Something is wrong here:  Six months (or thereabouts) in Taiwan and the whole damn thing


There’s not much more oppressive ‘out there’ than a tropical summer and I have to tell you that Taiwan in ‘right up there,’ when it comes to summer: baking -tropical, sticky and oppressive heat.   When I walk down the streets of New Taipei city and as I watch people cooking in this heat (July 2018), I have to say that I feel nothing but admiration.  The upshot of the diligence of the street vendors’ and the shopkeepers’ who choose to let the summer heat into their stores, is, the food is delicious.  What could be hotter than Taiwan in summer?  One may indeed ask that question.  That would be the political situation.  In the process of the everyday there is a multitude of political machinations going on—and off.  It is hard to believe that this island with approximately the same population as Australia could be such a maelstrom of regional and international activity—the ‘international’ consists of only one nation, but we’ll get to that.

But before we get to Taiwan, there’s a broader political perspective that one needs to have come to grips with, and that’s what happens when you’re an island nation and others need your ‘strategic locale’ to bolster their own needs—this will happen to Australia and the Port of Darwin but we’ll get to that too.  Back to the ‘problem’ with being an island nation, well just look at Crete and Malta in World War Two, and Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal and Okinawa in the same war and it didn’t stop there, as it happened to the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvina in the early-1980s.  It also happened to Hawaii—stolen form an Hawaiian princess by the United States of America (US).   And oh yes, it happened to the Australian Indigenous peoples too, their island got stolen from them as a collective, but after the apology to their stolen generations, they will get something to show for their ongoing suffering—the Turnbull government in its recent budget has allocated 48 million dollars to building a statue of Captain James Cook, for no doubt, the purposes of adding a little salt to the wound; and to show that there is and remains no limits to what a neo-conservative government will do to show that it has a will and a way.   If you are a neoconservative you just have to secret yourself away, wait long enough, like a submarine, and just when no one is expecting you—there you are!    I wonder if the Canadian prime minister is going to build a conquering statue for the Mohican’s to ponder?  The Honourable Prime Minister Trudeau does seem too sophisticated and cosmopolitan for that, and not being a neo-conservative and pre-determinist will also help him to not go down that path, I would suggest.  But, I digress, back to Taiwan or at least, the Asia-Pacific and island nations, which is the problem for Taiwan.


It seems if an island nation is what ‘you are,’ then someone, somewhere, is going to come after you,   and such a pivotal issue of rancour in the Asia-Pacific (now conveniently called the Indo-Pacific in order to include India and exclude China in the grand scheme of things) is.  The hope is that as the Indo-Pacific keeps getting referred to as the Indo-Pacific then China will decide it’s all too much and go home, back to where they ‘belong’—which is on their mainland only.   This hope will not happen.  As much as the West and its prudence in demanding that ‘navigation rights,’ and ‘sea lanes’ are part of the ‘international order’—you know the ones designed, expanded upon and valued-laden for the West in its robust management of the known world (then), and the global world (now)—and that went down particularly well with another Asian nation (Japan), when it was commanded by Commodore Perry to stop being recalcitrant, and damn well open its borders to trade.  Just a small mention here that according to Noam Chomsky when Japan got better than the West at trading, the West then went and shut it off—the Dutch, British and Americans were the main players in the process—which after much angst by the Japanese would eventually lead to the ‘surprise attack’ (the Japanese called it a ‘revenge attack,’ funny how it’s all about perspectives) on Pearl Harbor.  It wasn’t really a surprise attack and more of a cathartic happening which President Roosevelt allowed and needed, because most of the US’ population supported Nazi Germany and he was too frightened to intervene before this event because of the domestic voter-backlash.

That abovementioned aside, the  problem here is that China,  just like Japan before it, never agreed to the Western ‘order’—commonly referred to as the Westphalian order—as it had the order essentially thrust upon it after 1648, and it has resented it ever since.  A bit like in more recent times in the Australian domestic sphere  being told that as a member of the tax-paying public you are not allowed to protest on Crown Land (read: government owned) anymore, even though in a liberal-democracy you as a citizen technically own it.  That would never happen, surely!   Oh, the New South Wales (NSW) government has just passed that law, so if you don’t agree with what the NSW government wants to do, you’re free to protest, just not on ‘their land,’ which is technically yours, but try telling that to the arresting officer.

Back to the broader point that is trying to be made.  Anyone doubting the difficulty with which China had to come to terms with such a situation should simply read Martin Jacques’ When China Rules the World.  The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New World Order, and this will allow you, as it did me, to come to grips with the horrors of having something so insulting thrust upon you. Understanding of this type of situation is to read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown which is the course of pain that the Native American Indians had thrust upon them (for decades).   If you can read it through the tears you’re a stronger person than me.  China is rising and as unpalatable as that may seem to those of us who have watched the West become the ultimate power, to acknowledge that things have changed would (possibly) diminish the need for conflict.  Try it Australia, it might work.   You know all that talk about diplomacy trumping (pun intended) war!

More to the point.  When I was first in Taiwan some fifteen-plus years ago I thought the situation was tense.   The situation back then, now, seems like a walk in the park, a leisurely stroll followed by a picnic.  It’s also a bit unnerving to observe how when I have been back to Australia on albeit short visits, that there is barely anything mentioned about what is going on in the Asia-Pacific with regard to the crisis that is unfolding before Australia’s eyes—plenty of comment on Brexit and the US trade war, barely any on the Asia-Pacific, ooops sorry, the INDO-PACIFIC.  Get it right!

Every day here in Taiwan there is comment on the ‘China threat,’ the Taiwan response, the scrambling for political certainty, what will happen, the rise of China, the number of allies Taiwan has, the change in military strategies by both actors … the list goes on.   The commentary involves a situation that will (one day) come to a head, as it must, and therefore, the commentary is worthwhile and necessary.  The problem is after six months or so of being here in Taiwan, the dialogue is Taiwan-China-US.  Serious and critical commentary from any other international entities seems severely lacking.  I thought we lived in a global world.

Something is wrong here.

Posted in Asia-Pacific Politics, Asian Century Politics, Australian politics, Rise of China, taiwan, Taiwan politics, Uncategorized, war | Leave a comment

Taiwan 2018: A few weeks in …

Taiwan: to mid-February 2018

The Taiwan-China issue remains vibrant and ongoing.  There is near-daily comment in the newspapers about the ongoing situation:  China asserting pressures and Taiwan attempting to retain its independence (whilst not actually declaring independence).  The situation is fraught with tension and the debate is definitely ‘hotting up’ as China is placed in a more prominent position by others.  Nevertheless, the elements of commentary are broad and perhaps the most damaging for Taiwan consists of Britain wanting to enter a new ‘golden age’ with China.  Front page:  May meets with Xi as she seeks China trade post-EU.

