TRUMP AND THE RETURN OF GUNBOAT DIPLOMACY MAY LEAD TO STRATEGIC COOPERATION WITH CHINA
Following the US cruise missile strikes on Syria and meetings with the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, late last week, the Pacific fleet cancelled maneuvers off of Australia and a port visit, and redirected the USS Carl Vinson to the Sea of Japan off South Korea.
The change of sailing schedule was a return to classic ‘gunboat diplomacy’ where naval power is deployed to a region to demonstrate national resolve without necessarily escalation to hostile action. But the threat of military force is crystal clear. North Korea botched the launch of another ballistic missile last week and is expected to conduct a nuclear test or tests on or about the 15th of April, founding leader, Kim Il Sung’s birthday. The Carl Vinson Strike Group is comprised of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2, Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Wayne E. Meyer and USS Michael Murphy, and Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain. The US has a lot of firepower around South Korea, and Japan, right now, for annual military exercises, and the addition of the Carl Vinson Strike Group is certainly a welcome one, but not required for any reason other than direct action, or sending a message. Just as the SEAL Team reportedly sent to South Korea for training was the group that killed Osama bin Laden.
Whether this will have an effect of Kim Jong-un is yet to be seen, as neither USS Carl Vinson Strike Group nor the SEAL Team, can prevent the North Koreans from carrying out a nuclear test. They could make the period before hand or the aftermath, very painful in terms of a devastating strike on the North Korea leadership, their Command, Control and Intelligence facilities, sites related to the nuclear and ballistic missile program. The ships with the USS Carl Vinson may be able to shoot down Short and Medium Range Ballistic Missiles should they be launched by the North Koreans. If the US had detailed intelligence and planning they might be able to eliminate Kim Jong-un himself. But it seems more likely that the US is sending Kim a message without escalatory action at this stage, and coming in the aftermath of the Chinese President’s visit with President Trump, just adds to the psychological pressure on the North Korean inner circle. The Kim Jong-un regime have to be asking themselves given recent difficulties between themselves and China, if the Chinese President green-lighted American military action. There are unconfirmed reports that the Chinese have massed 150,000 troops on North Korea’s border, that if true, the North Korean regime must find very threatening.
Today, it was revealed that North Korean ships loaded with coal were sent home full from Chinese ports of call having been refused to unload their goods. Interestingly, a Russian warship just paid a port visit to South Korea in a sign that Russia has an interest in Korea and that there presence may deter an attack on Seoul. Whether or not we see a fight is an open-ended question given the potential for Kim Jong-un to miscalculate and over play his hand. But the presence of both American and South Korean forces on and near the Peninsula, and potentially Chinese troops on the border in the North Korean rear, might just be enough to deter Kim Jong-un from either a nuclear test or test-fire on an Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile. Events suggest that there is huge potential for American and Chinese strategic cooperation, and that the meeting between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping was a success.
At the end of the day, the best chance of stopping Kim Jong-un still rests in strategic partnership with China.