Two weeks ago, North Korea engaged in a military attack on South Korea, a long-time American protectorate…of sorts.
Now close you eyes for a moment and imagine that we were still living in Cold War America, a time when the world was more or less divided into three major political/ideological bloc: the greedy capitalism-driven, but free West; the evil state-controlled economies of the various communist East nations, and the self-interested states—often run by dictators—who often played both blocs against the middle in an effort to carve out their corner of that geopolitically bi-polar regime. In this world, very few of those smaller self-interested states are willing or even capable of challenging neither the resolve nor the policies of the leaders of these blocs, the United States and the Soviet Union, for fear of some kind of substantive response. In this world, military commitments are limited, military spending and constant nuclear weapons testing telegraphing to the world the resolve of both blocs is evident, and lesser adversaries know their place; major acts of terrorism were limited to areas of the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Europe.
Now imagine that a country, firmly entrenched within either bloc decided to attack another within the opposing bloc…say North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Il-sung, opting to stage an attack on U.S.-allied South Korea. Understand that in this world, political leaders within each country have to appear to be either “tough on Communism” or “stand up to the Capitalists” so as not to appear “weak.” And since these two countries have a history as a military flashpoint for the ideological clash between the two opposing blocs, the resolve to defend either by other members within each opposing bloc emphasizes how easily such an attack by one country on another can easily lead to a regional, if not global conflagration.
But that time is gone
No longer do we live in an America governed by a myopic, if not marginally accurate view of the world in terms of a democracy vs. dictatorship ethos, powered by resolve—both actual and that perceived by its adversaries.
Now come open your eyes to the world we live in today, a generation or so after the waning days of the Cold War.
Today’s world is one where America’s reign as the lone superpower is under an almost relentless series of challenges by small nations aligned with larger more powerful nations, as well as individual nations seeking to increase their influence in the post-Cold War multi-polar world. This is because these challenger countries have been shrewd enough to take advantage of America’s recent foreign policy blunders, some of which have resulted in a weakening of resolve to secure the nation’s interests. Faulty intelligence, arrogance of leadership, questionable single-mindedness, and a lack of intimate knowledge of whom were dealing with have all combined to squander America’s readiness on irrelevant “threats” which America’s enemies have used as a window of opportunity embolden themselves to do what North Korea did 2 weeks hence…attack American interests without fear of significant reprisal(s).
A photo of the North Korean leadership, with a doctored image of ailing leader Kim Jong Il superimposed on the image
The open defiance and belligerence out of the Middle- and Far East could have been avoided if America had maintained some of the more useful, more static policies from our Cold War experience with the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc.
Primarily, America should have kept its nuclear option open in dealing with Afghanistan after 9/11. A tactical nuclear strike (or two) on Taliban strongholds in the more remote regions of the then-lawless country could have gone a lone way to signaling to would-be pretenders to the throne how far America is willing to go to protect its interests in this new world.
Imagine being in Tehran, Kabul, Baghdad, Pyongyang or any number of regions around the world and knowing where you were and what you were doing when you heard from state-run television/radio about the first—actually second, Japan was the first—nuclear attack on a country harboring an organization responsible for an attack on the financial and political centers of the lone global superpower…that’s the impact such a policy would have had on those who would threaten American interests. Imagine how many American service personnel lives could have been saved by not having to invade countries who realized that a mushroom cloud umbrella could be their fate if they do not, say, allow United Nations weapons inspectors unfettered access to suspected facilities…or who unilaterally accede from nuclear non-proliferation treaties and then proceed to create nuclear weapons in violation of international law.
In a world where America’s enemies are growing by the numbers daily, and where countries are openly challenging America and it interests to the point of acting with impunity, maybe American leaders should go back to the old policy of Mutually Assured Destruction…a policy that projects the resolve that we give as good as we get.