Comment: The sign to Taiwan is clear: Britain sees China as an economically viable partner.  This will without doubt, impact upon Taiwan’s status in terms of each time China makes a gain such as this, it creates additional problems for its international standing.  (Toward a new UK-PRC ‘golden age’)

The ‘values’ argument continues, with Taiwan values being different than that of China’s and is premised on democracy, and freedom of speech and shared community being unique to Taiwan and not so for the PRC  (Taiwanese values mean ‘not PRC’s’).

China has also increased it economic presence by proposing a new ‘Silk Road’ through the Arctic and PLAN ships passed through Japanese territorial waters off the Tokara Islands which China argues was the Osumi Strait (China sees new Silk Road in the Arctic).

Australia gets a mention:  China criticizes Australia for being ‘anti-China’ (Chinese infiltration not unnoticed).

China exercises ‘sharp power,’ which is the ability to manipulate or intimidate another nation’ (Ad displays China’s ‘sharp power,’ and just below on pate 8, ‘China’s new approach on Taiwan,’ which discusses China’s desire for unification to take place by at the very latest, 2049—the 100 year anniversary of the PRC (China’ new approach on Taiwan).

‘China should be wary of Trump,’ which essentially argues that because Trump is impressed by the size and cost of things, Trump is likely to go up against China only in order to get a better deal for the US, and if that entails abandoning Taiwan he will do so.

‘Taiwan confronts its darkest hour.’ This article deals with the way in which China is seeking to increase military pressure on Taiwan whilst also encouraging Taiwanese business to invest in China.  The article argues these people will become pawns in the economic stranglehold that will play out in favour of China; and to the detriment of Taiwan.

‘Taiwanese find opportunity, risk in China,’  is an article about the incentives China is offering Taiwanese in the form of start-ups and other financial incentives, as Taiwan’s economy stagnates and the offer of incentives is not as great.  The possible effects on Taiwanese in terms of whether it influences them in favour of China is also discussed.

In  a more globalised sense ‘Crack between the US and Europe over China widens,’ as Europe grapples with the way in which it should approach China and peace in the Asia-Pacific region, and not surprisingly how Trump has impacted on the relationship.  The article is especially focused on the retreat (contrary to what the White House says) of the US in the region.

The list of way in which Taiwan can defend itself is lauded in ‘So you think China can win,’ and more importantly deals  with what will happen to the PRC government  if the US does come to the  aid of Taiwan.  It also deals with the problems on mainland China which deal with border disputes and the way in which constant disputes sap personnel and this will work against any invasion or restriction plans.

Eleven major articles in about 15 days sums up the  concern.

Source:  Taipei Times

Commentary:  The above show how intense the Taiwan-China situation actually is, and remains; and offers an understanding that it is spreading beyond the Asia-Pacific and into Europe which has essentially, not been a military player to date, in the region to any great extent.  This will probably change though as China continues to flex its strategic-muscle in the ‘One road, One belt,’ initiative; and its economic prowess continues to influence.   France and India have begun to show some additional interest in Taiwan, India in particular has conducted strategic manoeuvrings with its navy recently; and is acutely aware that the  more power China gains the more ‘catching up’ that India has to do.   With the UK making sure to be amicable with China is no doubt a huge worry for Taiwan as its approach will inevitably give China more credence in its dealings with the UK and whilst it is premised on Britain attempting to turn a ‘hard Brexit’ into a ‘softer one—and of PM May attempting to shore-up her shambolic government—the very fact that she has made the journey must somewhere in the future weaken Taiwan’s influence in Britain. Of particular worry, in the press it seems, is that Taiwanese that move to China, will be merged into being ‘Chinese’ rather than being ‘Taiwanese,’ and this seems to be an overarching worry to the government of Taiwan.


Posted in Asia-Pacific Politics, Asian Century Politics, Australian politics, European politics, international relations, Rise of China, taiwan, Taiwan politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

An insane Industrial-Capitalist notion: Australia to be one of the ‘top 10’ arms exporters …

The Australian government’s latest idea to be a reasonable global citizen is to increase Australia’s share of being an arms-exporter. Spruiking the idea, in Nov 2017, the Hon Christopher Pyne MP was in Saudi Arabia according to reports (1). The idea of selling arms to a country that has never (to my knowledge) published a ‘rules of engagement’ protocol regarding the Syrian Conflict is a dangerous administration to be dealing with.
But, it’s all about jobs!
Pyne will no doubt also stress that arms deals are highly-monitored. That’s really worked for Australia in the past. Take the use of Australian gifted patrol boats, helicopters and aircraft (2) that were used in the blockade of Bougainville–which was ostensibly, on the part of the New Guinea government to support a private company and its assets.
This arms-dealership/manufacturing policy is yet again, another sad refection on the industrial-capitalist, neo-liberal agenda the Turnbull government pursues.
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Taiwan: a week in …

