On the Attack in Syria: Where are We Going?


On the Attack in Syria: Where are We Going?

Updating Just War Theory

This article was written before the attack on Syria by the U.S. The talking heads are all yelling at each other. I remember being totally confused about the Vietnam War which was raging when I graduated from college. One of my classmates lost her fiance in the Tet Offensive. I stood in the stairwell at the Main Navy building on Constitution Ave. in D.C. and watched one of the anti-war marches going by feeling totally confused about the morality of the war.

Do things never change? I hope you are praying your rosary today for world peace.

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10 comments on “On the Attack in Syria: Where are We Going?

    Orthodox, Catholic Patriarchs of Antioch Condemn the Attack on Syria
    God is with us; Understand all ye nations and submit yourselves!
    We, the Patriarchs: John X, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East; Ignatius Aphrem II, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East; and Joseph Absi, Melkite-Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, condemn and denounce the brutal aggression that took place this morning against our precious country Syria by the USA, France and the UK, under the allegations that the Syrian government used chemical weapons. We raise our voices to affirm the following:
    1. The brutal aggression is a clear violation of the international laws and the UN Charter, because it is an unjustified assault on a sovereign country, a member of the UN.
    2. It causes us great pain that this assault comes from powerful countries to which Syria did not cause any harm in any way.
    3. The allegations of the USA and other countries that the Syrian army is using chemical weapons and that Syria is a country that owns and uses this kind of weapon, is a claim that is unjustified and unsupported by sufficient and clear evidence.
    4. The timing of this unjustified aggression against Syria, when the independent International Commission for Inquiry was about to start its work in Syria, undermines the work of this commission.
    5. This brutal aggression destroys the chances for a peaceful political solution and leads to escalation and more complications.
    6. This unjust aggression encourages the terrorist organizations and gives them momentum to continue their terrorism.
    7. We call upon the Security Council of the United Nations to play its natural role in bringing peace rather than contribute to escalation of wars.
    8. We call upon all churches in the countries that participated in the aggression, to fulfill their Christian duties, according to the teachings of the Gospel, and condemn this aggression and call to their governments to commit the protection of international peace.
    9. We salute the courage, heroism, and sacrifices of the Syrian Arab Army which courageously protects Syria and provides security for its people. We pray for the souls of the martyrs and the recovery of the wounded. We are confident that the army will not bow before the external or internal terrorist aggressions; they will continue to fight courageously against terrorism until every inch of the Syrian land is cleansed from terrorism. We, likewise, commend the brave stand of countries which are friendly to Syria and its people.
    We offer our prayers for the safety, victory and deliverance of Syria from all kinds of wars and terrorism. We also pray for peace in Syria and throughout the world, and call for strengthening the efforts of the national reconciliation for the sake of protecting the country and preserving the dignity of all Syrians.

  2. Trump orders airstrikes against Syria
    APR 13, 2018 BY ROBERT SPENCER [Former Melkite Catholic “permanent” deacon but now Orthodox (presumably Greek because of his ethnic Greek ancestry) but currently not exercising his diaconate as an Orthodox]

    1. Is it certain that Assad’s regime really used the chemical weapons? There is so much manufacture of atrocities in that region, it cannot be taken for granted that he has, especially since there is no clear benefit to him in doing so.
    2. What is the endgame? The removal of Assad? No doubt Assad is a scoundrel, but what replaces him is likely to be worse.
    3. Is it certain that the strikes will actually reduce the production of chemical weapons and end their use?
    4. Every U.S. intervention in the Middle East has been disastrous, as they were based on false assumptions. Will this one be different?

  3. Pentagon briefing:
    This spokeswoman speaks about “our” values and often uses the phrase “we” cannot tolerate in her justification of the missile strikes.

  4. God is on the side with the biggest battalions!

    George Bernard Shaw

    Just war theory in reality!

  5. To Keep the Peace, Prepare for War ! Si vis pacem, para bellum. ! If You Want Peace, Prepare for War ! More Just War Theory!

