by Austin Bay
December 31, 2019
Christmas came and went, and North Korea failed to deliver an unspecified but ominous "Christmas gift" to the U.S. As I finish this column, New Year's Day looms. Kim Jong Un's slimy regime still has enough holiday season to ignite a ballistic missile or nuclear firework display.
Alas, if Kim reverts to Little Rocket Man, he must live (perhaps die) with the consequences of his decision to end his missile- and nuclear-testing moratorium. Punitive confrontations with the Trump administration -- ever-tighter economic sanctions being the least of these harsh measures -- will darken Kim's new year and subsequent desperate years.
For the moment, North Korean brink-breaching detonations are speculation. Indeed, at the latest North Korean communist party conclave, Kim mouthed tough-guy phrases like taking "positive and offensive measures" that usually signal confrontation with Washington and Seoul.
Yet Trump administration officials suggest that Kim has reconsidered his violent gift-giving. If Kim has had second thoughts, why, prospective condos on the beach and South Korean K-pop girl bands playing Pyongyang gigs definitely have more diplomatic and psychological impact than the wildest optimists imagined.
We will see, but let's concentrate on what is. Serious, factual events matter, and several verifiable events in December 2019 demonstrate that thoughtful U.S. and allied North Korean denuclearization diplomacy continues, as do efforts to address a global task with which de-nuking North Korea entwines: strategic defense measures to counter enemy ballistic missiles.
Start by following the money. On Dec. 20, President Donald Trump signed Fiscal Year 2020's National Defense Authorization Act. The Pentagon budget gave the Missile Defense Agency $10.4 billion and specific guidance to accelerate development of systems to intercept hypersonic weapons. In case you missed it, Russia, via its leader, Vladimir Putin, is touting its hypersonic missiles. The bill accelerated development of the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor, a space-based missile-tracking sensor system and the next-generation interceptor to defend the United States homeland.
Kim is improving his threat tech? Sure. Well, the U.S. and its allies are improving both defensive and offensive strategic systems. Review my first-paragraph wisecrack "perhaps die."
The U.S. defense budget is a diplomatic signal to North Korea draped in economic and military power clothing.
Also on Dec. 20, China's foreign ministry revealed that senior Chinese officials had met with U.S. special representative to North Korea Stephen Biegun and informed him that China wants America and North Korea to "resume dialogue," with both parties making concessions.
China gave no specifics, but Beijing repeated a pro-North Korea joint Chinese and Russian proposal at the U.N. that asked America to ease economic sanctions.
No dice. The economic chains remain, and odds are they will tighten.
On Dec. 24, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Of course they smiled, but the deep subject was U.S.-supplied missile defense on the Korean peninsula.
According to Reuters, Moon informed Xi that South Korea fully supports American missile defenses. Reuters noted that during his 2017 presidential campaign, Moon had supported delaying the deployment of the U.S. Army's Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system, or THAAD. As president he reversed course. Why? THAAD can intercept North Korean short, medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles. This gives Kim Jong Un second thoughts (surprise attack might not work!) and thus protects 50 million South Koreans from North Korean missile attack.
A THAAD battery is now positioned in southern South Korea. If Kim gets feisty, it may be reinforced with additional launchers.
That is what military types call an operational response to threat.
Look, dictators break deals, and when they do, unfortunately, war may erupt.
Let's hope that doesn't happen and Kim focuses on beachfront condos. He should contemplate a terrifying alternative: U.S. Air Force B-52s, B-1Bs, a variety of U.S. Navy and U.S. Army missile systems, South Korean F-15 Strike Eagles, Japanese aircraft-delivered missiles and an impressive suite of sneaky drone aircraft-delivered weapons wreaking hell on North Korea.
It's a new year. Kim Jong Un, choose your future.