Since arriving in Taiwan ROC one week ago there has been …
  • four new flight-paths across the Taiwan Strait unilaterally decided upon by China;
  • President Tsai  should plan to avoid conflict with China, and has been asked on TV to define ‘Taiwanese values’;
  • an article stipulating ‘The PLA [People’s Liberation Army] has a history of lack of restraint’;
  • the removal of the Taiwanese flag from the US Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs and the Office of the US Trade Representative; and
  • the US’ stipulating there is ‘no change’ in its relationship with Taiwan.
Source: Taipei Times
The rise of China is actually happening!!!
Posted in American politics, Asia-Pacific Politics, Asian Century Politics, Australian politics, international relations, Rise of China, taiwan, Taiwan politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A volatile combination: Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea
Map credit:
Having just read Pacific Power.  Australia’s Strategy in the Pacific Islands, (Author: Joanne Wallis) this book is an excellent read, and anyone interested in International Relations, especially the Asia-Pacific (A-P), should indulge in this succinct and articulate analysis.  One thing that I found particularly disturbing and of profound significance to Australia’s future was that ‘reflecting on Australia’s benign neglect of the Pacific Islands during the 1970s and 1980s,’ (p92), with the rise of China — and its inherent and continual geo-strategic push throughout the A-P (which is what, as I have previously stipulated, is what rising powers seek to achieve) — Papua New Guinea (PNG) has an agreement with Australia: Joint Declaration of Principles (1987).  What is most amazing about this agreement and according to Wallis is that if Indonesian military forces intrude into PNG in order to prosecute a mission –such as seeking refugees escaping from West Papua/Irian Jaya–is that in the process if they come into contact with PNG military forces.  What does this mean for Australia? According to Wallis ‘Australia may be obliged to assist PNG forces in such a conflict, which would place Australia in direct military conflict with Indonesia …’ (p316).
As China rises and its ties get closer with Indonesia and the Chinese government formulates and then develops further pacts with its A-P alliances, such an encounter could be used as a trigger for China to move on its Australian assets (such as the Port of Darwin), in order to proffer its geo-strategic footprint in the region; and exert greater authority over the region per se.  Yet another issue for Australia to consider in the future  as the submarine debacle continues; Australia cuts foreign aid to its nearest neighbours which will inevitably have a backlash; and the political-memory of World War Two remains vibrant due to the ‘saving of Australia’ by the United States of America (US), from which Australian politicians’ seem totally incapable of extracting their collective-selves from.  If China utilizes such an action and then extends upon it, the repercussions for Australia could be immense.   In the introduction to the chapters Wallis also alludes to the voting in of Trump and the repercussions for the A-P that may happen due to this.  Notwithstanding all of the aforementioned it is a very interesting read and one that is thoroughly recommended for those interested in International Relations.   
Posted in Asia-Pacific Politics, Asian Century Politics, Australian politics, Indonesia, international relations, Papua New Guinea, Rise of China, Uncategorized, war | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An analysis of terrorism:  The Turnbull government and political advantage of an ‘Existential Threat’  



There has been an ongoing debate within Australian politics since approximately 2015 about terrorism and it having become an ‘existential threat.’  The debate originally started within the realm of referring to the war in Syria and the violence associated with the terrorist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  The Honourable Tony Abbott (MP) when he was prime minister persistently referred to ISIS as a ‘death cult,’ Attorney-General George Brandis claimed it was an ‘existential threat,’ and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (MP) told Australians that ISIS emerged from the Arab Spring (and therefore had nothing to do with Western intervention in Iraq)[1] and of Royal Australian Air Force strikes in the Middle East.[2] There has since 2015, been considerable discussion about terrorism morphing from a physical to existential threat and recently the debate has included ‘uncontrolled migration’ posing an existential threat to some European countries.  From this Prime Minister Turnbull has sought to reinvigorate ‘national values’ and thus citizenship[3] issues have also come into play.   The Honourable Peter Dutton (MP) and his views with regard to citizenship, border protection and a myriad of other security and domestic issues are well-known—including his Home Affairs[4] minister front bench status—and he has also been part of the vigorous debate surrounding national values.[5]   Notwithstanding all of the aforementioned the term ‘existential’ keeps entering the debate and whilst this essay is premised largely on Europe and the Middle East with regards to what the threat comprises (and due to the number of attacks), it is nevertheless relevant to Australia as there have been ‘lone-wolf’ attacks and this essay can be related to Australia’s domestic environment.   What the term means—and the concomitant political elevation that has been made by Conservatives’ in the Turnbull government—is why the term needs to be debated; warrants exposure; requires clarification; and needs to be given a perspective.   As with other Western governments—especially if there is trouble within the economy—the Turnbull government has been quick to use border protection, terrorism, and security in general to gain an advantage in the domestic political sphere.  Whilst this in many ways mirrors former prime minister Howard (the patsy from Down Under[6]) going to war with the United States of America (US) and its ‘war on terror,’ and the subsequent political gain (at least initially) that was made, and it is worth noting that the political rhetoric from the Conservatives continues; and remains consistent about the threat.  With this in mind and as the threat continues an examination can now be made.


As the threat and actions of terrorists terrorism have become more focussed, and their outcomes having a greater impact on populaces of nation-states.  Their actions by necessity have demanded a change in thinking by governments of nation-states—particularly Western nation-states.]  The rethink has been brought about by the pursuit of civilian (undefended) locales and the successes individual and terrorist groups have achieved in the targeting of them. The attacks on what have become colloquially known as ‘soft targets’—the attack on the World Trade Center[7] being the most significant in recent times–has permitted terrorism and therefore terrorists, to attain a newfound prominence. Historically, the commentary associated with terrorism consisted only of it representing a threat which employed ‘asymmetrical’ tactics to disrupt populaces. Placing improvised-explosive-devices in public spaces, kidnapping and targeting government buildings is to list only several examples of commitment to what are termed ‘target rich environments.’[8]   In more contemporary times the political rhetoric, largely by Western politicians’ have morphed terrorism into a more lethal dyad: the combination of being an asymmetrical- and an existential- threat.  Adding the new terminology ascribes and signals, a fundamentally different view of terrorism and extends it beyond simply being non-state actors taking up arms against the State to that of an actor or actors, using violence as a means of personal expression.  Terrorism therefore, has been given a renewed prominence and is a higher level of menace in order to attain domestic political advantage.

Since 2001, there has been numerous attacks: the Westgate shopping mall attack by Al-Shabaab in Nairobi (Kenya, 2013), in which 67 people were killed[9]; the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls by Boko Haram in Chibok (Nigeria, 2014);[10] and the shootings in the Charlie Hedbo office in Paris (France, 2015) by Al-Qaeda, in which 11 people were killed.[11]   Notwithstanding the ferocity of the attacks they continue and in the process have drawn in other actors and due to the connecting of the words ‘existential’ and ‘threat’ by commentators—notably Western politicians—has triggered a renewed urgency to, and in, Western polity.  Liberal-democracy, good governance; fair and equal elections, rule-of-law; the illegality of exogenous actors challenging the authority of the State; and transparent government is to name only several components that have been re-asserted as appropriate governance.  For the West, terrorists’ acting against the State comprises a triad: the method (violence), the target (civilian or government), and the purpose (to instil fear and enforce political or social change).[12]

The usage of the term ‘existential threat,’—especially in political forums and the news media—it is fair to argue has gripped the public imagination and therefore, terrorism has gained a renewed vigour; and the term has further created a robust and enduring fear throughout the West. A broad yet accurate summation of why terrorism has gained such importance is the increasing number of individuals are ‘finding’ themselves through their personal experiences and resorting to violence in order to prove their commitment to a cause.  It is the perceptions that lead to action that requires analysis and it is necessary to delve deeper into what is meant by the term ‘existential’; whether terrorism fulfils the requirements within the definition.  This essay will also intertwine terrorism as a multi-faceted matter within societal and cultural boundaries and perspectives.