  6. Be Professional, Be Polite, But have a Plan to kill everyone in the room , General Mattis
    Modern just War theory!

  7. Stratfor Update on Targets :

    U.S. President Donald Trump confirmed that he authorized precision airstrikes April 13 (the early hours of Saturday, April 14, local time), targeting facilities in Syria linked to the government’s chemical weapons program. Trump said that the strikes had been authorized in a combined effort with the United Kingdom and France, and that the operation against the Syrian government’s chemical weapons capabilities would be sustained, integrating “all instruments of national power.” British Prime Minister Theresa May issued a statement aligned with the White House statement, clarifying that the strikes were intended to be “limited and targeted” and are not about intervening in Syria’s civil conflict. Pentagon officials confirmed that normal deconfliction channels with Russia were used, but that the Russians were not notified of target sites in advance and they did not attempt to intervene in the strikes, as had been expected.

    The scope of the operation is beyond a punitive strike, extending into a concerted effort to severely degrade the Syrian government’s ability to manufacture and use chemical weapons.

    Concurrent with Trump’s speech, reports emerged from Syria of airstrikes targeting scientific research facilities in Damascus and Homs provinces. In addition, attacks were reported against the Mezzeh airfield — a major Syrian Republican Guard helicopter and air base and one of the installations linked to the government’s operations targeting rebels in Eastern Ghouta. There were also reported strikes on the Jabal Qassioun mountain range overlooking Damascus, an area replete with army headquarters and artillery positions that supported the Eastern Ghouta campaign. State television also reported that the Syrian government launched anti-aircraft missiles over Damascus. The reported targeting aligns with a priority on striking facilities linked to chemical weapons. The target set was significantly expanded from the 2017 strike on the Shayrat airbase, which hit more than half a dozen targets, including air bases and chemical weapons sites. This indicates that the scope of the current operation is beyond a punitive strike, extending into a concerted effort to severely degrade the Syrian government’s ability to manufacture and use chemical weapons.
    Beyond the immediate tactical objective of degrading the Syrian government’s ability to deliver chemical weapons — and a promise to sustain the military campaign as needed — Trump’s speech touched on a broader strategic intent to challenge Iran’s presence in Syria. The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar were named as allies in the effort to not only degrade the Syrian government’s chemical weapons capability, but also to work against Iranian interests in the region. Qatar reportedly provided a staging ground for U.S. B1 bombers involved in the airstrikes.

    Syria: Combined U.S., French and U.K. Attack Strikes Multiple Targets
    4 Geo | 1 Topics | 1 Themes

  8. More from Stratfor : Syria Airstrikes

    With the latest U.S.-led punitive strike in Syria, the United States has demonstrated its commitment to deterring further chemical weapons attacks.
    The United States and its allies are constrained in their response in Syria by the presence of Russian forces.
    The latest punitive strike will likely deter the Syrian government from using nerve agents for a considerable time, but Syrian troops may continue to test those boundaries, especially with chlorine gas.
    Now that the United States, the United Kingdom and France have carried out their punitive strike on Syria, it’s time to assess the outcome. In response to the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons on April 7 in the city of Douma, a week later the three nations directed a barrage of 105 cruise missiles to three sites linked to Syria’s chemical weapons program. In the aftermath, the United States has sought to highlight how seriously the strike damaged Syria’s chemical weapons program. But the reality is that the strike was limited in scope: Several chemical weapons sites (and their delivery infrastructure) remained unscathed and, by the United States’ own admission, Damascus still has the ability to carry out chemical attacks.

