People’s Republic of China Options Toward North Korea

Paul Butchard is a graduate student in the Department of War Studies at Kings College London in the United Kingdom, where he is pursuing his master’s degree in Intelligence and International Security.  He also holds a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Politics.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  Options for the foreign policy of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) toward North Korea (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or DPRK).

Date Originally Written:  July, 15, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  July 24, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the perspective of foreign policy advisor to the PRC government.

Background:  Since January 2016, the DPRK has conducted two nuclear weapons tests and ten missile tests.  Such actions, coupled with increasingly bombastic rhetoric, displays a more aggressive posture for the DPRK than previous years[1].

Significance:  For the PRC, their relationship with the DPRK is a regional policy issue and a central element of PRC-United States relations.  President Xi Jinping is forging an outgoing, “Striving for Achievement” foreign policy for the PRC[2].  Simultaneously, the PRC has displayed more public disapproval of Pyongyang’s destabilising behaviour than previous years[3].  The course of action the PRC adopts towards the DPRK will play a major role in the relationship between Beijing and Washington in years to come, influencing events globally.

Option #1:  The PRC maintains/increases military, economic and diplomatic aid to the DPRK.  This option sees the PRC continuing or building upon its current course of action, providing vast military and economic aid and diplomatic protection to bring the DPRK’s behaviour in line with the PRC’s wishes.

Risk:  The PRC risks appeasing the DPRK, encouraging it to continue along its current path, one that is increasingly casting the PRC as a suzerain unable to rein in a vassal state, to the casual observer.  The DPRK would view such action as capitulation and an acknowledgment by Beijing that Pyongyang cannot be penalised for actions and policies even when they harm the PRC’s interests[4].  The DPRK is conscious of its strategic importance to Beijing and able to take PRC aid without granting concessions.  The PRC risks escalating confrontation with the United States if the latter perceives the PRC as unwilling to act or enabling the DPRK’s current destabilising behaviour, a possibility given recent remarks by President Trump[5].

Gain:  This option enables the PRC to sustain the DPRK regime, avoiding a humanitarian crisis on its border because of regime collapse, maintaining the tense but peaceful status quo.  The PRC avoids being labelled a United States puppet as the DPRK has previously implied[6].  United States’ sanctions related to the DPRK have so far been limited to private companies and individuals, not the PRC government[7].  This option thus avoids igniting military, diplomatic or economic confrontations with the United States.

Option #2:  The PRC decreases/ceases military, economic and diplomatic aid to the DPRK.  This option sees the PRC ‘sanction’ the DPRK by reducing or halting military, economic or diplomatic aid to alter its behaviour to suit PRC preferences.

Risk:  This option risks the collapse of the DPRK regime due to the PRC being its main economic trading partner.  The PRC also risks economic self-harm due to the vast natural resources it imports from the DPRK[8].  The collapse of the DPRK brings unparalleled security concerns for the PRC from uncontrolled nuclear materials and mass immigration to the potential of a United States ally on its border.

Gain:  By reducing aid the PRC would be acting against the DPRK’s unpredictable actions, potentially slowing its development of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), increasing its international standing, a cornerstone of President Xi’s foreign policy.  Such action would be seen favourably by the Trump administration increasing the likelihood of favourable trade deals or relative acquiescence to PRC actions in the South China Sea.

Option #3:  Regime change.  This option would see the PRC pursue regime change within the DPRK by means of supporting a coup d’état or palace coup of some description rather than overt military action of its own.

Risk:  The DPRK government and society revolves fully around the Kim dynasty, the removal of the deity that is Kim Jong Un and the Kim lineage risks the total collapse of the state.  There is no clear successor to Kim due to the autocratic nature of the DPRK and any successor would likely be considered a PRC puppet and usurper.  Subsequent destabilisation would result in the aforementioned humanitarian and security crisis’ posing a grave national security threat to the PRC.  Such action would be logistically and strategically difficult to accomplish, requiring multiple sections of the DPRK military and governmental apparatus being coordinated by a vast human intelligence network operated by the PRC.  As such, and due to pervasive North Korean surveillance even of its elites, a coup risks discovery long before execution.  United States and South Korean forces may see any attempt at regime change as an opportunity to launch their own military offensive or as evidence of PRC expansionism and a threat to the South.