Existentialism: an overview

Acknowledging that there are slight, variations to the thematic definitions of what it is to be an ‘existentialist’ and to involve oneself in ‘existentialism,’ is dependent upon which scholarly practice and  interpretation is applied. There are variations in the writings of Søren, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Dostoevsky and Sartre–although the schematic of emotion, ‘anguish and dread’[13]—are within all of the texts.    To be an existentialist by necessity means to be a person that has and applies, an existentialist approach to situations.  Within this principled approach, the person—in this case a terrorist—embraces the notions and ‘… importance of personal experience and responsibility and the demands that they make in the individual who is seen as a free agent in a deterministic and seemingly meaningless universe’[14]  An explanation of this is that humans—although Sartre refers to and uses, the gendered term ‘man’—


first exists encounters himself and emerges in the world, to be defined afterwards … It is man who conceives himself, who propels himself towards existence.  Man becomes nothing other than what is actually done, not what he will want to be.[15]


The aforementioned factors are therefore, and by definition, associated with an ‘individual’s unique position as a self-determining agent responsible for the authenticity of his or her choices.[16] What he/she has become is informed by experiences and their decisions are their responsibility alone.  The link that is able to be made here is a terrorist, when reacting through the prism of violence is effectively, using violence as an extension of their reality.  A terrorist is ‘made’ through their own unique experiences and understandings associated with what has, or is happening to their country, people, religion, kin, tribe, culture and a multitude of other factors.  Terrorism from an existential perspective is when an individual, ‘surges up in the world and then defines himself afterwards … and then he will be what he makes of himself.’[17]   Theoretically, the individual making the decision to carry out an act of terrorism is doing so with ‘freedom, decision and responsibility … [and] these matters constitute the core of personal being.’[18] It is these factors that have contributed to the reconfiguring of terrorism from being a strategic and tactical asymmetrical-threat, to an asymmetrical- and existential-threat. In order to understand existentialism at a deeper level it is necessary to observe how it evolved into a way of deduction.  Existentialism was, and remains a response to previous intellectual pursuits of reason and rationale.   Existentialism was a reaction to rationalism and empiricism which has at its core the Enlightenment (1685 – 1815),[19]  which is ‘positivistic’[20] and holds the conviction ‘that the true repositories of knowledge are the sciences.’[21]  Empiricism retains the predisposition and doctrinal components of ‘all knowledge comes from the sense experiences’[22] and that ‘the mind is not furnished with a set of concepts in advance of experience.’[23]

The fundamental variance in the two concepts broadly-speaking is that empiricism is a theory of knowledge that comes from experience from which one makes a decision, whereas existentialism defaults to an individual being able to make decisions free from historical and social constraints—regardless of the processes involved a decision is able to be made.  Whether the decision made by a person willing to commit a terrorist act is empirical or existential (or a combination of both), is a moot point as what is being analysed here the politico-application of the term ‘existential,’ and the concomitant considerations therein.

Notwithstanding the abovementioned, the adding of the word ‘existential’ to the word ‘threat’ offers an all-encompassing concept to the practice of terrorism.  It is one which moves it as an act, to beyond a rational decision to that of a personal one. According to the political rhetoric the labelling of terrorism in this way is an acknowledgement that when a terrorist act is committed, it is free of social- and historical-constraints—the act is devoid of reason and made solely from personal accord.  A drawing together of existentialism and terrorism is now able to be made.


Existentialism: applied to terrorism 

First and foremost it is important to observe several attacks which have been noted by commentators’ as being of an existential nature, and it is this labelling that continues to inform the threat level: the Bastille Day attack in Nice (14 July, 2016), which involved an attacker driving a truck through a crowd of pedestrians; the London Bridge attack (3 June, 2017), in which a car was used to kill pedestrians; and the more recently the attack on pedestrians in Barcelona (17 August, 2017), in which a van was used.  The type of attack is a reflection of and a response to, what the actor perceives as being an overwhelming problem, and one that he (in these cases the perpetrators were male) must respond to; be part of the cause; and play an active role in opposing the enemy—in these cases the West.  What is of interest here however, is the decision-making according to the existential paradigm and the concomitant psycho- and socio-homogenization of the populace. From this standpoint all members of the populace—military and civilian—are bona-fide targets and it can be surmised the existential decision to attack is one of ‘self’ against an overarching enemy.  The form of attack, the use of vehicles against the populace has become more frequent[24] and this is because terrorists in the tactical- and kinetic-phase of a low-intensity operation require simplicity, opportunism and vulnerability of the target.   Attacks on soft-targets do have an existential basis, as an attack requires a high-degree of decision-making by the individual in the process of acquiring the necessary assets, and of following through with the attack.  The existential nature of a terrorist attack is equally able to be applied to a small group or an ‘army’ such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria as the decision-making and homogenization components are similar. Notwithstanding these factors, attacks of this type have been used as strategic and tactical necessities by terrorists for many decades.

During the French occupation of Algeria (1954 – 1962), French military and Algerian government forces were constantly harassed by the guerrillas of the Armée de Libération Nationale (FLN), which objected to French involvement in Algerian affairs.  The FLN caused constant disruptions through the use of tactical ‘pin pricks’[25] … [consisting of] ‘small, highly trained packets [of guerrillas] … [randomly] shelling and mortaring [French] units … a hand grenade thrown into a café here, a burst of machine gun fire on the beach there.[26] These tactics then, as now, comprises an overall disruptive strategy that is designed to take advantage of small hit-and-run tactics; terrify the public; stretch government authorities and their allies’ to an absolute limit; and exhaust government and governance capabilities.  All are intended by a terrorist group, when a government is exhausted from the battles, to sue for peace on favourable terms. It is through the use of persistent minor lethal disruptions from which strategic- and political-advantage is gained.

In the Twenty-first century it is a germane observation that the number of attacks appears to be on the increase and without doubt this is due to the news cycle; and the immediacy with which an attack is reported.   Notwithstanding the carnage the number of fatalities from terrorist attacks 2000-2015 decreased compared to previous decades.[27] The number of fatalities however, does not adequately reflect the overarching perception of the terrorist threat, as the aim of a terrorist or group, is to instil fear in the populace. The drastic change that has come about for authorities in the West is that they are now dealing with people ‘willing to die in pursuit of the action,’[28] in a deliberate way whereas, in previous decades the aim was to survive the attack in order to fight another day. This factor brings existentialism to the fore as the decision to die for a cause (theoretically) presents a willingness to make the ultimate and most intimate of personal decision-making, one which is free of logic and reasoning.