    The Big Picture
    The United States wants to cut back its presence in Syria, but it will continue to be constrained by the presence of violent extremist groups, the growing influence of Iran and the persistent potential for the Syrian government to use chemical weapons. And even when the United States attempts to address some of these issues head-on, such as by launching punitive military strikes to deter chemical weapons use, it finds itself limited by various factors on the complex Syrian battleground.
    See 2018 Annual Forecast
    See Middle East and North Africa section of the 2018 Annual Forecast

    See The Syrian Civil War

    The United States and its allies opted for a limited strike for a couple of reasons. First, they remain wary of taking actions that could pull them further into the chaos of the ongoing Syrian civil war. In after-action briefings, the U.S. Department of Defense repeatedly emphasized that the bombings had been specifically intended to deter further chemical weapons use, and that the U.S. mission in Syria remained squarely focused on defeating the Islamic State. Targeting chemical weapons centers rather than facilities with both conventional and chemical weapons roles, such as air bases, reinforces this message.
    All three countries also wanted to avoid any escalation with Russia and Iran, which support the Syrian government in the civil war. Unlike the United States’ April 2017 strike on the Shayrat air base, the targets of this most recent strike were far from any Russian or Iranian presence. The United Kingdom and France in particular were insistent on this. But Russia’s presence in Syria, which has historically limited U.S. action in the country, continues to do so. Washington remains cautious of any move that could escalate into a broader conflict with Moscow. Indeed, the Syrian government even sought to take advantage of this caution by positioning some of its key equipment close to Russian forces in the country. But the constraints of Russia’s presence were not enough to preclude a military operation from the United States and its allies, only to shape it.

    This image released by the U.S. Department of Defense shows the Syrian Barzah research and development center before (L) and after (R) after U.S., French and British forces launched strikes against Syria on April 14, 2018.
    (JOSE ROMERO/AFP/Getty Images)

    Clear Objective, Fuzzy Definitions
    Even with the April 14 operation’s extremely focused objective of deterring chemical weapons attacks, its success will be hard to measure because the United States and its allies aren’t quite sure where they draw the line on Syria’s use of certain chemical weapons. For instance, Washington has explicitly labeled the use of nerve agents as a red line that Syria should not cross, but it has been indirect about whether it holds the same view on the use of chlorine gas. One reason for this opaque approach is that it can be nearly impossible to ascertain whether chemical weapons were used on an already hazardous battlefield, particularly when attacks involve small amounts of less potent elements, such as chlorine. In addition, engaging in punitive strikes over relatively small chemical attacks can also raise thorny questions about the proportionality of responses.

    This image released by the U.S. Department of Defense shows the Him Shinsar chemical weapons storage site before (L) and after (R) U.S., French and British forces launched strikes against Syria on April 14, 2018.
    (JOSE ROMERO/AFP/Getty Images)

    Ultimately, the United States has decided to make decisions about responsive strikes based not on whether chemical weapons were used at all, but rather on how much damage they caused. Over the last year, for example, the Syrian government has carried out a number of chlorine attacks to which the United States has not responded, largely because of their relatively low casualty totals. The chemical weapons attack that triggered the latest punitive strike further illustrates this point. Although chlorine was almost certainly used, it’s not clear whether nerve agents were as well. Still, the incident resulted in such a large and anomalous list of victims that it warranted a response from the United States and its allies even without the certainty of confirmed nerve agent usage.
    Was it a Win?
    Following this latest punitive strike, the Syrian government is likely to at least avoid the use of nerve agents for a significant period of time, as it did in 2017. Whether it will also cut down on the use of chlorine gas is less certain. Syrian loyalist forces will increasingly have less tactical incentive to use such weapons as their difficult urban operations around Damascus wind down. On the other hand, they may be emboldened by just how limited the latest punitive strike was. The Syrian government’s greatest priority is victory in the country’s civil war, and if it concludes that further punitive strikes will continue to solely target chemical weapons infrastructure, Damascus would happily make that sacrifice in exchange for the continued battlefield successes afforded by chemical weapons use.

    However, the risk of making that call is high for Syria. If it misjudges, and the United States and its allies escalate their responses by bombing Syrian government leadership, troops or conventional forces, Syrian loyalist forces would suffer heavy damage. This would be a major interruption in its current campaign and could seriously compromise its progress so far. Thus, the Syrian government will mostly likely mirror its 2017 response and hold off on chemical attacks for the time being.

