Reuters: Trump says ‘major, major’ conflict with North Korea possible

Reuters: Exclusive: Trump says ‘major, major’ conflict with North Korea possible, but seeks diplomacy.

The most important goal  of  the IARPA crowd sourcing intelligence program was to improve the ability of the U.S. intelligence community to predict conflict and revolutions. North Korea is obviously on the top of the intelligence community’s menu.  So I can’t duck the obvious question.

The question would be posed to members of the intelligence community in terms of probabilities and timelines, which could be updated daily. I don’t feel the need to spin the wheel daily in this blog. It would simply bore you. But a version of this question can be answered with very compact, compelling reasoning. The question is:

“Will the U.S. – North Korea conflict on nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles end in a negotiated settlement while Kim Jong-un is in power?”

The answer is no. A unique combination of facts work on both North Korea and the U.S. to prevent it.

The power base of Kim Jong-un is weak. This has been repeatedly emphasized by defectors as the cause of rampant executions of high level functionaries. And the executions do not cure the weakness; they may even exacerbate it. The rule of the dictator is a combination of carrot and stick. Too much  stick devalues loyalty;  the carrot becomes irrelevant to happiness.  Hence:

  • The rule of Kim Jong-un is too weak to survive cancellation of these programs.
  • If Kim Jong-un is deposed, it is most likely that he will die. He is too dangerous to his challengers to be left alive.
  • In the protracted negotiations with the father, Kim Jong-il, under the 1994 framework, the program slowed, or appeared to stop for periods, but no assets were relinquished by North Korea. Hence the son cannot relinquish assets.
  • The portraits of father and son hang side-by-side. This is not for decoration. It is symbolic proclamation that the son is the continuation of the father. A loss of symbolic continuity would immediately activate the weakness of the son’s power base.

About the rationality of Kim Jong-un, Trump says,

“I’m not giving him credit or not giving him credit, I’m just saying that’s a very hard thing to do. As to whether or not he’s rational, I have no opinion on it. I hope he’s rational,” he said.

Perhaps Kim Jong-un is rational in the desire to stay alive. But more than anything else his presidency can accomplish, Trump has personally staked himself to solution of this problem.

The IARPA program included multi part questions. Part B could be:

“If there is an active U.S. – North Korea conflict, will China participate on the U.S. side?”

This question has a hidden dependency. If the progression towards conflict, which has now started, proceeds in a concert of the U.S. and China, the answer is  yes,  to nonmilitary, but extremely effective steps.  North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure cannot be eradicated by air power alone.  So there is a strong incentive on the part of the U.S. for a combination of  military and economic pressure, with the object of regime change.

The bullet list has tight linkages, implying that the object of regime change is identical as a goal with nuclear disarmament of North Korea