Fighting from this existential platform presents numerous and significant problems to the authorities of nation-states—the West in particular. The most lethal form of recent disruptions have been by  ‘lone-wolf’[29] actors, and this is closely followed by actors working within  small cells—usually referred to as ‘sleeper cells.’ The tactics of both have progressively concentrated on ‘soft target’ disruption, which essentially involves the killing of civilians in public places and from a tactical perspective these attacks have been successful in part, because the individuals’ have no followers; are not part of a group; and have no hierarchy of control.[30] Authorities therefore, are reduced in their capabilities as (usually) and by necessity, authorities are pre-positioned as a response to actions; and the attacks are opportunistic and this too, favours the initiator.

Notwithstanding the abovementioned actions and the tangible- and symbolic-outcomes it is able to be accurately argued that the actor is an existential threat to the people immediately involved; and to the population at large—in the case of the aforementioned the three liberal-democratic nation-states of France, Britain and Spain.  Other Western nation-states, because of their similarities to these three countries are also able to claim the dangers of terrorism is existential and therefore, terrorism from this perspective, does represent an existential threat to the West.  With regard to individual actions terrorism has morphed beyond large group-think actions such as Baader-Meinhof Gang/Red Army Faction,[31]  to being more persuasive to the individuals, and it is here that the connection to existentialism is more erudite and easily made.  Individual action—in the case of a lone-wolf actor—has (theoretically) much less influence from forces external to the self, for instance other members of a group or cell, and the individual encompasses existentialism and becomes an existential-threat. There is and remains however in the complex narrative of terrorism, an alternate perspective of whether terrorists’ deem the West to be an existential threat.


The West as an existential threat

From a broader political perspective the existential threat the West represents—as a body-politic—is usually judged through the prism of political recognition, military-ties and economic benefits and the concomitant non-recognition that non-state actors may be fighting against may have valid claims regarding exploitative government- and economic-structures exist, and that repression and discrimination are present.[32] Countries with deep-seated and ongoing domestic governance issues and internal frictions are many and the West, through the auspices of the United Nations, has done little in applying comprehensive pressure to bring about change—the Philippines, Israel, Nigeria, Mali and Saudi Arabia[33] is to name only some that have within their societies long-term highly-fractious issues.  The West however offers ongoing and systemic support for these countries.  The West, usually through the mechanisms of the United Nations, persistently fails abysmally in its problem-solving. The Twenty-first century has shown the West to offer more of the same with regard to demanding change. A recent example of the West’s inept handling of crises is Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003). Whilst both operations were aimed at regime change[34] it can also be argued they represent a strategic-foothold for the West in the Middle East which reflects its colonising history and its inabilities to  exercise comprehensive change beyond strategic necessity.  The West’s intervention in Afghanistan by the United States of America (US) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in 2001—Operation Enduring Freedom—in order to expel the Taliban[35] is a prime example of an involvement that was and remains, ill-conceived, badly-executed and ineffectual as the Taliban continues to be a robust force.  A significant part of the reason that Afghanistan is an abject failure is the West comprises the US, ISAF and its allies and a compliant and obsequious Afghan government has sought to make Afghanistan,  ‘something safe for us [the West], but entirely foreign to the Afghans’ which accords to the historic Western notions of the Orient comprising East Asia, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia,  and the Middle East as being ‘silent, available to Europe for the realizations of [its] projects… .’[37]

Consequently, the level of forced intervention by the West and the way in which operations are conducted without doubt promotes an understanding amongst the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq that the West is an existential threat to their lands, religion, culture, tribe, kin, population and numerous other elements within their societies.  Whilst this may broaden the facets of existentialism to a politico-bloc the West is nonetheless, making decisions and enacting choices.    To extend on this point the application of terrorism depends on perpetrator’s attitude, loyalties and focus and therefore it is pertinent to mention the differences between Western values and the values of others. To offer a perspective of terrorism, the Taliban was considered to be a terrorist group by the US only after Bin Laden, the self-prescribed leader of Al-Qaeda, ‘advised the Taliban to offer a [oil pipeline] contract to an Argentine firm … Unicol [a US firm] lost out.  Washington was furious and immediately turned on the Taliban and branded it an ‘outlaw regime.’[38]   Terrorism as an act for Al-Qaeda and the Taliban is seen of as a reaction to what is often referred to as ‘Westoxification’[39]  has hinged on many issues although it comes under the macrocosm of the selective inclusion of politico-, military- and economic-principles of the West; and the (selective) application of these to Middle East, Southeast and Central Asian Muslim societies.  This has often fuelled much of the recalcitrance toward Western societies, and is largely directed at the US and its closest allies.  The recalcitrance referred to has inspired, and then drawn in many other actors. An example of this can be traced to the Gulf War (1990- 1991), in which Osama bin Laden, (and his Al-Qaeda followers) did not approve of Saddam’s military forces invading Kuwait, however Bin Laden’s greatest objections were the US’ maintenance of the Saudi Arabian monarchy; the monarchy’s continuing subjugation of Islam’s holiest land; and the deployment of US troops on Islam’s holy Saudi Arabian soil to fight a fellow Arab state.[40]  The West, from this point of view has honed the focus of those that would react against its policies and practices.

The ongoing and consistent animosity toward the West by exogenous and non-state actors in the aforementioned clearly offers examples of the West being deemed an existential threat to their societies.