    Dec 13, 2017
    In the Middle East, Russia Seems to Be Everywhere
    Apr 11, 2018
    Syria: What to Make of Russian Threats Against a U.S.-Led Strike
    Apr 10, 2018
    The Signs, Options and Risks of a U.S. Strike on Syria
    Apr 14, 2018
    Syria: Combined U.S., French and U.K. Attack Strikes Multiple Targets

  9. Latest Syria Strike News ::

    Syria: Air Defense Activated Over Reported Attack
    Unconfirmed reports are emerging that Syrian air defenses have been activated in response to a potential attack against air bases northeast of Damascus, including the Tiyas (T4) air base. Details are scarce, but local sources are reporting intercepts of inbound missiles. This information has yet to be verified, though the Pentagon released a statement saying that no U.S. operations are being conducted in the region at present. U.S. President Donald Trump authorized precision airstrikes targeting facilities in Syria linked to the government’s chemical weapons program on April 13 — the early hours of April 14 local time.

  10. Meanwhile Back in North Korea :

    Their impending dialogue notwithstanding, mistrust between the United States and North Korea still runs deep.
    But the new generation of North Korean leaders, the unique political profile of U.S. President Donald Trump and the advanced state of Pyongyang’s nuclear program leave an opportunity (however slim) for a different outcome.
    Otherwise, the two sides could find themselves back on track toward containment or even U.S. military action.
    The saying goes that the more things change, the more they stay the same. On the Korean Peninsula, the reverse seems to be true: The more things stay the same, the more they change. Six months ago, the discussion about the peninsula was whether it could avoid unilateral U.S. military action to stem North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Today the conversation has turned to whether Pyongyang’s current diplomatic offensive offers hope for a nonmilitary resolution to the conflict, a lingering holdout from the Cold War, or whether it’s just another of North Korea’s attempts to buy time to secure the government with a viable nuclear deterrent. Having studied North Korea and the issues surrounding the peninsula for more than two decades, I am torn between optimism (however thin) that real change may finally be in the offing and the natural pessimism that derives from experience.

    Big Picture
    Stratfor’s Second-Quarter Forecast laid out North Korea’s outreach to the United States and South Korea to break the spiraling cycle of tension. Though a U.S.-North Korean breakthrough would be challenging, new circumstances mean it is not unimaginable.

    See Asia-Pacific section of the 2018 Second-Quarter Forecast
    See Coping With a Nuclear North Korea

    Surprise delays, unexpected calls or trips back to North Korea for further instruction, and a general attempt to draw the other party into interminable side discussions and diplomatic minutiae to delay resolution characterize Pyongyang’s typical negotiating style. A meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump will eliminate the utility of most of these tactics, offering a chance for more direct dialogue to resolve sticky issues. But it also may reinforce the idea that if the two leaders can’t negotiate a way out of the conflict, then perhaps a diplomatic solution isn’t possible and talk of a military solution to the United States’ North Korea problem could return.
    The Korean Peninsula issue has innumerable moving parts, so to sort things out it is perhaps best to focus on two core issues. The first is defining what North Korea really wants, not just in the near term, but its broader strategic goal. The second is assessing whether any changes in the current circumstances could provide space for an outcome different from that of previous attempts at dialogue. These efforts won’t answer all the questions or bring clarity to the complexity of the Korean issue. But given the pace of change and the opportunity that awaits in the prospective summit between U.S. and North Korean leaders, they are a solid place to begin.