Gain:  Replacing Kim Jong Un could lead to increased stability for the PRC’s regional development objectives.  The PRC could avoid total DPRK state collapse due to external pressure and avert the potential national security threats to the PRC mainland.  This option also raises the possibility of enhancing United States-PRC relations, buying the PRC the aforementioned political capital.  A new DPRK regime, allied with the PRC, that tempers its actions toward the United States, also raises the possibility of the removal of the United States’ Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defence system from South Korea, which the PRC views as a national security threat.  This option also presents the potential for the reduction of United States troop numbers in South Korea due to increased stability and a reduced threat from the DPRK.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] Council on Foreign Relations, (2017) North Korea Crisis. Retrieved July 13, 2017 from https://www.cfr.org/global/global-conflict-tracker/p32137#!/conflict/north-korea-crisis

[2] Yan, X. (2014). From Keeping a Low Profile to Striving for Achievement. The Chinese Journal of International Politics,7(2), 153-184.

[3] Perlez, J. (2017, February 24). China and North Korea Reveal Sudden, and Deep, Cracks in Their Friendship. Retrieved July 14, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/24/world/asia/china-north-korea-relations-kim-jong-un.html

[4] Pei, M. (2017, March 14). North Korea: What Is China Thinking? Retrieved July 14, 2017, from https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/03/china-north-korea-kim-jong-un-nuclear-beijing-pyongyang-thaad/519348/

[5] Weaver, M., Haas, B., & McCurry, J. (2017, April 03). Trump says US will act alone on North Korea if China fails to help. Retrieved July 14, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/apr/02/donald-trump-north-korea-china

[6] Sang-hun, C. (2017, February 23). North Korea Accuses China of ‘Mean Behavior’ After It Tightens Sanctions. Retrieved July 14, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/world/asia/north-korea-china.html

[7] Aleem, Z. (2017, June 29). Why Trump just slapped new sanctions on Chinese banks. Retrieved July 14, 2017, from https://www.vox.com/world/2017/6/29/15894844/trump-sanctions-china-north-korea-bank

[8] Perlez, J., & Huang, Y. (2017, April 13). China Says Its Trade With North Korea Has Increased. Retrieved July 14, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/13/world/asia/china-north-korea-trade-coal-nuclear.html 

[9] Reuters. (2017, February 28). China reacts with anger, threats after South Korean missile defense decision. Retrieved July 15, 2017, from http://www.reuters.com/article/us-southkorea-usa-thaad-china-idUSKBN16709W

China (People's Republic of China) Leadership Change North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) Option Papers Paul Butchard South Korea (Republic of Korea) United States

U.S. Options for Regime Change in Syria

Dr. Christopher Bolan has served in Jordan, Tunisia, and Egypt and worked as a Middle East foreign policy advisor to Vice Presidents Gore and Cheney.  He presently teaches and researches national security issues at the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College.  He can be found on Twitter @DrChrisBolan.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.  


National Security Situation:  Regime change in Syria.

Date Originally Written:  December 9, 2016.

Date Originally Published:  April 13, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Author is a retired U.S. military officer whose writings and teaching focus on national security issues related to the Middle East.

Background:  Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s apparent chemical weapons attack on April 4, 2017 that killed scores of innocent civilians prompted U.S. cruise missile strikes targeting a Syrian airfield from which the attacks were launched.  U.S. President Donald Trump said these strikes were designed primarily to “prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons[1].”  While the decision to strike has been widely supported by leaders of both political parties in Washington D.C., international reaction has been predictably mixed.  Traditional U.S. allies in Europe and the Middle East have been broadly supportive, while supporters of the Assad regime including Russia and Iran have condemned the strikes as a “violation of international law[2].”

