A military clash between the US and North Korea appears unavoidable sooner or later before the end of summer. This is the general consensus in Washington, Beijing Tokyo, Seoul and Pyongyang. It is also why all these countries plus Russia are already deep in military and political preparations.
No one knows whether it will take the form of a naval clash, a limited aerial engagement, or perhaps an incident that starts out small and blows up into a major military engagement. None of the parties predict a nuclear showdown but neither does any of the four nations' military strategists rule out a resort to tactical nuclear weapons, such as artillery shells or land mines, a potential for which they are all bracing.
A military confrontation is preordained in the execution of the sanctions mandated by the UN Security Council resolution of Friday, June 12. One of those sanctions, approved at Washington's behest, authorized UN member nations' naval vessels to stop and search North Korean ships suspected of carrying nuclear materials.
Pyongyang has bluntly called this an act of war on the Korean peninsula and threatened a “thousand fold” military retaliation if provoked by the US and its allies.
However, at stake for the United States is a far larger issue, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Washington sources report: America's standing as the leading nuclear superpower and guardian of the global nuclear order. In this sense, the Korean crisis confronts Barack Obama with a supreme test as US president.
This goes to the motivation behind Kim Jong-Il's nuke-rattling, Obama and his visitor South Korean president Lee Myung-Bak agreed when they met at the White House on June 16. They concluded that the North Korean ruler's brinkmanship was guided not only by his decision to appoint his 26-year old son Kim Jong-Un as his successor, but most of all by an urge to shake the United States on this pedestal. In this he was not alone but believed to be covertly backed by the Chinese political and military brass.
By quietly aiding North Korean's nuclear ambitions, Beijing hopes to oust American nuclear power from the East Asia, as well as undercutting Washington as arbiter in the global nuclear “game” – the role the US plays in the Iranian impasse.
Washington grants Seoul a nuclear shield
Tokyo shares this view. It should therefore come as no surprise that shortly before Obama and Lee met at the White House, “Kim Jong-Un flew secretly to Beijing about a week ago, and used the visit to introduce himself to the Chinese leadership as the coming ruler of a nuclear-armed North Korea.”
Citing unnamed sources, the Japanese press suggested that the North Korean ruler-in-waiting was received by Chinese president, Hu Jintao and the two discussed the nuclear standoff on the Korean peninsula.
According to Tokyo sources, therefore, China and North Korea staged a summit a week before the US and South Korea.
In these circumstances, Lee was bound to ask Obama for a written assurance that the United State will provide his country with an “extended nuclear deterrent.” The US president complied, so venturing on terrain far broader than the North Korean nuclear threat.
As a senior Washington official put it this week: “Just as Beijing backs Pyongyang on the nuclear issue, so Washington backs Seoul.”
A prediction heard from Western Sinologists in recent weeks is that Kim Jong-ll plans to escalate tensions with the outside world to a dangerous pitch and then bring his son and heir forward as the moderator with concessions for defusing the crisis. Young Kim will then be credited as the man who saved North Korea from war with the United State and win his spurs as an able international player.
Sources in Washington find this theory interesting – except they do not see what's in it for Beijing.
What the Chinese are after is enhanced nuclear interaction between North Korea and Iran, they believe. Chinese is building this collaboration up as a key element in a third world nuclear bloc for challenging America's nuclear primacy.
US finally admits Tehran and Pyongyang are nuclear collaborators
Having reached this conclusion, the Americans have finally lifted the taboo on admitting that North Korea and Iran have long been hand in glove in their nuclear and missile programs, as the military and intelligence sources of DEBKA-Net-Weekly and debkafile maintained steadfastly for the past two years.
Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, the head of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, was finally permitted by the White House to mention the unmentionable and report to a forum on Capitol Hill: “It really is an international effort going on out there to develop ballistic missile capability between these countries,” he said.
They are sharing know-how on avionics, propulsion and materials, among other things, O'Reilly said.
Their ability to fire missiles with a stable ignition and launch a second stage represents “a significant step forward” for both of them.
Asked which country was further ahead in missile development, he said it could be described as a “horse race” with no clear leader.
“Basically, this is big-power league,” he said, adding that the jury was still out, as far he was concerned, on whether the two had integrated their ballistic missile programs.
This is the first time that a US military figure of such rank speaks openly about the merger of the North Korean and Iranian ballistic missile production systems.
While openly admitting for the first time a virtual merger between the North Korean and Iranian ballistic production programs, our military sources note that Lt. Gen. O'Reilly carefully avoided disclosing that Iran's primary source of ballistic missile technology is China or that Chinese aid had placed Iran ahead of North Korea in this field.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military and intelligence sources, Beijing has in contrast placed Pyongyang ahead of Tehran in their nuclear programs.
This judicious distribution of technology between the two rogue states keeps the horse race running without a leader and China's hand on the controls of both their programs – while also arming Chinese diplomacy with a powerful lever.