North Korea – An Opportunity for China to Assert its Global Leadership

Credit for above photo: Airunp WikimediaCommons

The way China acts with regard to the current crisis on the Korean Peninsula could represent a key turning point in the evolution of the international world order. It could be as symbolic as the United States taking over the role of the British Empire in the Greek Civil War in 1947. To many that represented the peaceful transfer of global hegemonic power from Pax Britannica to Pax Americana.

China is currently an aspiring hegemonic power though currently fails to realise its potential primarily because it focuses on deploying only its hard power in the form of territorial aggrandisement. Such an approach causes the countries it wants to lead to be nervous of its power. China could learn much by studying the rise of the United States in the twentieth century. Chinese foreign policy would be better served by deploying its massive cultural potential and historic leadership role in the region that goes back to ancient times.

China may currently be nervous of a united Korea but it shouldn’t be. Its unease probably arises from the assumption that a united Korea would be an America client. However, by doing so China is underestimating its geostrategic potential. In many regards China has been presented with a huge opportunity.

If China unilaterally decided to liberate North Korea and announced its intention to facilitate the creation of a free and united Korea at the outset it would gain immense international prestige that would dwarf anything that it has previously achieved in the modern era. As a result, its cultural influence would expand exponentially. Such action could even permanently dislodge the United States from its position of preeminance in South Korea and the wider region.

China appears to be in favour of a rule based international economic order. If it started to adopt a similar approach to international politics and focused on being a bulwark of international law and using its soft rather than its hard power then China would be closer to its ultimate aim of providing regional and even global leadership.

However, the Chinese liberation of North Korea would have to be accompanied by a major shift in Chinese geopolitical doctrine for its effects to be decisive. At the moment, China is in dispute with many of its neighbours in the South China Sea where it has displayed unreasonable territorial ambitions. It should commit itself to an amicable resolution of that dispute.

If China behaved honourably in Korea and followed this up with a solution to the South China Sea dispute it would begin to realise its desire to be a real leader in global affairs. This could even be the first step in the restoration of China as the Middle Kingdom in fact rather than just name.


Nuclear War on the Korean Peninsula – Danger to Carrier Strike Group 1?

The oft quoted curse, “may you live in interesting times” certainly applies to the contemporary Korean peninsula. A US carrier battle group (Carrier Strike Group 1) led by the Nimitz class supercarrier USS Carl Vinson currently steams into the region (1) to confront the Pyongyang regime’s nuclear weapons programme. In the meantime, the North Korean arsenal is put on display in a military parade (2). Another article headline screams “US War With North Korea ‘may break out at any moment'” (3).

The Americans can be rightly proud of their military prowess. However, is the US task force vulnerable to a North Korean nuclear strike? Could the fleet be taken out with one blast? North Korea certainly has the missile technology.


Vice-Admiral B.B. Schofield C.B., C.B.E. writing in the journal of Royal United Services Institution states:

“It is true that great strides have been made in providing anti-aircraft protection to forces so engaged, but whereas an interception rate of 95 per cent, of hostile aircraft would be quite acceptable in non-nuclear war, it is no longer so in repelling an attack by aircraft armed with nuclear weapons” (4).

The 95% interception rate mentioned above article may not good enough if the North Koreans deployed a nuclear weapon as part of an intensive conventional attack that gave the fleet innumerable targets to worry about. If a nuke gets through, then the fleet’s role in the war is over and South Korea is wide open to conventional and nuclear attack, as well as massive invasion.

The Americans may therefore opt for a first strike including the tactical use of nuclear weapons. They may also need to deploy tactical nuclear weapons at the outset against an advancing North Korean army to avoid South Korea being overrun.

To delay and prevaricate might invite the disaster of a North Korean first strike on the fleet, America’s principle method of projecting its power.

Would the American’s have to embark on a full-scale blitzkrieg style invasion to accompany any attack by the carrier battle group? Or would special forces specifically targeting North Korea’s nuclear strike capability suffice?

None of this even considers a simultaneous North Korean nuclear attack against American allies in the region. How likely would it be for a desperate regime to launch such an attack on Japanese population centres? What would be the economic impact of even a limited nuclear war on the already fragile global economy?

I think an America conquest of North Korea is possible but the costs – material, human, economic and political – could be extremely high. Perhaps it would be better if the American’s gave the green light for China to officially annex North Korea and displace the current regime. That’s if the Chinese were willing! That would at least maintain North Korea as some sort of buffer between superpower and would-be superpower and maintain a state of stability and strategic balance. It would also transfer the North Korean nuclear missile stock to more responsible and rational hands.

