Syria: inching towards stalemate : North Korean countdown to peace or, holocaust? | Sunday Observer

Syria: inching towards stalemate : North Korean countdown to peace or, holocaust?

North Korea has seemingly won over the bombastic leader of the world’s sole ‘superpower’ in its geo-political arm-wrestling or, is the world inching closer to a holocaust in densely populated and rich eastern Asia? On Friday, United States’ President Donald Trump abruptly reversed his hitherto ridiculously ‘hardline’ on Asia’s newest nuclear power by accepting North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un’s unconditional offer for summit talks in May between the two leaders.

But what worries analysts the world over – including in the US – is what would happen if the US President, having insisted on rigid conditions of de-nuclearization of North Korea all this time, meets with Kim, agrees on a deal and then the North Korean strongman reneges on it, as he has reneged on many promises he had made to the US before this. What will the US do if it exhausts its political negotiations at the highest level and failed? Will it resort to the ‘final option’ that the American leader has been brandishing before the world – a military attack on that besieged and impoverished but defiant east Asian nation?

Meanwhile, in Syria, the under-equipped Syrian government forces, backed by the Russian air force as well Iranian-supported Lebanese and Iraqi militia, last week smashed their way closer to capturing the last remaining rebel enclave in the western half of Syria, namely, the Eastern Ghouta suburb of the capital, Damascus. The mixture of modernist-democratic groups and Islamist-fundamentalist groups that comprise the Syrian anti-government rebels in Eastern Ghouta are now hemmed and cut-off from supplies from their allied groups elsewhere in the country.

Well-entrenched

The civilian population of this once prosperous suburb also remains trapped primarily because it is a Sunni enclave that fears retribution for revolting against the Syrian regime. The Syrian regime is a well-entrenched alliance of ethnic minority communities led by non-Sunni Alawites and Shias (but also including some modernist Sunnis as well as Christians and many other small communities) that has ruled the country since the Syrian republic was founded by the left-leaning and secularist Baathist party currently led by strongman President Bashar al-Assad, son of founder-leader Syrian Hafez al-Assad.

But after months of ruthless artillery bombardment by government forces and aerial bombardment by Syrian and Russian airforce squadrons, the rebels are on the verge of accepting the government offer of being transported (with their personal weapons but not any artillery) to other rebel-held regions of Syria. As I have observed earlier, sole superpower America is out of this particular equation in West Asia.

The American attempt to support the Kurd separatist movement in northern Syria as a tactic of undermining the Damascus regime also seems to have backfired. Neighbour Turkey, which has suffered from a decades-long minority ethnic Kurdish insurgency within its own borders is now actively striking at the Syrian Kurds across the border in Syria to block any support for the insurgency inside Turkey. After past President Obama’s strategy of limited support for the Syrian rebels was abandoned by the Trump administration, Washington has been reduced to the role of virtual onlooker as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s far more complex strategy of defending Russia’s long-standing ally Syrian makes headway.

Headline-hitter

And in east Asia, normal American geo-strategy aimed at retaining US dominance in the Korean Peninsula is likewise abandoned as showman President Trump indulges in his latest headline-hitter of suddenly accepting Kim Jong-Un’s summit talks offer. Fundamental to American strategy followed by successive administrations for decades has been the complete non-acceptance of a nuclearized North Korea. Today, North Korea, having defied decades of crippling economic and political sanctions, has successfully tested atomic weapons as well as the military technology to attack with these weapons – namely as artillery shells, aerial bombs and, medium range and inter-continental range ballistic missiles.

Trump and the Republican administration, perhaps the most doctrinaire imperialist regime in decades, had hardened Washington’s position to one that is totally unrealistic unless it is enforced by American military aggression. Washington’s stance in negotiations, until Trump’s sudden reversal last Friday, has been de-nuclearisation as a pre-condition for any settlement in the Peninsula. World analytical opinion generally is of the view that North Korean, like any other state in such circumstances (of being confronted by a powerful military alliance across its borders), will never let go of its nuclear deterrent. Thus, if Washington persists with its stance of all-or-nothing, then America would ultimately have to attempt a military attack to destroy North Korea’s military capability. Even America’s most hawkish analysts concede that such a pre-emptive strike would prompt retaliation by Pyongyang which would see heavy population casualties.

In reality, if there is ever a US military strike, the subsequent North Korean retaliation and South Korean and American (and possibly Japanese) counter-retaliation would result in millions of civilian casualties as well as engulfing the whole region, one of the world’s most prosperous, including neighbouring China, Russia and Japan, in huge physical devastation. Hopefully, there are some thinking brains in the US Congress who will realise that all these other countries are not going to sit by and wait for such devastation.

Amassed on both sides of the now famous ceasefire line that divides the capitalist-democratic southern Republic of Korea (RoK) from its communist-dictatorial northern neighbour, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) are possibly millions of troops, including a massive US arsenal, backed by fleets of warships, heavily armed air forces, huge artillery forces and, worst of all, rival nuclear armaments. The Korean peninsula, since the Korean war ended in 1953 without a lasting political settlement, has remained one of the world’s most heavily armed regions with forces virtually poised to finish unfinished business, as it were, where it was left-off in the war of 1950-3.

Just as much as the US, along with its client power, South Korea, annually stages massive war games that practise invasions of North Korea, the family-led regime in Pyongyang has correspondingly built up its own military power in its desperate attempts to counter the overwhelming military capacity of its enemies of Korean war, namely the US and its client South Korean republic. The regime founded by Korean Communist Party leader and legend Kim Il-Sung confronted with the overwhelming power of the world’s greatest nuclear power has, over the decades, striven to build its own ‘nuclear deterrent’.

From the moment the United States not only tested but actually used its atomic weapons during the Second World War, other world powers did not hesitate to build their own nuclear arsenals as countervailing nuclear threats. ‘Nuclear Deterrence’ has been the underlying doctrine of military geo-politics over the seven decades since World War 2.

Nuclear arsenals

At the level of the global geo-politics of the Cold War between the capitalist powers led by the US and the communist powers led by the now defunct USSR, in addition to the powers with indigenous nuclear arsenals, there were a score of other client states of these two rival superpower blocs strung out around the globe. Many of these allies on both sides hosted nuclear armaments of their patron superpower, either the USSR or the US.

It is in this historical context that the imbalance of the rationale between North Korea and the US is stark. It is the United States that is the aggressive power in remaining poised for all-out war against communist North Korea for over seven decades even though the Korean war is now only in the memories of a dwindling older generation on both sides of the ceasefire line.

Even as the world awoke to this new diplomatic foreplay between two loud-mouthed leaders, Washington seemed to realize the implications of accepting an offer for unconditional talks. By yesterday, the White House as well as senior Republican politicians seemed to be hinting at a possible slow-down before rushing into Kim-initiated summit talks. In this light, there may not be the ‘peace talks’ in May.

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