Significance:  Beyond the narrow justification of these strikes as being necessary to reinforce an eroding international norm against the use of chemical weapons, this U.S. military intervention has resurfaced questions concerning the ultimate strategy that the Trump Administration is pursuing in Syria.  Before the strikes, senior administration officials including Secretary of State (SecState) Rex Tillerson and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Halley suggested that U.S. policy would abandon even the pretense of President Barack Obama’s objective of ousting Assad from power in Damascus[3].  However, in the aftermath of the strikes, the Trump Administration signaled an apparent about-face as National Security Advisor (NSA) Herbert Raymond “H. R.” McMaster declared that U.S. policy in Syria would “simultaneously” pursue the twin goals of destroying the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and removing Assad[4].  While the fight against ISIS is making significant progress, the administration has not yet articulated a detailed strategy for pursuing the ouster of Assad.  There are two broad options available:

Option #1:  Coercive Diplomacy.  This option seeks to capitalize on the demonstration of U.S. resolve in the wake of the chemical attacks and missile strikes to push all parties to a negotiated solution that would ultimately result in the removal of Assad.  NSA McMaster and SecState Tillerson have suggested that this might indeed be the Trump Administration’s preferred course of action[5].  Additionally, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz is emblematic of this approach and has made the case that “peace is impossible with Mr. Assad in power” and also called on President Trump to lead a “broad diplomatic effort to end the country’s bloodshed[6].”

Risk:  This diplomatic approach is essentially a reprise of President Obama’s strategy to engage Russia to use its substantial influence in Damascus to coerce Assad into relinquishing his position.  Years of a failed Geneva process along these lines are a strong indication that prospects for success are minimal.  Moreover, Russia is either complicit or has been turning a blind eye to Assad’s brutal repression and flagrant attacks on civilians that undoubtedly constitute war crimes.  This blind eye poses a moral hazard to any negotiated agreement involving Moscow.  The real risks and costs for the U.S. will only manifest themselves when prospects for success are greatest.  Presently, there is simply no viable political opposition able to assume power in a deeply divided Syrian society.  As the tragic histories of Iraq and Afghanistan suggest, a strong international presence underpinned by U.S. combat forces and bolstered by U.S. intelligence and logistics support will be required to avoid the eruption of civil war until broader political reconciliation takes hold.  Finally, the reconstruction costs for Syria alone exceed $200 billion[7] – a portion of which will likely be borne by the U.S. Treasury.

Gain:  Option #1 seeks to make maximum diplomatic advantage of a limited U.S. military strike.  It requires little investment beyond organizing a broad diplomatic effort to press all parties to arrive at a negotiated solution.  It is possible that Assad’s use of chemical weapons will serve as an affront to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was a primary party along with President Obama to the agreement that removed tons of chemical weapons from Syria and avoided a U.S. military strike in 2013.  SecState Tillerson’s long experience negotiating with Russia could equip him to successfully exploit this opportunity to leverage Russian support for ousting Assad.

Option #2:  Limited Military Escalation.  Long-time advocates of deeper U.S. military engagement have been trumpeting the recent U.S. missile attacks as an opportunity to escalate a U.S. military campaign to unseat Assad.  Options here range from resurrecting an earlier Central Intelligence Agency / Department of Defense program to arm-and-equip carefully vetted Syrian opposition groups, to establishing no-fly zones or safe areas for the protection of civilians, to conducting an air campaign to destroy Assad’s air force.