However, after saying all this, I suspect the whole military posturing by the Trump Administration is merely a strategic bluff to be used to encourage China to act in a way more beneficial to US interests. If this is the case it may be a very shrewd gambit that could yield wide ranging benefits to the United States.

Interesting times indeed!

(1) ‘Powerful’ USS Carl Vinson Steams Toward North Korea

(2) North Korea Displays Apparently New Missiles as U.S. Carrier Group Approaches

(3) US War With North Korea ‘may break out at any moment’ (4) The Employment of Nuclear Weapons at Sea, by Vice-Admiral B.B. Schofield C.B., C.B.E., Royal United Services Institution Journal. Pages 168-171, published online 11 September 2009.

Cold War Front Lines: Memories From The Border With The German Democratic Republic, 1975

Written 18 October 2013.


Above: Germany 1975: Adults suit up for a drive, while a young Chris Knowles inspects one of NATO’s military assets.

If you think we have it bad today, when I wer’ a lad things were much worse! (in the spirit of Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen)

I am one of those people who can remember my very early childhood.  I once assumed that everyone was the same, but to my shock I found that not everyone could. Perhaps they are compensated with a better short term memory or something?  One of my earliest memories of a family holiday (I have many even earlier memories of other things!) related to a trip to Germany in 1975, when I was only three years old.

Life At The Barracks

Above: From NATO heartland to the border of the Warsaw Pact: There and back again in a yellow Volkswagen Beetle. With young Chris Knowles at the controls!

We were staying south west of Hannover at Hobart Barracks in Detmold in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.  The 20th Armoured Brigade of the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) was based at these barracks and this area could be described as one of the front line defensive positions in the Cold War.  We were staying with a family friend who was a serving soldier at the time.  We travelled through Belgium, Holland, and a good part of Germany in our yellow Volkswagen Beetle to get there.  We got to the continent via a Sealink ferry from Dover, and coincidently I remember Rod Stewart’s Sailing being played on the radio – my first remembrance of a specific piece of music (

 We stayed my at parents’ friends home   They lived in married quarters on the base and had a couple of kids of around my own age which added to the fun of my stay.  It was interesting to experience a military environment at such a young age and in a way had I to bear the brunt of military logic myself in my own small way.  At some point during my stay, I came down with a bad case of tonsillitis.  The camp doctor refused me penicillin, which was a real pain for me at the time.  Of course this refusal made sense from the perspective of a military doctor who would have to face a nightmare scenario in the event that antibiotics lost their general effectiveness through overuse on relatively trivial complaints.

“Inner German Border”

The border between East and West Germany was known as the “Inner German Border” (1).  It was along this line that opposing armies faced each other and watched for movement on the other side. In places like Detmold NATO forces stood poised, ready to repel the Soviet hordes at a moment’s notice and prevent their tanks from rolling into Western Europe.

While staying at the base my parents and their friends planned a trip to the Harz Mountains which formed the border with the East.  We were told in no uncertain terms to be careful and received some sound military advice.  We were warned not to wander in the woods at the border lest we inadvertently cross into the German Democratic Republic (GDR/East Germany).

There were no fences separating East and West but there were other hazards such as minefields but they were not the only thing to worry about.  We were told that East German snipers ensconced in the hills on the Eastern side of the border may let us cross into the GDR but might not be so obliging when we tried to cross back into West German territory. Concern about snipers, tanks, and minefields certainly provided the makings of a “fun” childhood holiday!

Though there were no fences in the Harz Mountains that separated East and West, the fences and obstacles elsewhere show how determined the Warsaw Pact was at preventing people escaping to the West.  The following illustration, that can be found at Wikipedia, provides a visual representation of what would be escapees would have to contend with:


The description that accompanies the illustration at Wikipedia reads as follows:

“The border shown in the diagram cuts across a road which formerly linked east and west. Proceeding from west to east, the zonal border is marked on the western side by signposts saying “HALT HIER GRENZE” (“STOP HERE BORDER”). Just behind the border, there is a border marker pole with diagonal black, red and yellow stripes. A short distance after the zonal border, i.e. on the Eastern side, the road is dug up, so there is an anti-vehicle ditch across its whole width. Then follows a metal-mesh fence, with a double gate where the road is. To the left of the road, the metal-mesh fence forks to form a double fence; the area between the two fences is mined. Near the road, instead of a second metal-mesh fence, there is a concrete-faced anti-vehicle ditch. Next follows a flood-lit control strip; behind that, a guard patrol road running parallel to the border. After that comes a strip of open green territory containing various types of guard towers, a dog run and an observation bunker; this is delimited by a signal fence which has floodlights spaced at regular intervals. The signal fence curves around a village that is close to the border, excluding it from the border strip. Where it crosses the road, the signal fence has a gate, and further up the road, i.e. deeper in East German territory, the road is blocked by a horizontal barrier, beside which there is a little house.”