British forces in Syria, US forces in Iraq and US and Australian forces in Afghanistan are three locations which have presented targets for exogenous actors.  The US in Iraq and US and ISAF in Afghanistan are possibly the most significant kinetic interventions with regard to enforcing and reinforcing a Euro-centric/Eurocentrism[41] model of good government and governance.  As a result they have drawn the most ire and ongoing reactive violence from exogenous groups; and this shows no sign of decreasing


Within the realm of existentialism and as this essay has borne out, no one power has a dominance over what is an existential threat comprises and moreover, there is some disagreement regarding whether terrorism is an existential threat to developed Western countries.[42]  What is an existential-threat is dependent on perspectives. Whilst all of the reasons that exogenous groups attack governments—particularly Western ones—is beyond the debate in this essay, and bearing in mind there is unlikely to be any unique cause for terrorism,[43] as there is no key event identifying the moment that an actor views himself or herself as a soldier fighting for comrades and cause,[44] an historical underpinning that drives violent reactions by exogenous groups does have a primary focus.  Groups and individuals that present and are subsequently involved in fighting Western forces in non-Western environments essentially, ‘seek to liberate themselves and their co-nationals from what they perceive to be a colonial situation or a repressive government.’[45]  The existential-connectivity of a group is no doubt enhanced through their successes (and losses), and this it can be argued also informs and compels an ongoing belligerence toward their enemy. Thus, ISAF is a force that requires an existential response from an exogenous actor. The followers it is safe to argue, embrace relevant political and cultural ideologies of the group, which in ideologies in turn ‘drive the actions’[46] and this relates to lone-wolf as well as group actors.  All in some way contribute to ‘the interests and desires of the individual become secondary to the group [or individual cause] and he/she will take any steps to advance its [and if the act is a lone-wolf attack it must, by necessity, contribute to the group] goals.’[47]   The actions may be different dependent on the actors however, this essay argues they are driven by observing the West as an existential threat to their religion, culture, and tribe along with many other aspects of their lives and moreover, the acts of violence will continue as long as the West is perceived as an existential threat.

Acknowledging that existentialism is a profoundly nuanced subject matter and one that encompasses many more aspects than those mentioned is a germane yet necessary observation to make.  The process of terrorism morphing from a violent asymmetrical-threat to an asymmetrical- and existential-threat, signals a profound change in its trajectory by Western governments.  Whether it has been brought about by numerous failed models of interventionism, it is necessary for Western governments to label terrorism as an existential-threat rather than an empirical- or rational-threat.  This is due to labelling a threat in this way disentangles the West from accepting and admitting reactions against it may have a reasoned and rationale evidence-base. It is politicians’ in the West that have controlled the debate, and observed the catastrophic consequences of the attacks, and have sought to prove that terrorism and terrorists are free from judging their actions through the prism of negative Western influences.  Regardless of the way in which the West has approached interventionism and the terrorist threat that has been inspired because of it, the fundamental strategy of interventionism remains ensconced in a flawed US model of action.  An action that the West (including Australia), nevertheless, persists following.  This is writ large in the following observation

The American tradition [of fighting wars and of intervention] also tends to neglect the lesson, learned repeatedly in dozens of twentieth-century wars, that the only way to defeat an insurgency campaign is not to attack the enemy but instead to protect and win over the people.[48]

Whilst the West continues with the abovementioned strategy—and follows the US model of action—exogenous actors will continue to perceive the West as an existential threat and their violent reactions will continue. Soft-targets will remain at the forefront of exogenous actors preferred method of objecting to, and repulsing the West.



© Strobe Driver.  September 2017.   Strobe Driver, completed a doctoral thesis in war studies in 2011 and since then has been writing on war, terrorism and Asia-Pacific security.  The above article has been modified for an Australian audience although the main argument appeared in E-IR on 28 Sept, 2017; and is in his blog Geo-Strategic Orbit.







[1] For a succinct analysis of ISIS in Iraq see: Bernard Keane.  ‘Turnbull sets terms for a reset of terrorism rhetoric.’  Crikey. 5 Oct, 2015.

[2] See:’ Strike Maintenance in the Middle East.’ Royal Australian Air Force.  25 Aug, 2016.

[3] James Elton-Pym.  ‘PM wants ‘patriotism from would-be citizens as counter-terror move.’  SBS. 13 June, 2017.

[4] Karen Barlow.  Peter Dutton Nets New, Super-Sized UK Style Home Affairs Ministry.’  Huffpost.  18 July, 2017.

[5] There is a plethora of Dutton’s views on the Internet, however this article embraces many of the issues in this essay.  See: Jackson Gothe-Snape.  SBS.  13 June, 2017. ‘Fear of stateless kids and ‘extraordinary powers’ for Dutton prompt new citizenship concerns.’

[6] Paul McGeough.  ‘Chilcot Report: The mind-boggling incompetence of Bush, Blair and Howard laid bare.’  The Sydney Morning Herald. 7 July. 2016.

[7] For an overarching account of this action.  See: ‘World trade Center Disaster.’  United States Search and Rescue Task Force.

[8] James Lutz and Brenda Lutz.  Global Terrorism.  Oxon: Routledge, 2013, 51.

[9] ‘Kenya’s Westgate shopping mall reopens after tragedy.’ BBCNews.  18 July, 2015.

[10] ee:’Nigeria Chibok abductions: What we know.’  BBCNews.

[11] ‘Charlie Hedbo attack: Track how events unfolded.’  ABCNews. 8 Jan, 2015.

[12] Harvey Kushner. Encyclopedia of Terrorism. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003, 359.

[13] See:  ‘Existentialism.’ Dictionary.

[14] See: M. Rajimanickam.  Modern General Psychology.‘  Kachehri Ghat: Bhargava Book House, 2000, 37.

[15] John-Paul Sartre.  Existentialism is a Humanism.1945.  Edited by Glyn Taylor. Arizona State University.

[16] I have deliberately suspended the gendered language of the text by Sartre to encompass male and female in this description.  Sartre, however describes these actions reflecting ‘a deep responsibility for all humanity.’    See:

This essay, therefore argues that an act of terrorism, is considered to be an act on behalf of all humanity and the betterment of it which encompasses fellow humans that believe in their cause, and the saving of those that do not.  The cause being exercised through the prism of a certain set of values via recalcitrance and in this case through the usage of violence.  The values, whether they be freedom, religion, manumission or a multitude of other precedents is not what is of interest here, as it is the act of violence and its motivations through the prism of existentialism that informs this essay.

[17] Existentialism begins with ‘man as existent rather than man as a thinking subject.’  Sartre’s theorizing and philosophising considers man to be the subject, what happens to him is what makes him, it is the philosophy of the subject rather than the object. See: John McQuarrie.  Existentialism.  An introduction, guide and assessment.  London: Penguin Books, 1973, 14 -17.


[18] Existentialism.  An introduction, guide and assessment, 16.

[19] There is much debate amongst scholars when the Enlightenment began and ended, and feminists’ now argue that because women and the poor were excluded the term does not represent an accurate description of history.  Notwithstanding the aforementioned and for the purpose of this essay the Enlightenment is 1685 – 1815. See: ‘Enlightenment.’  History.

