Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Archive for August, 2017

An Attack on Guam?

Posted by butalidnl on 14 August 2017

On 9 August 2017, General Kim Rok Gyon, head of North Korean Strategic Forces, announced that they were planning to fire 4 medium-range missiles at Guam. These missiles will be set to hit the waters around Guam – about 30 kilometers away from it. He said that the plan will be presented to Kim Jung Un by the middle of August. In response, the US declared that it will defend its territory (Guam is a part of the US), and that North Korea will be sorry if it attacked Guam.

Does this mean that nuclear war is about to break out? Or, will there be war on the Korean peninsula? Perhaps; but I don’t think so. Not even if North Korea does indeed fire missiles towards Guam.

Kim Jung Un may calculate that the US could not afford to retaliate against ‘enveloping’ Guam with missile strikes on water – after all, this would merely be another test. But he would then be ignoring two big changes in the strategic situation. First, that the US believes NKorea has the capability to load nuclear warheads on its missiles. And second, that China has changed its stance towards the NKorea – US conflict: by announcing that if NKorea initiates a conflict, it will remain neutral; but if the US seeks to attack and occupy NKorea, it will move to stop it.  These make up for a changed situation vis-a-vis a possible NKorean missile launch against Guam.

What could happen?
US-SKorea joint military exercises will start in a few days. This could be the time (judging from past experience) that Kim Jung-Un would order the launching of missiles towards Guam.
Right after missiles are launched towards Guam (and after the US radar has confirmed this to be so), the US could declare that NKorea has attacked America. This would then mean that, since the US would only be responding, China will remain neutral in any eventual confrontation. The US will almost surely shoot down the NKorean missiles way before it nears Guam.
Immediately after the missiles are launched, warplanes will take off from US aircraft carriers, airfields in SKorea, Japan and Guam, and military moved out of bases in the region (dispersal in case of nuclear war). The US would have to assume that the missiles have nuclear warheads, and respond accordingly.
A ‘minimum’ response would be for the US to attack one or more NKorean missile and/or nuclear sites with cruise missiles. The damage such a strike would cause will probably be minimal, but the political effect will be substantial.  Given China’s neutrality, Kim Jung Un could not order a retaliatory strike against South Korea; because it will mean that NKorea will be hit by overwhelming US firepower. Besides, why end his regime (as a result of a nuclear war) because of US strikes that did minimal damage? So, he will declare that the US attack had not really hurt his country, and that he had won. Other countries will celebrate the fact that war had been averted.
But Kim would not have won, because the US would have established a precedent – it had attacked NKorea without a substantial response. It could follow-up by declaring that it would shoot down any NKorean missiles it chooses to shoot down. And it could get away with shooting down NKorea’s missiles, because of the precedent of the cruise missile strikes.  After doing this, the US will effectively prevent NKorea from continuing with its testing of missles – meaning that it would not be able to develop an ICBM that could strike the US.

If NKorea is no longer able to test launch its missiles, after a suitable period, the US could initiate a dialogue with its leaders. They could demand a freeze on the development of its nuclear and missile technology, and since that would be what actually would already be in place,  NKorea may then agree.  A package of economic benefits could be thrown in to make the agreement palatable to the NKoreans.

What if something else  happens?
The above scenario is why I think that Kim Jung Un will do something else.  He is probably intellligent enough not to risk loss of face if he loses a confrontation with the US. So, he could do two things:
First, he does nothing for a long while. This would be good, since tensions would cool as months go by. It also means that China will be under pressure to really implement the sanctions against it. With time, the NKorean economy will suffer, and perhaps Kim’s political grip will weaken.
Second, he will do something else.  Kim could simply order new missile tests that do not head toward Guam. Or he could have a nuclear test (I suspect that Chinese pressure had kept him from doing so recently).  The US could (should?) try to shoot down these missiles, even if they were set to splash in international waters. The NKoreans will be trying to perfect re-entry and targetting capacities of its missiles – and if they are shot in mid-flight, NKorean scientists will not learn anything from such tests.

Whichever scenario unfolds, NKorea will continue with their inflammatory rhetoric. But,  if this is not accompanied by steady progress in its missile technology, they will be just whiffs of hot air.

And Guam will be safe from future attacks from NKorea.


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Will US regain its lead on climate change?

Posted by butalidnl on 5 August 2017

I came across an article that asked whether the Trump boycott of the Paris Climate Accord would result in a temporary loss of the US’ lead on climate change. This is based on the assumption that when the US rejoins ‘Paris’, it will resume its lead role.  This is strange, because the US had not been leading the fight against climate change.  Instead, the US had led in causing climate change, since it was the largest emitter of carbon dioxide (it has recently been overtaken by China).

Obama’s about-turn on climate change helped climate negotiators in Paris in 2015 to finally come to an agreement.  Numerous previous international conferences on the climate had failed because of the opposition of the US, China and India.  The US may be said to have ‘led’ the movement against climate change from 2015 to 2017, only because it had stopped its opposition to a multilateral agreement. But this ‘lead’ is rather dubious.

The US had not signed the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, making it the only OECD country not to do so.  This, after it had done its best to water down the agreement during the Kyoto conference itself.  Since then, the US had lagged behind the rest of the OECD in terms of cutting its carbon dioxide emissions.

In 2015, US president Obama not only reversed the US’ opposition to multilateral environmental agreements; he helped to convince India and China to also do so.  Both China and India signed the Paris Agreement which allowed them to continue increasing carbon emissions for a few years, before they would then be expected to reduce them, allowing them to continue economic development.

Both India and China are now enthusiastic supporters of the Paris Accord. They are expected to sharpen their carbon dioxide emission goals during the 2019 follow-up conference.  They have reaffirmed their commitment to ‘Paris’ even after the Trump withdrawal.

The US stands alone in its perception that it is advanced when it comes to climate policy. Many of its top politicians (mostly Republican) are climate-change deniers, i.e. they don’t believe that human activity is the main contributor to global warming. Vice President Pence recently stated this explicitly.  And climate change consciousness is not really internalized by even its most staunch advocates. For example, Al Gore resorts to offsets (i.e. buying renewable energy elsewhere to offset his personal carbon output),  instead of directly reducing his own carbon output.

US transportation is ‘dirty’. Medium- and long-distance travel is almost exclusively done by plane; transport by goods is mostly by truck.  The US train system is  backward.
US auto emission standards are modest when compared with that of the EU. The EU emission target for 2021 is 95 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer; the US aims to attain this only by 2024.  And the emission standards for SUVs and pick-up trucks, which are used by a lot of people in the US, are significantly higher. Now, the Trump administration wants to scrap emission standards altogether.

Americans think that their country is advanced in terms of climate change, partly because some American companies have advanced products that address climate change issues.  For example, Tesla has its car; but I think this will more likely sell better in other countries, rather than in  the US.

Germany leads in terms of deployed solar panels per capita; while China leads in manufacturing solar panels, and in the use of solar heating. Iceland leads in the use of geothermal energy. Sweden leads in terms of recycling; more recycling means that energy that is used to process raw materials (and thus, lower carbon dioxide production). Norway leads in the (per capita) use of electric cars.

No single country leads the campaign against climate change. Each country strives to reduce their carbon dioxide output following a specific path based on their situation. Even the US, which has withdrawn from ‘Paris’ contributes in its own way.
The US will rejoin ‘Paris’ a few years from now. But it will not lead the movement.




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