Why North Korea is the new Cuba

Above Photo: Original here Flickr Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Never in recent history has such a small country created such a large diplomatic incident.

North Korea, situated on the southern border of an increasingly assertive China and still technically at war with its U.S backed cousin South Korea has dominated a huge amount of coverage in these past few week, creating instability in an already fraught and geo-politically sensitive region. 

The small and belligerent country of 25 million, North Korea is run by the Kim Dynasty, a brutal regime whose current incarnation ‘Kim-Jong-Un’ has been on a long march to developing a nuclear deterrent. Most likely wary of being removed from power by US backed forces like now-deceased strongman Saddam Hussein, the country has been testing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons since 2006, but the current spate of missile tests, and the possible threat to the US can only draw parallels to the Cuban Crisis of 1962. 

The tiny Island became a missile launch site for nuclear missiles within range of the US and led to tense discussion between two super-powers, the USSR and the USA, with the threat of nuclear war on the horizon. Sound Familiar? 

North Korea while a danger, is a proxy here for two competing strategic interest, China doesn’t want the regime to fall, preventing a dangerous flow of refugees and nuclear materials heading into its own territory and de-stabilizing the area. The US need to stop the tests to protect its allies South Korea and Japan as well as itself from a determined enemy which has promised to ‘sink’ Japan and reduce the US to ‘ashes and destruction’.

However, recent developments show one thing clearly. The US is no-longer the dominant super-power of 1962. On the opposite side to the US, pushing back against the preferred US option of effectively blockading the country and forcing it to stop its nuclear program, is not only Russia, but the Eastern Tiger, China. As an economic equal to the US and thus having great geo-political clout, China is a major player in international politics and in this game, they aren’t playing on the US team. The US is no longer able to force its own way at the UN and has to handle the issue far more passively than it would want. 

Chinese statements are assertive. “The peninsula issue must be resolved peacefully. The military solution has no way out. China will not allow war or chaos on the Korean peninsula,” China’s ideal situation would be have Kim-Jong-Un stop nuclear testing in return for America and South Korea stopping joint military drills, which it feels is not just a message to the Kim-regime but also its own expansionist policy in the region.

The irony of the matter is that the US is exactly the reason China has become so powerful, it and the US are so closely connected financially that the US cannot sanction China without hurting itself. The USSR never had this advantage, and it gave in. Not so for China, expect the end result to be one that the US doesn’t like.