Monday, April 17, 2017

The Art of the Deal, North Korean edition

Can we stop freaking out over the prospect of an imminent war over North Korean nuclear tests? After the hoopla over the North Korean announcement to expect a major event on or before their "Day of the Sun" on April 15, there was much speculation that they would conduct another nuclear test. Trump responded with the assertion that if China wouldn't help, he would deal with North Korea by himself. The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson was re-routed from a planned exercise with Australia to the North Pacific.

The geopolitical tensions is fizzling out like a wet firecracker. The biggest splash was the display of some submarine launched ballistic missiles that were mounted on trucks in the annual parade. Afterwards, North Korea tried a missile test, but it blew up shortly after launch. Even Zero Hedge sounded disappointed.

As it turns out, this account from South Korean media shows that even the re-deployment of the USS Carl Vinson was mostly for show:
Japanese analysts believe that the USS Carl Vinson’s change of course is designed to fill a strategic vacuum in US forces at the present moment. “Since the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, which is based at Yokosuka Naval Base [in Japan], is inactive from January to April because of inspections and repairs, [the USS Carl Vinson] was deployed to fill a gap [in the West Pacific region],” wrote Tetsuro Kosaka, a staff writer for the Nihon Keizai Shinbun and an expert on Japanese security, in a column for the newspaper on Apr. 11. Though the USS Carl Vinson is in charge of the East Pacific, the fact that it is heading toward the Korean Peninsula (located in the West Pacific) cannot be regarded as an increased American military presence in the region, he argued.
In addition, the announcement that VP Mike Pence was to begin on the weekend a 10-day Asian tour with stops in South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, and Australia, it was evident that the US was unlikely to start unilateral military action without consulting regional allies. On Sunday, Donald Trump also tweeted that China was cooperating to defuse the North Korean problem.

Indeed, Beijing is showing signs of cooperation. State controlled media Global Times just published an Op-Ed warning to North Korea:
Preventing Pyongyang from carrying out its sixth nuclear test is the top priority at the moment. North Korea should not think that it has once again broken through the pressure from the global community. If it continues to go its own way, sanctions from the international community will become more stringent and the US will seriously consider launching military strikes against it. If conflict does break out, Pyongyang will suffer the most.
As geopolitical risk premiums recede and the South Korean KOSPI rose 0.51% on Monday, it is well worth considering how Donald Trump, who considers himself to be a master dealmaker, can find an accommodation with North Korea. Unfortunately, there aren't any good deals to be found.

Consider the options that the current and past American presidents have faced in neutralizing the North Korean nuclear threat.

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