Recently, I wrote a report on how Kim Jong-un’s missile tests have been thwarted by the Pentagon and the NSA’s (National Security Agency) coordinating and deploying “left of launch” tactics from the United States Cyber Command (USCyberCom).
Absent any other plausible explanation, it appears that our cyber warfare warriors have landed another punch against Kim’s missile program after a North Korean missile test in South Pyeongan province, north of Pyongyang on Friday was unsuccessful. It disintegrated after only reaching an altitude of 44 miles (71km), not even leaving North Korean airspace. South Korean and U.S. authorities believe the missile was a KN-17 also known as a “No Dong”, which was proudly displayed in the anniversary ceremonies, the “Day of the Sun” for North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung.
Actually, though – there are additional strategies that can be adopted to pull the plug on Kim’s aggressive push to acquire nuclear weapons. Most of them involve North Korea’s steadfast ally, China.
China’s relationship to the regime in Pyongyang and the role it could play in controlling Kim’s behavior, has been much discussed of late. The reality is that even if some argue that China has little leverage to bring North Korea to heel, China has even less interest in doing so. China sees North Korea and the Kim dictatorship as a convenient cat’s paw with which to threaten U.S. allies in the region – chiefly, Japan and South Korea – as this map of the area illustrates:
Of course, this status comes with attendant risks and drawbacks, but up to now, China has weighed the advantages and disadvantages and concluded maintaining the status quo is more in their interest. As Bruce Klinger in National Interest, describes the problem:
“China’s reluctance to strongly pressure its ally provides Pyongyang a feeling of impunity that encourages it toward further belligerence. North Korea is willing to directly challenge China’s calls for peace, stability, and denuclearization by repeatedly upping the ante to achieve its objectives—including buying time to further augment its nuclear and missile capabilities.”
The idea that China has no cards to play in dialing back North Korea’s destabilizing activities is highly disputable when the facts are examined. If the old saying, “where there is a will, there is a way”, has any truth to it, the record with regard to China’s relationship with North Korea demonstrates that there is a way, simply not a will to impose its will on the Kim regime.
With this in mind, the U.S. and our allies are going to have to move forward without China. But does that necessarily mean that military force is imperative and the only workable option? Although the past history of the situation would suggest that it is the case, we may not have exhausted all of our available alternatives.
As Peter Brookes, Senior Fellow (National Security Affairs) at the Heritage Foundation points out, “Diplomacy and ‘soft power’ options such as economic sanctions are always more effective when backed up by the credible threat of force”.
NEW: USS Carl Vinson strike group reaches Sea of Japan, nearly three weeks after announcement it would head there, US Pacific Fleet says. pic.twitter.com/yLVf2NoaEZ
— ABC News (@ABC) April 29, 2017
So given that we have the ‘credible threat of force’, how then can we augment it with ‘soft power’? First, the U.S. must use more firm methods of persuasion to compel China to stop providing their neighbors with strategic materials.
On the aforementioned “Day of the Sun”, it was observed that the transport trucks that were employed as mobile platforms for the regime’s KN-11 SLBMs, were of Chinese origin – a state-owned firm named Sinotruk (China National Heavy Duty Truck Group Co., Ltd.). The tires on many of the vehicles in the military display were from another Chinese company, Triangle Group.
When questioned about this, both firms provided explanations that were less than credible; a spokesperson from Sinotruk telling Reuters, “From my understanding, we haven’t had any business with the North Korean market since last year. North Korea has never been a major focus of ours.” Last year, incidentally, was only 4 months ago.
It was only because components of the rocket, including the boosters that launched the North’s Kwangmyongsong-4 satellite, fell back into the Yellow Sea, that South Korea’s navy was able to retrieve and analyze the parts and discover their origin – Chinese aerospace firms. When U.N. inspectors contacted the businesses, it quickly became apparent that the Chinese government instructed them to maintain silence.
The North is receiving software and other strategic items that, although banned under U.N. Security Council sanctions, have nevertheless been traced back to China. It doesn’t require a Sherlock Holmes to detect where North Korea is getting military related technology, since it is known that the North sources more than 80 percent of its imports from China.
“There’s all kinds of slack in the system,” Joshua Pollack, a former consultant to U.S. government agencies on arms control and a senior research associate with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies told the Washington Post. “It could be that the Chinese don’t care enough to do much about it. A second possibility is that they don’t have the systems — such as strong export controls — in place. Or that it’s just corruption.”
Of parts retrieved by the South Korean navy from a launch of the North’s Unha-3 rocket, the Washington Post outlines:
Investigators determined that the Unha-3’s frame was indigenously made. But inside the rocket’s shell was an array of electronics, including specialized pressure sensors, transmitters and circuitry. An extensive probe by U.S. and South Korean officials revealed that many of the components had been manufactured in Western countries and shipped to North Korea by Chinese distributors — a finding that was echoed in the United Nations Panel of Experts report made public on March 9.
Richard Fisher, an analyst at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, who specializes in China and Korea research, has reported that China has been providing the North with materials and equipment necessary to produce Lithium 6, a key component in the Kim regime’s development of nuclear weapons. Fisher told USA Today that, “Only when these leaders (Chinese) are identified and given the international opprobrium they deserve, will they even bother to consider changing their policies.”
Lastly, the U.S. and its allies must push harder for uniform enforcement of the sanctions that the U.N. has imposed. And again, we find China’s fingerprints on illegal transactions, functioning as a money launderer. The U.N. Panel of Experts reported that the Bank of China’s Singapore branch received tens of millions from Pyongyang.
Beyond this, tougher enforcement must be implemented on sanctions issued by America on our allies themselves. This also includes the Treasury Department cutting off access to U.S. financial firms to any and all parties now engaged in business with the Hermit Kingdom. “That would shut down North Korea’s missile and conventional weapon sales, which represent 40% of the nation’s economy”, according to Bruce Bechtol from Angelo State University, Texas, who teaches political science and is a noted expert on North Korea.