We could potentially have had a pretty nasty surprise if we had gone down to the woods that day!

Seven Days To The River Rhine

In 1979, four years after my holiday at the Barracks at Detmold, the Warsaw Pact came up with a military plan entitled “Seven Days to the River Rhine”.  This was a plan to penetrate Western Europe up to the River Rhine, following a Western nuclear first strike (2).


Above: Warsaw Pact Battle Plans: Seven Days To The River Rhine

A rather alarming map complete with mushroom cloud graphics that relates to this plan can be found HERE (3).

The existence of such scenarios demonstrates quite clearly how, back in those days, even on days when you were enjoying a pleasant holiday in Germany, World War III could have broken out at any time.

Being present at a front line barracks in that war might not have made much difference, we were all under threat of immediate destruction wherever we were, even if we were hiding under our beds at home.

Perhaps the modern armageddon of global economic meltdown is not so bad when compared with being vaporised on your German holidays.


(1) Inner German Border (Wikipedia)

(2) Poland risks Russia’s wrath with Soviet nuclear attack map. Nicholas Watt, The Guardian, 26/11/2005.

(3) What World War III Might Have Looked Like (The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the Twenty-First Century)

Banana Split: The Great Banana War Rages – Is No Tropical Fruit Safe?

3_Bananas with size reduced from 1563 x 1321 to 640 x 541 px

Above: 3 bananas on a yellow background. 19 February 2007. Originally posted to Flickr as [][2]. Uploaded using F2ComButton. Author Rick Harris. Republished under the terms of Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Modifications: File size changed from 1563 x 1321 px to 640 x 541 px. Source: Licence: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Yanks, a curious group, when they’re not dropping bombs on our lads in the Gulf (friendly fire, etc.) they’re starting a trade war with us!

Well, what are allies for, if you can’t piss them off what can you do with you time[?]

In late 1998, as our bombers were being deployed to back up our American cousins in their quarrel with Saddam, a far more serious and heinous plot was being hatched against the Euro-banana.

What I call the Euro banana, is the fruit produced in former British and French colonies, which is distinguished from its American multinational-produced counterpart by its size, it’s a bit smaller (well, size isn’t everything!).

The problem of course, as with many Euro-American disputes, is that we give a trade preference to bananas produced in countries with wish we have historical links and responsibilities.

Naturally the greedy American companies which produced those bendy yellow pieces of fruit, are a bit upset that they can’t monopolise yet another market, that of the EU.

Oh, what a shame how will the American economy ever survive[!]

We have strong cultural and economic links with our former colonies (America included), and some are very poor countries.

When will the US come to realise that some countries take their international responsibilities seriously?

Sometimes we put historical commitment before stuffing our pockets full of cash and claiming to be the most moral and the most correct country in the world.

How many countries does the United States want to offend with its overbearing economic presence, its swaggering attitude, and its imposition of sanctions on countries [whose] leaders or policies it does not like[?]

Well, what do you expect, history has ended, Uncle Sam’s the only remaining superpower, and everyone else has to tow the line.

As Europe moves towards political unification, we might be able to actually have a truly independent foreign policy, a policy that allows a more benign social market capitalism to assert itself on the American version.

Perhaps the real reason behind the dispute is that Europe’s social market capitalism, with its welfare states and social safety nets, is too much of a diversion from the true faith that produces the deprivation and social malaise that is apparent in the US.

At a time when Europe is asserting its independence with a new currency that is a threat to the pre-eminance of the Dollar, the Americans have to come to terms with their decline. The American Century is all but over, and they are beginning to worry about what the future holds. American leaders may ultimately come to realise that the American way may not necessarily be the ultimate destiny of humanity, and that alternatives do in fact exist. The future is a very uncertain place indeed, and as America’s power wanes it will needs its European friends more than ever.

If America continues its aggressive economic posturing, Europe and America could suffer a banana split with serious implications for both. AMERICA BE WARNED!

By Chris Knowles

Originally published in the REaction! the political magazine of Wakefield District Young Labour, ISSN 1464-8105, Vol.2 no.1 April 1999.