Risk:  These military options have been repeatedly debated and dismissed by senior U.S. officials because of the risks inherent in these approaches.  The previous program to arm-and-equip Syrian opposition groups ended in abject failure.  A program designed to raise a force of 15,000 fighters at a cost of $500 million netted only a handful of recruits that were quickly captured by Al-Qa’ida-linked elements as soon as they crossed into Syria[8].  Former U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey noted that no-fly zones and safe areas would require the commitment of “thousands of U.S. ground troops” and would cost billions each month to maintain[9].  Finally, a military campaign taking out Assad’s air force would expose U.S. pilots to an advanced and integrated Syrian air defense system that has recently been upgraded by Russia.   Any such military campaign would almost inevitably result in Russian and Iranian casualties, risking escalation and retaliation against U.S. interests regionally and globally.

Gain:  The potential rewards for this high risk approach would be correspondingly rich if this increased military pressure ultimately yielded a negotiated resolution removing Assad from power.  The successful application of American military power would reassure U.S. allies and potentially bolster U.S. deterrence against potential adversaries including Russia, Iran, North Korea, and China.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] Office of the Press Secretary, “Statement by President Trump on Syria,” Washington, DC: The White House, April 6, 2017, available from https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/04/06/statement-president-trump-syria.

[2]  Gregor Aisch, Yonette Joseph, and Anjali Singhvi, “Which Countries Support and Which Oppose the U.S. Missile Strikes in Syria,” The New York Times, April 9, 2011.

[3]  Steve Holland, “White House backs Haley, Tillerson on Syria’s Assad,” Reuters, March 31, 2017, available from www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-usa-idUSKBN1722US

[4]  Mahita Gajanan, “National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster:  U.S. Wants to Eliminate ‘Murderous Regime’ in Syria,” Time, April 10, 2017.

[5]  Ibid and Josh Lederman, “Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Issues Warning About Syria:  ‘We Cannot Let This Happen Again’,” Time, April 11, 2017.

[6]  Paul Wolfowitz, “What Comes After the Syria Strikes: With American credibility restored, Trump should lead a diplomatic effort to replace Assad,” The Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2017.

[7]  David W. Lesch and James Gelvin, “Assad Has Won in Syria.  But Syria Hardly Exists,” The New York Times, January 11, 2017.

[8]  Michael D. Shear, Helene Cooper, and Eric Schmitt, “Obama Administration Ends Effort to Train Syrians to Combat ISIS,” The New York Times, October 9, 2015.

[9]  General Martin E. Dempsey, Letter to Senator Levin on the U.S. Military and the Syrian Conflict, July 19, 2013.  Available at:  http://www.cfr.org/syria/general-dempseys-letter-senator-levin-us-military-syrian-conflict-july-2013/p31198.

 

Civil War Dr. Christopher Bolan Leadership Change Option Papers Syria United States Weapons of Mass Destruction

Syria Options: No Fly Zone & Remove Assad

Barefoot Boomer is a U.S. Army officer and has served in both the Infantry and Armor.  He is currently a Strategic Planner serving in Texas.  He can be found on Twitter at @BarefootBoomer.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, organization, or group.


National Security Situation:  Civil war, humanitarian, and international crisis in Syria.

Date Originally Written:  November 23, 2016.

Date Originally Published:  December 19, 2016.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Barefoot Boomer is a Strategic Planner with the U.S. Army and has previously served in the Operation Inherent Resolve Coalition Headquarters which leads the U.S. effort against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Background:  Since the civil war in Syria began in 2011 there has been no limit to the suffering of the Syrian civilian population.  Not only has the violence caused regional instability and the largest refugee crisis in recent history, but the cost in civilian lives has grown exponentially, the siege of Aleppo being a prime example.  Thousands of civilians have been under siege in Aleppo for over two years, victims of Syrian and Russian aerial attacks.  Civilian targets, including hospitals and neighborhoods, have been bombed killing many.  Aid convoys attempting to relieve the siege have also been attacked by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian supporters.

