Long-laid plans by the United States and recent moves by both its military and media assets in the Asia-Pacific reveal what appears to be an attempt to undermine and exploit perceived weakness within the leadership of North Korea, topple the government, and replace it with a regime gravitating geopolitically toward Seoul and in turn, Washington.
Such a move would strip from Beijing a valuable buffer between itself and America’s military presence on the Korean Peninsula and remove a crucial check-and-balance to American military assets across the greater Pacific region. Additionally, such a move could possibly put a dangerously destabilized, failed state right on Beijing’s doorstep.
The Council on Foreign Relations, a US-based think tank representing the collective special interests that dominate American and transatlantic politics, published in 2009 a lengthy report titled, “Preparing for Sudden Change in North Korea.” In it is expressed Washington’s desire to see North Korea integrated politically and economically into South Korea and laid out provisions for sending across the demilitarized zone (DMZ) a substantial 460,000 strong “stabilization force” to neutralize Pyongyang’s security forces and occupy the country until integration could be completed.
Such a “stabilization force” would ideally already be prepared under the guise of joint US-South Korean military exercises, and mobilized opportunistically when it appeared that the government in Pyongyang was at a tipping point. To bring Pyongyang to such a tipping point, the United States has already begun preparing political subversion through the same covert methods used recently in the Arab Spring and Ukraine, where activists were trained, funded and equipped years before the initial unrest began.
In Foreign Policy’s article, “Revolution U,” it was revealed that the same organizations working with the US State Department to prepare political subversion in the Middle East and Eastern Europe were also in Seoul preparing North Korean activists to do likewise upon their return home. What progress they have made since the article’s publishing in 2011 is unknown, but it is likely that efforts are still ongoing to create a united and formidable political front for the purpose of regime change from within while the United States and its regional allies put pressure on Pyongyang externally through sanctions and the threat of military confrontation.
The Proxy War Between China and America
The term “proxy war” has been used with increasing frequency in regards to Syria and Ukraine, noting that the principle belligerents driving the conflicts are not actually Syrians or Ukrainians (though they most certainly are doing most of the fighting), but rather the West in its pursuit of hegemony versus Iran and Russia respectively. In Syria’s case, Russia can be seen clearly also entwined with Damascus’ fate, as a long time ally and dependent on the Arab state for access to the Mediterranean.
For China, it too is involved in multiple proxy confrontations with the West. These include in Sudan, Myanmar, the South China Sea, and of course upon the Korean Peninsula.
To illustrate this, the London Telegraph published an article titled, “China plans for North Korean regime collapse leaked.” In the article it states, “China has drawn up detailed contingency plans for the collapse of the North Korean government, suggesting that Beijing has little faith in the longevity of Kim Jong-un’s regime.” It goes on to claim, “documents drawn up by planners from China’s People’s Liberation Army that were leaked to Japanese media include proposals for detaining key North Korean leaders and the creation of refugee camps on the Chinese side of the frontier in the event of an outbreak of civil unrest in the secretive state.”
The report’s origin or veracity is never confirmed within the Telegraph’s article, but the intention of the “leak” and the way it is being spun is clear. It is to drive a wedge between Beijing and those leaders that may potentially be “arrested” by a Chinese stabilization force. It is also to further shake international confidence regarding the stability of Pyongyang’s government, an ongoing effort that includes regular tales of unbelievable (and unverified) brutality and infighting within the North Korean government.
The Telegraph’s article does hint that the measures put in place by China are in response to anticipated subversion by “foreign forces,” a clear reference to the United States and its long-stated agenda of integrating North Korea under Seoul.
The Next “Ukraine”
North Korea, if unable to remain united and confront foreign efforts to destabilize it economically and politically, could very well end up much like Ukraine is today; fractured, engaged in a low-intensity civil war, and with its neighbors carving out their respective spheres of influence from its territory.
China is surely studying the missteps of the United States, NATO and the European Union in Ukraine and formulating a strategy to preempt such a costly and disruptive scenario from playing out along its borders. China, lacking the media prowess of Russia and unable to communicate either its own interests or perspective to the rest of the world effectively, coupled with the long-standing efforts of the United States to vilify North Korea, adds up to a vast disadvantage Beijing will have to account for.
Additionally, Beijing has no demonstrated experience in conducting extraterritorial military operations, the sort that would be required to challenge US and South Korean forces (or their proxies) in North Korean territory. This may be an advantage or disadvantage for Beijing depending on the actual state of preparedness and capability of Chinese forces. Should they be resolute and competent, they may take by surprise a Washington that has underestimated their capabilities and left themselves ill-prepared to counter them.
Should Chinese forces be unable to perform however, Beijing may find itself with a particularly troublesome conflict edging up to its borders and perhaps even beyond them. It may also find itself at a geopolitical disadvantage elsewhere with a world believing China is unable to protect its interests even on its own doorstep.
The dangers of a proxy conflict on the Korean Peninsula are obvious. Home to some 75 million people and an economically important center within East Asia, a proxy war spilling over into both China and South Korea would be devastating in terms of human life, the greater economic viability of Asia, and the political stability across Asia-Pacific. That the US is actively seeking to undermine and destabilize North Korea and contemplating the deployment of nearly half a million troops to occupy the country, especially considering Washington’s track record in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and now Ukraine, is a truly frightening aspect.
It may be in the best interest of others within Asia-Pacific and beyond, to lend Beijing of what it is critically lacking before this proxy war grows any larger, if for no other reason but to pose as a deterrence for policy makers in Washington and Seoul. For South Koreans, it is in their best interest to look past the nationalistic propaganda used to entice them into short-term support for this agenda, and see the long-term suffering they may undergo if such a conflict is actualized.
Ulson Gunnar is a New York-based geopolitical analyst and writer especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”