[20] ‘Positivism’ was founded by Auguste Comte and is concerned with positive facts outweighing speculation.  See: ‘Positivism’

[21] David Cooper.  Existentialism.  A Reconstruction. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1999, 15.

[22] Jack Reynolds.  Understanding Existentialism. Chesham: Acumen Publishing, 2006, 111.

[23] See: ‘empiricism.’ Dictionary.

[24] For a comprehensive list of terrorist attacks 1970 – 2016.  See:  The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. Global Terrorism Database,

[25] Alistair Horne.   A Savage War of Peace.  Algeria 1954 – 1962. New York: New York Review of Books, 2006, 413.

[26] A Savage War of Peace.  Algeria 1954 – 1962, 413.

[27] Emma Luxton.  ‘Is terrorism in Europe at an historical high?’ World Economic Forum.   24 May, 2016.

[28] ‘Is terrorism in Europe at an historical high?’

[29] There are four ‘types’ of ‘lone-wolf’ attackers and for the purpose of this essay it is the second ‘type’ that is of most interest here.  The second type is the religious lone-wolf, who perpetrates terrorism in the name of Islam, Judaism or some other belief system.’  See: Jeffrey Simon. ‘What makes a lone-wolf terrorist so dangerous?’  18 April, 2013. UCLANews.

[30] UCLANews.

[31] The Baader-Meinhof Group was formed in 1968 and had its origins in the German protest university movement of the 1970s.  The group engaged in bank robberies, arson and terrorism.  The group decried the US as an Imperialist power and labelled the West German government as fascist and a holdover from the Nazi era.  The group was also involved in kidnapping and assassinations and had at least 22 core members.  See:  John Jenkins.  ‘Red Army Faction.’ The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica.

[32] Global Terrorism, 16.

[33] President Rodrigo Duterte’s of the Philippines ongoing ‘war on drugs’ has been criticised by Human Rights Watch due to the number of unlawful extra-judicial killings

See:  For a comprehensive assessment of the Israel-Palestine conflict see, Tanya Reinhart, How to end the War of 1948.

‘Nigeria: Corruption Fuelling Police Abuses.’  See: Human Rights Watch.  17 Aug, 2010.

France had been stating for months in 2012, that a West African military force should bring control to Mali.  French President Hollande acted and sent troops to Mali in January, 2013—after the Malian Army had been surprised by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.  See:  John Barry.  ‘Mali – The French Way of War.’ The European Institute.

The Saudi Arabia government ‘promised bin Laden that the foreigners would leave as soon as the [1991 Gulf] war was over.  But American forces were in Saudi Arabia a year after the Gulf War ended, and bin Laden felt betrayed.  See:  Cindy Combs.  Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century.  Boston: Longman, 2013, 26.

[34] Joseph Collins.  Lessons Encountered. Learning from the Long War.  Washington: NDU Press, 2015.

[35] For a comprehensive assessment of the Taliban in Afghanistan see, ‘Soldiers killed as Taliban storms Kandahar base.’  Al-Jazeera.   27 July, 2017

[36] Andrew Rohrer.  ‘Why did we fail in the Afghan war?  Because we didn’t understand the place.’  Foreign Policy. 12 Feb, 2015.

[37] Edward Said.  Orientalism.  Western Conceptions of the Orient.  London: Pengion Books, 1978, 94.

[38] Eric Margolis.  War at the Top of the World. New York: Routledge, 2002, 94.

[39] Samuel Huntington. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.  New York: Simon & Shuster, 2011, 212-213

[40] Gilles Kepel.  The War for Muslim Minds.  Islam and the West. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004, 98-99.

[41] The definition of ‘Eurocentric’ is to view societies through the prism of European and Anglo-American definitions of the societies and the World.  See: ‘Definition of Eurocentric.’ Merriam-Webster.

[42] For a comprehensive understanding of terrorism being a threat to the balance-of-power in Western and non-Western countries see: Peter Jennings. ‘Is terrorism an existential threat?’ The Counterterrorism Yearbook 2017.   Australian Strategic Policy Institute.  13 April, 2017.

[43] Charles Tilly.  “Terror, Terrorism, Terrorists,’  Sociological Theory.  Edited by Mustafa Emirbayer.  California: Sage Publications, 2004, Vol 22, 5-13.

[44] Marc Sageman.  Misunderstanding Terrorism.  Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 2017, 143.

[45] James Lutz and Brenda Lutz.  Global Terrorism.  Oxon: Routledge, 2013, 15.

[46] Global Terrorism, 14.

[47] Ami Pedahzur.  Suicide Terrorism. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005, 7.

[48] Thomas Ricks.  The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq.  New York: Penguin, 2007, 5-6.


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What’s really going on?: The reasons the US and North Korea won’t go to war over the Korean Peninsula

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At the end of June 1950, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)— North Korea—through the actions of the North Korean People’s Army embarked on an invasion of South Korea by  advancing toward Seoul.  This action signalled the beginning of the Korean War (1950 – 1953); and was the first military act of the Cold War (1948 -1989).[1]  Three years after the war had commenced the Republican Party in the United States of America (US) came to power largely on a pledge to end the war in Korea, and when North Korean and Chinese forces had been pushed back to near the thirty-eighth parallel by United Nations (UN)  forces the war ended in a ‘stalemate.’[2]   Since 1953, the US has deemed North Korea to be a ‘rogue nation/rogue state.’[3] From the perspective of the North Korean government however, the war for the unification of their nation remains an ongoing and constant part of their political landscape.  Both of these standpoints have come to the fore in numerous ways in the decades since 1953.

From the standpoint of the West—the US in particular—North Korea remains a rogue state and in order for this to change there  would have to be a move toward Realpolitik,[4] via the avenues of the UN to find a solution.  To date North Korea has not sought a solution through these channels.   Prior to North Korea’s current series of missile launches and through overt and persistent belligerence it remains defiant; and moreover seeks to exercise its political independence and regional preponderance through a strong military presence.  The defiance toward the US and its regional allies, particularly Taiwan, Japan and Australia has come in the form of ongoing missile tests, and the continued threat-of-strikes in the region—in recent times as far southeast as Australia.[5]   The hostility of North Korea through the Kim Jong-il regime (1994 – 2011) was brought to the fore as early as 2002, when President George W. Bush linked North Korea’s non-compliance to international norms  with an ‘axis of evil’ which included Iraq and Iran.[6]  Defining the US’ position, President Bush stated

[Rogue] States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.  By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.[7]


North Korea’s choice of allies, and the ongoing threats of Kim Jong-un, continues to underpin and inform the current crisis.  Nevertheless it should be stipulated, North Korea does have regional allies and this allows the nation to survive economically, militarily and politically.