    What North Korea Really Wants
    North Korea is still a vehemently anti-colonial power, one that in its early history was a strong supporter of nonaligned nations, independence movements and insurgencies against imperialism. Independence — from China, the United States, Russia or Japan — is a critical component of the country’s strategic intent. Independence of action retains a particular importance in its ideology. The government continues to emphasize the era of Japanese occupation and the division of the peninsula at the end of World War II, which it argues is unfair since the belligerent Japan stayed intact. But independence requires a strong military, a strong economy and a strong, unified population.
    Since the Korean Peninsula’s division in 1945, North Korea’s leadership has had a singular strategic goal: to reunify Korea under Pyongyang’s governance and direction. The goal is still the overriding factor behind North Korea’s policies today, though the country’s leaders now feel slightly less of a need for complete control of the peninsula. In its current iteration, the objective is to bring North and South Korea back together, allowing a central role for Pyongyang and an independent foreign policy that relies neither on China nor on the United States. North Korea often cites as its model Koguryo, an ancient Korean kingdom that at its peak reached well into northern China. Koguryo, however, never controlled the southern half of the Korean Peninsula, and a southern kingdom, with help from China, ultimately brought it to its end.
    The compulsion for a unified Korea has grown stronger in recent years, as China’s rise to become a major power and competitor to the United States has shifted the balance of power in East Asia. In response to China’s growing influence, Japan is rapidly normalizing its military and working to pull out of more than two decades of economic malaise. And in between lies the Korean Peninsula, historically a bridge and battleground for the two regional powers since the 16th century. Divided, Korea is vulnerable to the competition and likely unable to secure its own interests. United, the peninsula may be able to withstand the pressures — or at least keep its interests safe. Unification, then, isn’t just a long-term goal for Pyongyang anymore. It’s a necessity to avoid falling into another Cold War-type scenario, in which North and South Korea serve as pawns for larger powers, with little control over their own direction and fate.

    A North Korean soldier stands at a guard station in the Demilitarized Zone in early 2011.
    (JUNG YEON JE/AFP/Getty Images)

    How Pyongyang Has Pursued Its Goals
    North Korea has used several different strategies to try to achieve unification. The most overt was, of course, the Korean War. In the years just after the war, Pyongyang tried a combination of coercion and economic growth to inspire South Korea to break away from U.S. “occupation” and unify with it. North Korea’s economy was the one that was growing rapidly then, albeit with help from China and the Soviet Union, while the South languished economically and socially under dictatorial rule. When the tides turned in the 1970s — Seoul launched a massive industrialization process and Pyongyang lost some of its economic support from abroad — North Korea resorted to militant tactics to try to destabilize the South. Seoul was dealing at the time with anti-government protests and a string of short-lived military or military-backed administrations.
    In the late 1980s and early 1990s, North Korea changed tack once again. The Soviet Union’s waning power and China’s economic opening and reform, as well as the Tiananmen Square protests, prompted Pyongyang to try outreach to the South, in tandem with continued military pressure. South Korea’s government, meanwhile, was working to reshape relations with the North under President Roh Tae Woo’s Nordpolitik policy. The two Koreas held several rounds of meetings. But when its Cold War allies began their own outreach to South Korea, leading the United Nations to recognize two distinct Koreas, Pyongyang abandoned its strategy in favor of a new one. This time it accelerated its nascent nuclear program and set the stage for the 1993-94 nuclear crisis, in which U.S. President Bill Clinton nearly authorized the use of force to destroy the North’s emerging nuclear reprocessing and weapons technology. Pyongyang used the incident to force a resolution with the United States and South Korea, temporarily trading away its developing capabilities in exchange for economic integration and diplomatic outreach.

    Unification isn’t a long-term goal for Pyongyang anymore. It’s a necessity to avoid falling into another Cold War-type scenario, in which North and South Korea serve as pawns for larger powers, with little control over their own direction and fate.

    As North Korea negotiated the Agreed Framework with the United States in 1994, it also planned the first inter-Korean summit in North Korea between the country’s leader, Kim Il Sung, and South Korean President Kim Young Sam. The event’s aim was to build on previous agreements to pave the way for the first steps of confederation between the two Koreas and to press the United States to finally replace the Armistice Agreement of 1953 with a formal peace treaty. Doing so would reduce the reason for U.S. forces on the peninsula and ease the Koreas’ path to unification on their own terms. But Kim Il Sung’s untimely death in the run-up to the summit left the initiative in shambles. Although his son and successor, Kim Jong Il, approved the Agreed Framework — a deal with the United States that temporarily suspended Pyongyang’s nuclear program in exchange for economic and energy aid — his attention soon turned to consolidating his authority. North Korea’s next major outreach didn’t occur until after the launch of the Unha (Taepodong) rocket in 1998, the same year Kim Dae Jung, the founder of the “Sunshine Policy” of engagement with the North, took over as South Korea’s president.

