It is almost at the opposite end of the world to Europe. Just a few decades ago, whatever happened in Korea was not of real concern here. Now, it should be.
I neither intend to say that we are under a direct threat nor that we are targeted by North Korean ICBMs loaded with nuclear warheads. We nevertheless certainly have important interests at stake. The stability of the area should be a key concern for Europe, as it is for the US.
Even if only taking into consideration the importance of our trade with China, Japan and South Korea, it becomes thus necessary for us to acknowledge that any disruption of economic flows would be significant for both sides. Its importance goes beyond the sheer magnitude of the figures involved. Picture yourself in a world where everything “Made in China” had disappeared, even if only for a few weeks; make it a few months without Japanese manufactures, dependant as they are on China’s raw materials. Consider how used to goods coming from east Asia we have become and how we do not even notice their omnipresence in our lives. Open any gadget coming from the US; many of its parts – probably including the “Made in the US” tag – would actually be manufactured across the Pacific.
Of course, that would not be it. If a crisis was to spark in the Yellow Sea, it would create a kind of black hole that would certainly suck huge resources from the nations directly involved in such a crisis, including the US. Such a shock would fulfil the worst imaginings of the world at the height of the current financial crisis.
In this global world, and even more so after Nato’s declared readiness to intervene anywhere, anytime, as stated in Lisbon, does anybody really think that Europe would be left out of the fight?
Given what is at stake in that small faraway island off the coast of both Koreas, we may want to find out what is going on there.
The Korean peninsula is far more important than its size may suggest. Its location, bordering both Russia and China and only a few miles from Japan, makes it a place with unique possibilities. It is worth acknowledging that South Korea’s economy is the twelfth biggest in the world and that if both Koreas were to merge, they might over time surpass Japan’s GDP. The US has just signed a free trade agreement with the Republic of Korea, which is also poised to enter a free trade agreement with China.
The location of the peninsula is also regionally relevant due to its privileged access to the Pacific which both its two powerful neighbours need. Russia looks forward to extending its rail and pipeline systems all the way through both Koreas to increase trade opportunities with them and to gain access to yet another port to boost its exports.
At the end of the Korean War, there were a series of issues left unresolved, and so they remain. One of them is the boundary between both countries, when it comes to the region in which we witnessed the artillery duel last month. North Korea has never agreed to the “provisional” demarcation line. In international affairs nothing is black or white, and Korean waters are no exception, falling within the “grey zone”.
This may explain why the “Democratic” People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) responded to artillery drills considering them enemy fire. Not that it is acceptable behaviour, but it does not appear to be necessary to go play “war games” in a place your neighbour considers “its playground”.
That was precisely the intention of the drills involving nuclear-powered carrier USS George Washington; and remains equally true of the current solo drills by South Korea. Past exercises carried out by the same US carrier, Japan and Vietnam in separate drills off the coast of China all bear testimony to the willingness to stir tensions in the western Pacific.
It will not happen in the near future, but I wonder how would the US react to a Chinese naval drill one hundred miles off San Diego, or the Panama Canal; well inside international waters but close enough to make them feel uneasy.
There is no better way to start a war than to make a vain effort to prevent it on your opponent’s doorstep. As history has proven, taking armies to border does not usually deter, but challenge, enemies.