Significance:  Nature abhors a vacuum.  So does U.S. foreign policy, hence the reason why the U.S. seeming inaction in Syria is mind-boggling to some.  Disturbing images of dead civilians, including heartbreaking pictures of young children, have provoked calls for the international community to “do something.”  The lawlessness and indiscriminate targeting of civilians as well as the huge flood of refugees streaming out of Syria has turned a civil war into an international crisis.  As the U.S. is the leader of the anti-ISIS Coalition, and would be the main executor of, and bear the brunt of any operation, it is prudent to understand the U.S. position as well as implications.  Any intervention by the U.S. and her allies is also significant to regional neighbors and actors, such as Syria and Russia.

Option #1:  Establish a no-fly zone in part of Syria.  A no-fly zone is airspace designated as off-limits to flight-related activities[1].

Risk:  There are numerous risks involved in establishing a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians and refugees fleeing the ongoing fighting.  Militarily, attempting to set up a no-fly zone that could reasonably protect civilians would be a tremendous task.  The U.S. and her allies would have to use air power to establish air superiority to protect the area from Syrian and Russian air attacks.  This would mean conducting actions to suppress air defenses and destroy Syrian and Russian aircraft, either in the air or possibly on the ground.  It would also have to include hundreds, if not thousands, of U.S. ground troops to support air operations.  The logistics involved would also be incredibly complex.  The political risks are just as daunting.  Seizing sovereign Syrian territory in order to establish a no-fly zone with U.S. troops would be a de facto invasion, which would anger Assad’s main ally, Russia.  The threat of U.S. and Russia confronting each other would rise exponentially, just as the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, United States Marine Corps General Joseph F. Dunford Jr has insinuated[2].

Gain:  There would be little gain from establishing a no-fly zone in Syria.  Not only would the immediate risks outweigh any perceived gains in the long-term but it would not necessarily help those people still trapped inside Aleppo or other population centers.

Option #2:  Remove Assad.

Risk:  Ultimately, the underlying cause of civilian deaths and suffering in Syria is the Syrian regime itself, led by President Bashar al-Assad.  If the U.S. and its’ Coalition of willing allies decided, under the auspices of a Responsibility to Protect[3] Syrian civilians, to attempt to address the underlying cause, they would become directly involved in the civil war and remove Assad from power.  The risks in doing so are enormous, not only to the U.S. and the Coalition, but to the Syrian people they would be attempting to help.  It would take hundreds of thousands of Coalition troops to do regime change similar to what the U.S. did in Iraq in 2003.  The U.S. public has little stomach for another Middle East regime changing war or the spending of blood and treasure that comes with it.

Gain:  Removing Assad would most assuredly lift the siege of Aleppo and relieve the horror civilians are experiencing on the ground but it would not necessarily stop the sectarian strife and political upheaval that are at the heart of the civil war.  If nothing else U.S. involvement would increase tensions with not only Russia and other regional actors but would embroil U.S. forces in another possibly decade-long occupation and stability operation.  More civilians, not less, may be caught up in the post-Assad violence that would certainly hamper efforts at rebuilding.

Other Comments:  Any decision made regarding involvement in Syria must come down to risk.  How much risk are the U.S. and her allies willing to take to ensure the safety of the Syrian people, and how much is there to gain from that risk.  Also, with a new U.S. President assuming office in January 2017, there is uncertainty about whether U.S. Syrian policy will stay the same or radically change.  Ultimately, weighing the spending of blood and treasure to establish a no-fly zone in Syria must be bounded within the confines of U.S. national security interests.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Hinote, C. (2015, May 05). How No-Fly Zones Work. Retrieved November 23, 2016, from http://blogs.cfr.org/davidson/2015/05/05/how-no-fly-zones-work/

[2]  Dunford tells Wicker controlling airspace in Syria means war with Russia. (2016, September 25). Retrieved November 19, 2016, from https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4621738/dunford-tells-wicker-controlling-airspace-syria-means-war-russia-mccain-throws-tantrum-dunford

[3]  Office of The Special Adviser on The Prevention of Genocide. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2016, from http://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/adviser/responsibility.shtml

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