    North Korea was set to host the first inter-Korean summit in 1994 to pave the way for the first steps of confederation between the two Koreas, but founding leader Kim Il Sung’s untimely death left the initiative in shambles.
    (JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)

    The missile launch triggered another crisis on the Korean Peninsula, but it also led to a diplomatic breakthrough on Pyongyang’s part. In 2000, Kim Jong Il visited China on his first overseas visit since taking power. North Korea opened normalization talks with Japan, hosted the first inter-Korean summit, received Russian President Vladimir Putin and welcomed U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Pyongyang. It also opened diplomatic relations with Australia, Italy, the Philippines and the United Kingdom, and with Canada, Germany and New Zealand the following year. Pyongyang had perfected the use of a crisis to open up diplomatic avenues.
    The opening, however, was short-lived. In January 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush put Pyongyang on the defensive by including North Korea in the so-called axis of evil. The North Korean government, in turn, doubled down on its strategy of creating small calamities to secure short-term gains.
    At the time, its nuclear and missile program remained a tradeable asset, something North Korea was not eager to complete for fear of U.S. military action in the final phases. The primary tool for containing Pyongyang was the six-party talks, which began in 2003 as China worked to retain its influence over the issue. Before the decade was over, though, North Korea had changed its view of the nuclear and missile program. Kim Jong Il, having suffered a stroke, saw the need to finally plan for his transition from power and rushed to finalize the program before handing the reins off to his son, Kim Jong Un. That way, the young leader would begin his tenure with a strong hand. When the transition took place in 2011, the first lesson the new North Korean administration absorbed was that of Libya, where Moammar Gadhafi died in U.S.-backed fighting despite agreeing to give up his weapons of mass destruction program in a deal with the United States. From that point on, the North strove to complete a viable nuclear deterrent and to ease its political dependence on China in hopes of returning to the international negotiating not as a subordinate to Beijing’s interests, but as an equal.

    Toward the end of the last decade, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (center), having suffered a stroke, saw the need to finally plan for his transition from power and rushed to finalize the country’s nuclear missile development program before handing the reins off to his son, Kim Jong Un.
    (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

    Heading Back to the Table
    Today, North Korea is once again positioning itself for a diplomatic breakout. The meeting in China, the summits planned with South Korea and with the United States, the reports of Japan and Russia pursuing similar summits — all signs suggest that Pyongyang is coming back to the table more confident in its own position. And now, at least according to China and South Korea, it has offered to end its nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees. The guarantees probably include, as they have in the past, a peace accord with the United States to replace the armistice and discussions about the disposition of U.S. forces on the peninsula. Pyongyang, after all, is still looking for a path to unification in which the United States leaves, China is not dominant and the two Koreas can sort out a path forward on their own. It’s certainly not an easy goal, and questions remain about the reliability of North Korea’s promises. Even so, the circumstances today are different from those of past negotiations. That means the outcome may be different, too.
    The United States continues to push for North Korea’s complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization, a lofty goal that will be nearly impossible to ensure, particularly given the track record of deals between Washington and Pyongyang. And few expect North Korea, after accepting the economic and political costs of developing its nuclear deterrent, to simply give it up and walk away. Furthermore, its strategic goal hasn’t changed. The government’s desire to maintain control or influence in divided or united Korea, its concern with the United States’ military might, its distrust of China’s power and its anxiety at the thought of Japan’s regional resurgence are all alive and well.
    What’s Different This Time
    Yet several factors put the upcoming round of negotiations in a different light. For one thing, North Korea showed China that it could arrange a direct summit with the U.S. president without Beijing’s help. The talks haven’t happened yet, and Pyongyang has been cautious about officially announcing even the chance of the meeting, but the mere prospect represents a major step forward for Pyongyang in its quest to enter talks as an equal party. For another, the political situation has changed in each of the four key countries involved in the North Korea issue.
    Pyongyang sees in the current U.S. president, for example, a political outsider willing to take actions beyond those normally prescribed for top U.S. political figures. Trump’s acceptance of a meeting with Kim Jong Un without the usual precursor discussions to work out a clear strategy is itself a sign to North Korea’s leaders that their read may be accurate. He hasn’t shied away from threatening war on the Korean Peninsula, either; if anyone could come out of direct talks with unexpected results, it’s Trump.
    In South Korea, after two consecutive conservative presidents — one impeached, the other under investigation — a progressive leader is back in office. The country’s progressive leaders traditionally have been more inclined to ease relations with the North. The same is true of President Moon Jae In, all the more so because of the heightened political risk Seoul experienced as the United States threatened war on the peninsula and China responded to anti-missile system deployments in South Korea with unofficial economic punishments. Seoul supports anything that will alleviate the immediate tensions.
    Beijing, likewise, has a new focus under President Xi Jinping, one that includes a major overhaul of the domestic economy and all its attendant social dislocations. China’s role on the global stage is also expanding because of its far-reaching economic ties and dependencies. While Beijing once saw a benefit to North Korea’s antics, an opportunity to use its sway over the country’s government to ease economic strife with the United States, China has lost much of its ability to influence Pyongyang’s behavior. It also has reconsidered its view of North Korea as a strategic buffer. Beijing still prefers the idea of a pliant North to that of a unified Korea, but warmer ties between Pyongyang and Seoul may actually serve China’s purposes, enabling it to expand its economic and infrastructure networks across the whole peninsula.

