North Korea, the Mouse that Roared (#47)
On June 25th, 1950, the Socialist North Korea, then a post World War II Soviet Union (Russia) satellite, invaded South Korea, with Russia’s backing. The United States of America (U.S.), leading the United Nations (U.N.) forces came to capitalist South Korea’s defense and pushed the invading North Korean forces well back into their territory. Then communist China intervened, sending in waves of troops that pushed the U.S. and U.N. forces back until a deal was made between Russia, China and America, to arbitrarily draw a border (today’s ‘Demilitarized Zone’) and sign the ‘Armistice’ in 1953. Since then, an extremely uneasy truce has settled into constant threats and counter threats between the two Koreas. The North is still backed by Russia and China, who use their veto power in the Security Council in the U.N. to water down any U.S. sponsored sanctions that might really hurt it, and support it financially, directly and indirectly. The South (Korea) is backed directly by the U.S., militarily, economically and politically, and by the West generally.
Since the very beginning, after World War II, the Korean conflict has been a proxy war of political ideology between the giants, authoritarian and socialist Russia and China, and their main adversaries, the capitalist and democratic World led by the U.S. and the West.
But from the time North Korea acquired nuclear capability, apparently from Pakistan, with additional assistance in technology and parts from Russia and China, and became an independent threat that no one wants to confront militarily (not the U.S., and not even China), the dynamics have changed. Now North Korea is the ‘Mouse’ that roars and sends shivers down the spine of the U.S., South Korea and Japan particularly, and indeed the rest of the World.
Strangely though, North Korea and the U.S. have some common ideologies that become apparent upon reflection.
Both the countries believe strongly in the military culture, and are totally committed to it.
North Korea follows ‘Songun’, the policy of ‘military first’, and has an inordinate amount of its budget, >23% of its GDP committed to defense spending, making it the number one country in the World in defense spending by the percentage of its GDP. This massive spending in terms of its total economy supports the fourth largest army in the World, behind China, the U.S. and India. Considering North Korea’s small size as a country, its population and its economy, having the fourth (4th) largest army in the World is absurd.
Unlike the three giant countries with larger armies, North Korea has a population of approximately 25 Million, as compared to over 350 Million for the U.S., and well over a Billion each, for China and India.
In terms of the size of its economy, North Korea’s GDP is approximately $30 Billion, as compared to: China’s, approximately $11 Trillion, the U.S., approximately $18 Trillion, and approximately $2.45 Trillion for India. These numbers show the extraordinary level of expenditure North Korea is willing to undertake annually for its defense capabilities, considering its tiny $30 billion economy.
One could argue North Korea exists only to serve its despotic leaders and to arm itself against what they perceive as a hostile World. Its people are little more than home grown captive slaves.
Comparatively, the U.S. spends a mere 3-4% of its annual GDP on its defense apparatus, BUT, it is the number one country by a ‘country mile’ in the size of its Defense Budget, which ranges from $570 Billion to $700 Billion per year, which is larger than the next five countries combined. China comes in at a distant second, with an approximately and comparatively speaking, a paltry $130 - $140 Billion (2% GDP) in annual defense expenditure. India spends about $50 Billion, or between 2% to 3% of its annual GDP.
The U.S. is one of the most war-like countries in the World, having been involved in wars of one kind or another continuously for over 200 years. Even today, the U.S. is directly involved in two overt long running wars which it started, and ongoing covert and proxy wars that it has been forever supporting.
War is a business, a big business with the U.S., and it takes it seriously. Therefore, its military culture dominates its politics and its industry, while its armed forces are fed an enormous amount of funding every year without much protest from the public which lacks proper healthcare and social services, as compared to the other advanced countries, for which there never seems to be quite enough money.
The U.S. feels it is never armed well enough to feel safe from all its enemies it creates or imagines, and in spite of its massive defense spending, it always feels it is falling behind in its defense capability to its adversaries. North Korea is similarly inclined, over-feeding its defense spending, while its people lack food and the very basics for decent living. These feelings of paranoia and inadequacy come from their own hostility to other countries and ideologies from which they then feel imminently threatened.
In a way, both the countries act in the same manner to create enemies, by attacking others, and then justifying their paranoia and fear when those countries react to their aggression. From the sense of perpetual vulnerability, both the U.S. and North Korea are eerily similar, spending an inordinate amount of money in arming themselves, and yet feeling totally vulnerable and threatened, leading to a sense of almost comic paranoia. The North Korean mouse, and the U.S. as the proverbial lion, like to roar militarily to ward off perceived and real enemies, preferably backed by their nuclear arsenals.
Currently, North Korea is playing by the ‘Super-Power’ playbook. Decades earlier, both the U.S. and Russia raced each other to develop the largest and most powerful nuclear arsenal in the World. Both succeeded. Other developed countries like England, France and Israel followed suit, as did some of the larger emerging countries like China, India and Pakistan.
That accomplishment has gone down in the history books as the military strategy of ‘nuclear deterrence’. The idea being, just having serious nuclear capability (the possession of nuclear weapons and the ability to swiftly and accurately deliver them on short and long range missiles) would be enough to deter an enemy from attacking. It worked, because since then no major nuclear armed nation has seriously gone to open and full-on war with a nuclear armed adversary.
North Korea took that example set by the major powers to heart, and in spite of being a geographic and economic pip-squeak, comparatively speaking, it committed itself to a dedicated plan to acquire and build nuclear capability to the degree that even the most powerful countries like the U.S. would be extremely reluctant to engage it in battle. In that mission, by and large, it has succeeded well enough that no country, or a group of countries, dare attack it now.
Retd. General James ‘Bulldog’ Mattis, the current Secretary of Defense of the U.S., has stated that attacking North Korea militarily would be “catastrophic”! For North Korea, mission accomplished!
North Korea today is the 9th Nuclear Power of the World. It is the Mouse that dares to roar directly in the face of the U.S. lion, and the lion is forced to grumble, scheme and complain publicly, but it dare not attack the little Mouse: That’s Nuclear Deterrence.