Today, pundits are weighing the odds of nuclear war, headlines that were last seen during the Cuban Missile Crisis have remerged, and the world is holding its breath. While I do not believe it will come to bombing Pyongyang just yet, we’re forgetting to think about something more important. Trump seems to believe that nuking North Korea is the end of the story. We’re forgetting that it would be the beginning.
China is the protagonist of this tail. It’s D-Day minus 1, Pyongyang has fallen and Kim Jong-Un is presumed dead or in a U-boat on his way to Argentina. China’s objective now is to capture as much influence as possible before Uncle Sam gets his finger in the pie. South Korea has collapsed after Soul was destroyed by the North, and Japan is left isolated.
China’s dominant strategy in this scenario would ultimately be to invade and occupy what’s left of the peninsula. Trump would be hesitant to commit to the largest state building exercise in history, preferring to admire the mess he’s made from a distance. China would have a relatively free-hand.
Ironically, after all Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, the biggest refugee crisis ever would follow. The Korean Peninsula is home to roughly 75 million people. Considering the enormity of the task ahead, China would have a fairly strong argument for establishing a government on the peninsular. Besides, the need for order in the country on the other side of a river from Chinese territory would be too immense for Beijing to ignore. However, Russia and the U.S. would have competing claims. The result would potentially mirror the division of Germany by the Allies following World War 2, with various zones of occupation.
The Korean peninsular 10 years from now might not be too different from the one we see today. Following a nuclear war, North Korea would still be a communist state – albeit Chinese – and the U.S. backed South Korean government would hold some small territory at the bottom of the country. After decades of anti-U.S. propaganda, it would be easier for the North Korean people to accept a Chinese government than an American, and the South would become a small beachhead, held together by a reluctant American occupying force. The more things change the more they stay the same.
Perhaps the only difference 10 years from now would be a reversal of power on the peninsula. The North would have sanctions lifted and massive amounts of aid thanks to Beijing. Across the new DMZ, a devastated South Korea – still ideologically opposed to their Northern neighbours – would struggle to supply basic public goods, would face a desperate and potentially hostile (or radioactively-mutant) population, and rely on an unwilling American administration for survival. We would finally lose the Korean war we began fighting in 1950.
The question then becomes: do you favour China’s system of government or America’s? That question deserves much more thought than one article could ever do justice. Indeed, that question is basically why the ANU exists. I know it’s tempting to focus on Trump’s misogyny, racism and sexism – it’s a real smorgasbord of ignorance – to discredit America’s system of governance, but no amount of poor leadership can ever discredit America’s founding documents. The separation of powers and the U.S. constitution are still some of the most genius human inventions ever envisioned. Our generation doesn’t quite grasp the value of democracy because we’ve never had to fight for it. But, when in doubt, remember the words of Winston Churchill: “Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”
To bomb the North would be to accelerate the decline of American power, and increase the international weight of China. If you’re like me, you agree that’s less than ideal. (Sorry to the Chinese spies reading this.)
My point is, if we are going to talk about nuking a country, we should talk about what we are going to do the day after. A series of major miracles would have to occur for Kim Jong-Un to be ousted and a free and democratic government created in his place. America should not give up it’s strong hand now for a weak one tomorrow. An evil regime you can live with may be a better option than no regime at all.
Guy is a second year Arts student, studying politics and history.