A Second Korean War Could Quickly Spread Across All of Asia

Not sure I agree with this yet but it’s a chilling scenario.

Brendan Scott

 and 

Adrian Leung
August 21, 2017, 5:00 PM EDT August 22, 2017, 12:51 AM EDT
  • Northeast Asia’s geography reveals the peril of any strike
  • Great powers risk being drawn into escalating conflict
0:140:30
Burns Says War With North Korea Is Not Imminent

Nick Burns, professor at Harvard Kennedy School, discusses Trump administration dealings with geopolitical events. He speaks with Bloomberg’s David Westin on ‘Bloomberg Daybreak: Americas.’ (Source: Bloomberg)

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A recent survey commissioned by the New York Times found that people who could find North Korea on a map were more likely to favor talks over military action. A glance at North Asia’s geography explains why.

More than six decades after the Korean War ended without a peace treaty, the peninsula remains bisected in a perpetual stalemate, with the U.S.-backed South Korean military lined up against more than a million North Korean troops. While tensions have occasionally flared — such as after Kim Jong Un’s weapons tests or threats of “merciless revenge” over American-led military exercises that began Monday — the two sides have so far staved off another devastating conflict.

The 250-kilometer (160-mile) border defined in a 1953 armistice lays bare one obvious peril of any confrontation: The demilitarized zone sits on the doorstep of the Seoul metropolitan area, where about half of South Korea’s 51 million people live.

North Korea has spent decades concealing hundreds of artillery batteries along the frontier that could wreak havoc in the southern capital, according to Joseph Bermudez, an analyst for the 38 North website run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. Those weapons could kill thousands of people and damage scores of factories in the time it took the U.S. to project “fire and fury” across the border, as President Donald Trump has warned.

“If all of a sudden artillery rounds started plopping down in the middle of the city, hitting those high-rises, there would be panic like you would not believe,” Bermudez said. “Not only are people killed by direct explosion, they’re killed by all the debris, and they’re killed by accident. You don’t need much artillery to do that.”

After an initial exchange of fire, the danger could quickly engulf the rest of South Korea and neighboring Japan, countries that have been American allies since World War II. More than 80,000 troops are based across the two countries and the U.S. territory of Guam, which would provide key staging areas for any American-led attack.

Those U.S. bases were within reach of Kim’s bombs long before his first successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile on July 4. Even if Kim still lacks the capacity to outfit those missiles with miniaturized nuclear warheads, he could cause plenty of damage with conventional and chemical weapons.

Kim would probably seek to maximize his advantage against more powerful foes by striking softer civilian targets in places like the greater Tokyo area, which is home to almost 40 million people. At the same time, North Koreans might look to escape the allied onslaught by flooding across the Yalu River to China. The region might also face environmental threats should the U.S. strike Kim’s heavy-water reactor north of the capital Pyongyang, scattering radioactive debris into the atmosphere and groundwater.

Mao Zedong’s decision to back China’s communist neighbors in North Korea was a key reason the U.S.-led United Nations forces were never able to achieve a decisive victory in the Korean War. China’s concern then — that a unified Korea could provide a springboard for attacks on its own territory — remains largely unchanged. And the world’s most populous country would be hard-pressed to remain on the sidelines if a full-fledged conflict erupted on its border.

Unlike his predecessor, Chinese President Xi Jinping commands a nuclear power with one of the world’s most advanced navies and air forces. Should China join a second Korean conflict, that firepower would make it harder for Trump to ensure the safety of the U.S. homeland — much less its bases and allies across Asia.

And don’t forget Russia, which shares borders with China, Japan and North Korea. Russian President Vladimir Putin is already challenging the U.S. in hotspots around the world.

The U.S. is constantly engaging with China and Russia to explain what it would do in a conflict to minimize the chance of an escalation, Bermudez said.

“It’s certainly possible to prevent superpower escalation,” he said. “Communication is the key here.”

Recess just started for Congress, and it’s not going to be much fun for Republicans

WHOOPS!

PowerPost

Recess just started for Congress, and it’s not going to be much fun for Republicans

 August 3
The Senate left town for the rest of the summer Thursday, bringing a historically unproductive period of governance to a close for Republicans, who failed to produce any major legislative achievements despite controlling Congress and the White House.

The Affordable Care Act they vowed to undo stands untouched. The sweeping tax overhaul they pledged has not materialized. A worsening relationship between President Trump and congressional Republicans threatens to create new roadblocks in September, when a looming funding crisis could shut down the government.

By their own accounts, Republicans have failed to enact the ambitious agenda they embarked upon when Trump and the GOP majorities swept into power in January. The president has fallen well short of the legislative pace his two predecessors set in their first six months on the job.

The lack of a signature accomplishment Republican lawmakers can highlight at home this month has given rise to a new level of finger-pointing and soul-searching in a party that stood triumphant eight months ago after winning back full control of the federal government.

“I think there’s a level of frustration,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said in an interview. “It’s more like a football team that knows that it can be good but is fumbling and committing too many boneheaded errors.”

On Thursday, Trump took another parting shot at lawmakers for failing to pass a health-care bill. “Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low. You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us HCare!” he tweeted, a day after he grudgingly signed an international sanctions bill that the Senate passed 98 to 2.

The Senate conducted a flurry of business on what was effectively its final workday of the summer, confirming dozens of executive-branch nominees to the State Department, the Treasury Department and other agencies. In addition, two bipartisan pairs of senators unveiled legislation to prevent Trump from firing special counsel Robert S. Mueller IIIwithout cause, and a group of Republican senators released a border security plan.

But as they wrapped up their work this week, Republican senators were eager to turn the page on the sharp political and policy disagreements and constant White House chaos that stalled their endeavors.

“I think we can spend time thinking about what didn’t happen,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). “[But] I don’t have enough hours in my day to do that. I’m just focused on what we’re going to be doing going forward.”

Many GOP lawmakers are still numb from last week’s failure to repeal and replace the ACA. While the House had earlier worked through painful disagreements and false starts to pass a health-care bill — and cheered with the president in a Rose Garden ceremony afterward — the Senate failed in a dramatic early-morning vote last Friday.

The breakdown of the effort to fulfill a seven-year promise left a particularly bitter taste in the mouths of Republicans departing from both sides of the Capitol. Some blamed Trump, saying he did not sell the plan aggressively enough, or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for failing to deliver. Others were critical of Murkowski and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who were adamant in their opposition to the health-care proposals that McConnell put together in secret. The two joined with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to kill a last-ditch bill to keep talks alive.

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“We had three chairmen who went rogue on the Republican caucus and cost us this vote,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), a Trump ally. Of the failed-health-care effort, he said: “That’s a problem. We spent a lot of energy on that. And we’re not done yet.”

Now, there is a tension about the way forward. Trump and some conservatives have said they are determined to keep prioritizing the repeal-and-replace effort. But Senate Republican leaders have moved on to a tax overhaul, the next big GOP target, with some planning more-modest fixes to the ACA on the side.

The tax effort, which lawmakers hope to dive deep into next month, could prove to be another tricky venture. Republicans must resolve intraparty disagreements and juggle other pressing deadlines as they pursue a broad overhaul.

McConnell is especially proud of confirming Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, a feat widely hailed in the Republican Party. Congress also passed a slate of regulatory changes under the Congressional Review Act, rolling back Obama-era rules.

But when it comes to the core policy issues they campaigned on, Republicans foundered.

“I think we’ve had one of the busier legislative years,” said Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.). “We just have not had a successful year as it relates to the large items.”

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