KIM JONG-UN IS AN ALASKA-SIZED PROBLEM
President-elect Donald Trump, who will be sworn into office in 16 days, is moving the needle on major international issues in a way that no other president in modern history has done prior to taking office.
Trump is doing so 140 letters at a time. His tweets are driving diplomats and pundits to distraction. But his tactic of being a disruptive force to the status quo is promising for a world grown accustomed to the Obama Doctrine, which is hinted at in a tepidly received speech Obama gave in 2014 at West Point: “The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it.” (Italics ours)
In actual practice, the Obama Doctrine can be summed up as empty threats, leading from behind, and drawing unserious imaginary “red lines” in the Syrian sand. Coming on the heels of such weak international leadership, the world is suddenly paying attention to art-of-the-deal Trump. Will his method of tweet-shaming result in better outcomes than Obama’s imaginary lines?
Let’s take a look at what Trump is saying about North Korea and China this week:
“North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!” Trump tweeted.
Not quite done, he continued in a follow-up message: “China has been taking out massive amounts of money & wealth from the U.S. in totally one-sided trade, but won’t help with North Korea. Nice!”
Critics say North Korea will be testing its intercontinental missiles quite soon, regardless: “I think North Korea will probably test the KN-08 (intercontinental ballistic missile) this year, no matter what Trump tweets,” wrote Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program in an email to CNN.
Lewis is an expert, and he has conventional wisdom on his side. But he’s no Donald Trump.
Actual parts of the KN-08 may have already been tested. Photo evidence is ample that North Korea is very close to having a finished product. At some point its rocket success rate, which is less than 15 percent, will improve.
Even if Trump’s blustery tweets can’t stop a missile, China is taking notice, and was forced to issue a response to the president-elect’s blistering remark. It likely galled the Chinese to have to respond to a tweet from Trump.
This much is clear: Trump, as an international figure, is going to be the Honeybadger President: He just doesn’t care about conventional wisdom. And he doesn’t care much about what others think is protocol.
Not only was Trump willing to take a call from the president of Taiwan shortly after winning the election, an act that shocked and offended the mainstream media, he’s now shaming the Chinese for their ineptitude with North Korea.
China, he’s correctly noting, enables North Korea’s ambitions, expanding through trade the nuclear hopes of unstable Kim Jong-un.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, China is — as it has been for so long –North Korea’s BFF, its biggest trading partner, and supplier of most of its food, arms, and energy: “It has helped sustain Kim Jong-un’s regime, and has historically opposed harsh international sanctions on North Korea in the hope of avoiding regime collapse and a refugee influx across their 870-mile border,” the council says.
Here we are in 2017 with the Chinese-created Frankenstein of Nations growing out of control and ever-less stable. At any time in the next four years, the Swiss-cheese-loving, wine-swilling, 32-year-old Kim will roll out his nuclear arsenal in a grand, public test, hopefully not after consuming copious amounts of liquor.
His near-term objective? A nuclear-tipped missile that can reach the continental United States, thus giving him enormous bargaining power to prop up his regime.
Trump will have to deal with Kim, he’s signaling that he knows it, and he’s willing to do so. How he does will be at the time and place of his choosing.
But in the meantime, Alaska is wary of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, as we are home to the one of the nation’s most important missile defense systems, and we’re also closest in proximity to North Korea.
As uncomfortable as it is to imagine, Alaska is both in the crosshairs and is the first line of defense against a nuclear-armed Kim Jong-un.
ALASKA’S ROLE IN REBALANCING PACIFIC POWER
Alaska has an important role in protecting not just itself, but the entire continent.
Last month, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan spoke at the Reagan National Defense Forum, where he argued that it’s time for America to face the threat that North Korea has become:
“…[what] President-elect Trump is going to face in regard to North Korea is — it is a mess. I think it’s our responsibility to give the incoming administration options and time,” Sullivan said. What Sullivan left unsaid is it’s a mess because it’s been handled poorly by the current administration.
“Here’s the scenario I worry about: Right now, most Americans believe the North Korean nuclear issue is a regional issue: Japan. Korea. China. And at some point we are going to wake up and our public is going to wake up to the fact that the head of North Korea, who is not very stable and not very predictable, is probably going to have the capability to hit our country with an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead on top of it,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan went on to describe why Alaska remains front and center for a more robust missile defense system and why his work on the Armed Services Committee is important to Alaska.
In the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016, Sullivan inserted provisions to require the missile defense agency to perform testing every year, and to develop a long-range discrimination radar in Alaska at Fort Greely. The design review for the radar is scheduled for this month, with construction in Alaska to begin in 2019.
In 2016, he added these provisions to the NDAA:
Missile Defense: Added $400 million above the Department of Defense’s $8.1 billion budget request for missile defense programs. Funding includes $1.28 billion for the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense portion of the Ballistic Missile Defense System, much of which is based at Fort Greely.
Missile Defense Sensors: Included $233.6 million for Missile Defense Sensors and $137.6 million for the Long Range Discriminating Radar, to be located at Clear Air Force Station.
F-35: Included $5.3 billion to acquire 44 F-35As. Eielson Air Force Base will be the home of a F-35A squadron.
The Alaska delegation’s challenge will be to educate the president-elect about the real threat that North Korea already poses. “It won’t happen” is a great Twitter dig, and the transparency of sending that message so the whole world can see it in real time is not lost on us.
But snappy as it is, it doesn’t come close to addressing what is rapidly become a clear and present danger to the United States and the world. That is going to take military might, employed with courage and resolve, to back up the tweets, and thereby restore American credibility in Asia.