    Pyongyang sees in the current U.S. president a political outsider willing to take actions beyond those normally prescribed for top U.S. political figures.

    The Third Generation
    But it is in North Korea that things may have changed the most. Kim Jong Un has steadily removed the members of his country’s leadership with the closest ties to China, reasserting North Korea’s independence of action. In addition, he represents a new generation of leadership, as a younger leader with a very different perspective on history and the future from those of his father and grandfather. The first generation fought Japan and the United States. They were the true revolutionaries, the ones who fought for Korean independence, and as such they earned their right to shape North Korea’s future, be it autonomy or unification. The second generation, on the other hand, rose to power thanks more to their parents than to their actions or abilities. Most got their training in the Eastern Bloc, the Soviet Union or China, if they trained abroad at all, and have little insight into modern economics. Many had close links to the most egregious era of North Korean terrorism as well. In a confederated or unified Korea, the second generation would stand to lose the most. They offer little and carry with them the baggage of the past.
    Their children make up the third generation, which is slowly moving into the ranks of power. Members of this group of leaders have a much better grasp of the modern world and its economies, often having trained from a young age in Western Europe. And because they lack strong ties to North Korea’s militant history, they may have a better shot at retaining positions of influence in a unified Korea. As this generation rises to power in North Korea, the resistance to a modified form of unification is starting to wane, and the desire for the kinds of economic breakthroughs that more connection to the outside world would enable is increasing. Even Cuba had a brief opening with the United States, leaving North Korea as the anachronistic holdout of the Cold War system. Although these factors don’t guarantee a different outcome for the next U.S.-North Korea dialogue, they do set a different stage for it.
    It’s hard to be optimistic about the upcoming North Korea talks. But assuming that what has happened before is bound to happen again is a weak analytical approach. The past is a guide, not a straitjacket. It does not determine the future but only provides a lens through which to distinguish the similarities and differences in the present. Washington and Pyongyang have a long history of failed agreements between them. Still, the differences in circumstances this time around, however slim, may offer a chance for different results. Without some change, we’ll probably find ourselves back on the path to containment, if not on a course toward military action to end the North Korean nuclear and missile program once and for all.

    Rodger Baker leads Stratfor’s analysis of Asia Pacific and South Asia and guides the company’s forecasting process. A Stratfor analyst since 1997, he has played a pivotal role in developing and refining the company’s analytical process, internal training programs and geopolitical framework.

    Here’s What’s Actually Different About the Latest North Korea Talks
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