – the Hormuz Strait – through which nearly 60 per cent of China’s fossil fuel suppies pass.

Pakistan has long been a joint producer of cheap but high quality military weaponry introduced by China, ranging from strike aircraft to infantry weapons, armoured vehicles and, possibly, nuclear capability.

Washington’s seeming further estrangement from its old ally is, paradoxically, not advantageous to India. After a decade of rivalry between Islamabad and Delhi to woo Washington, Delhi, in recent times, has been crowing at its relative success in bringing Washington closer to Delhi than Islamabad.

But Delhi always preferred that Washington had some leverage over Islamabad so that pressure could be brought to bear on Pakistan for Indian benefit.

The prospect of a full American withdrawal from the US-Pak alliance that results in a more unstable Pakistan which is also being drawn more tightly into the Chinese orbit is not what Delhi wants. What with Bangladesh’s and Sri Lanka’s recent link-ups with China, Burma’s long existing ties with Beijing, and, Nepal’s recent leaning towards Beijing, Delhi is finding itself being surrounded by client states of its main big power rival, China.

Whether the Washington Establishment, however, will actually go as far as Trump threatens with Pakistan remains to be seen. There are far too many in the US who know of Pakistan’s long term loyal ties with America and see the danger of ceding too much regional space to China, which Washington correctly perceives as its big rival in what it newly describes as the ‘Indo-Pacific theatre’.

But domestic developments in relation to the ever-growing Russia subversion and collusion scandal later last week may distract Trump from his international manoeuvres. Look out for a new book by senior Washington-based journalist Michael Wolff titled ‘Fire & Fury’ on the first year in the Trump White House.

Going on sale this weekend, the book seemingly quotes former Trump aide and political ally Steve Bannon in harsh criticism of Trump’s inner circle, especially his daughter Ivanka’s and son-in-law Jared Kushner’s dealings and ambitions.