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North Korea and Syria: Two entirely different but equally dangerous scenarios

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives a speech at the 9th Congress of the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on August 29, 2016. KCNA/ via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT.

Trump has told Fox Business that ‘we are sending an armada’ to the waters near North Korea. Meanwhile, North Korea shows no signs of stopping work on a nuclear facility.

north korea build

China’s position on North Korea remains committed to peaceful nuclear disarmament. There are however increasing signs that China too is getting increasingly fed up of North Korea’s antics, just as sure as Russia is fed up with American antics in the the Middle East and in Kiev.

There was a time when China seemed to delight in the fact that North Korea frightened the United States but increasingly it seems as though China would prefer a more easy going ally in Pyongyang rather than a strange and seemingly unpredictable one.

The most telling sign that China is distancing itself from North Korea is that ships bringing coal from North Korea to China were recently turned back. China has instead been importing coal from the United States, a recent development under the Trump administration.

Even so, Donald Trump may be exaggerating just how friendly China is towards his extremely bellicose North Korea policy.

Yesterday Trump said,

“President Xi wants to do the right thing. We had a very good bonding, I think we had a very good chemistry together, I think he wants to help us with North Korea”.

It remains to be seen just how close this bond is. I suspect it is not nearly as close as Trump would imply.

There is a wider issue at hand however, when contrasting North Korea with Syria.

First of all, North Korea has weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons while Syria does not. Statements to the contrary are lies.

Just how effective North Korea’s delivery systems for its weapons of mass destruction are, is highly disputed.

Secondly and even more importantly,  Syria is a free society run by a moderate, gentlemanly President. Bashar al-Assad exudes calm and serenity whereas North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un appears cartoonish, frivolous and odd.

The wider psychological impact of this is that North Korea tends to gain far less sympathy than Syria in the wider world and this is before one is reminded that President Assad is the last significant Arab leader seriously fighting ISIS, al-Qaeda, FSA and other Salifist terrorists. The Egyptian and Iraqi leadership by contrast are deeply compromised in different ways, however well meaning they may be.

However fanatical North Korea might be, the United States is even more fanatical. North Korea shouts a lot, but America actually makes good on its crazy threats. The damage America has done through its acts of international criminality in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya and now Syria is far more than anything North Korea has done or could do.

North Korea hasn’t invaded anyone, in spite of the rhetoric which comes out of Pyongyang. America has used weapons of mass destruction in the past including nuclear weapons and chemical weapons. North Korea has not.

The biggest danger is that Trump has misread China. If he thinks that China will tolerate any sort of unilateral military action on its border, Trump ought to think again. Received wisdom is that even America is sane enough to understand that China cannot and should not be toyed with. China is a respected superpower.

However, in light of America attacking Syria, a country in which Russian armed forces are present, it is fair to say that received wisdom may be as insufficient in predicting Trump’s North Korea policy as it was in respect of Syria.

What do you think?

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