Who’s supporting North Korea and how does it survive?

For all of its belligerence and pontificating North Korea however does receive direct and byproxy support from regional allies as it is fair to argue, no country in a globalized world is able to be completely isolated.  Whilst it is true that China recently criticized North Korea for its nuclear test in September 2016[8]  the regional strength that North Korea possesses does essentially, hinge on China’s largesse.  The support from China emanates from the political, trade and energy avenues that exist through the cross-diplomacy and other auspices of the Chinese government.  China therefore, is considered by the international community to be a ‘buffer state’[9] for North Korea.  Another regional ally is the Russian Federation operating through the prism of ‘mutually beneficial cooperation,’[10] and this offers North Korea an economic and political lifeline, and the same is able to be attributed to the transnational companies utilizing cheap North Korean labour in the Kaesong Industrial Zone (in conjunction with the South Korean government), at the southern end of their border.[11]  All contribute to a lifeline for North Korea and in part this has allowed North Korea to build and maintain a missile- and nuclear-program.

Continuing antagonism:  North Korea’s ongoing missile program

North Korea’s definitive and strong regional presence through its missile- and nuclear program occurs in defiance of international norms set down by the UN and the UN Security Council (UNSC). Any deviations and the corresponding threat and potential for destabilisation are assessed and addressed by the UNSC through UN Chapter Vll[12] which stipulates, ‘The Security Council shall determine any threat to the peace, any breach of the peace, or act of aggression…’[13] however to date, the UNSC has not deemed North Korea to be dangerous enough to approve direct action; or for it to be a serious threat to regional peace.  North Korea has persisted with its belligerence in the decades since the end of fighting and whilst the hostilities have not ended the continuum of the missile- and nuclear-program has reached a troublesome point in the mindset of the West and regional actors—Australia, Japan and South Korea in particular.   The fact that the UNSC has not approved direct action does not reflect a neutral stance, as North Korea is currently under the caution of UNSC Resolution 2321[14] which condemns North Korea’s nuclear test of September 2016.[15]

To be sure, the current fear that has been generated does have solid antecedents to the possibility of a kinetic outcome as the posturing of North Korea is relentless, and moreover in 2009 it stepped away from the ‘Six Party Talks’[16] which began in 2003—involving China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea and the US—which were designed to dismantle its nuclear program.  Since 2009 however, tensions have continued to rise[17] and North Korea has contributed persistently to regional tensions by maintaining its nuclear program as well as conducting regular short-, intermediate- and long-range ballistic missile test-flights and these tests have prompted comment from China and Russia which have in recent times articulated a more considered approach to regional frictions.  For instance, Russia continues to condemn North Korea’s nuclear program,[18] and ‘in March 2013, China finally agreed to sponsor UN sanctions alongside the United States and since then has steadily increased a call for the ‘resumption of [Six Party] talks.’[19]  Notwithstanding all of this, North Korea remains steadfast in its regional ambitions and exercises its sovereign independence via a military stance.

Underlying and influencing the current hostilities

The election of Donald Trump as President of the US has brought about a change in which the US views North Korea.  The change it is fair to argue, is one that adheres to the mid-1990s Project for the New American Century (PNAC)[20] which was designed to re-establish US preponderance after the perceived failures of the Clinton administration (1993 – 2001).   The rhetoric President Trump is using follows a core PNAC tenet of ‘we [the US under a Republican administration] need to … challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values.’[21]  The political dynamic is one of the US being more pro-active about threats as suggested in the PNAC document, and for the Trump administration is the political-memory and perceived malaise of the Obama administration when dealing with North Korea.  The way Obama dealt with North Korea was through the prism of ‘strategic patience,’[22] which included consultations with the US’ regional allies.

The Trump administration’s stance has brought to the fore numerous political tenets that it feels it must confront in order to differentiate from the ‘outstretched hand’[23] of the Obama administration.  The approach by Obama was one of setting an overall new tone for US foreign policy and incorporated a more bilateral approach to rogue states such as North Korea.[24]  Trump seeks foreign policy toward North Korea to be replaced with more of a ‘clenched fist’[25] approach, and this encompasses recalcitrant countries being shown direct US force or a threat-of-force.  Notwithstanding the new approach and whilst it may be the opposite of the ‘America first’[26] rhetoric of Trump’s presidential campaign which was focussed on ‘a foreign policy based on American interests’[27] is a moot point as ‘brinkmanship,’[28] and the forcing of it is the real issue and moreover, the US will meet it with overwhelming force which in turn offers an assurance to US’ allies in the region.

However, and as with all crises there are not only international frictions that dominate a situation as there are always domestic factors that play a part.   For the Trump administration and from a domestic perspective, moving a US Navy strike group toward the Korean Peninsula shows a more ‘hands on’ president is in control of America’s geo-strategic ambit and gives credence to words of US National Security Advisor McMaster who recently stated “… the president has made clear he is prepared to resolve this situation one way or another.”[29]

For Kim Jong-un and the North Korean military the influences that drive their domestic polity are that North Korea’s status as a military power is robust; regional preponderance is an ongoing part of domestic and international politics; should brinkmanship increase the US and its regional allies will be confronted militarily if the need arises; the nation will eventually be reunited by force if need be; and the sovereign nation-state of North Korea will not be influenced by military asymmetries in the  regional power-stakes.

The massive challenges of a war breaking out

There is much to be taken into account in order for a kinetic exchange not to occur as war is a circumstance that can rapidly spiral out of control for belligerents as the strategist Clauswitz observed, ‘war is subject to no laws but its own.’[30]   The fear of a limited-strike by US forces which would be designed to bring North Korea to heel, is that it may result in an escalation to  a ‘limited war’[31] as it is generally accepted that North Korea would respond with a barrage of missiles. The limitations on the part of the US would entail how much to commit in order to maintain its advantage and this would create a dilemma to the US’ domestic population—especially after the failures of Afghanistan and Iraq—as Americans would have to come to terms with what Vasquez sums up as ‘the objectives sought; the weapons and manpower employed; the time, terrain, and geographic area of hostilities; and the emotions, passions, and energy, and intellect committed by a nation.’[32] In simpler terms the Trump administration would have to take into account how much the US’ populace would be willing to commit and there would be considerable tensions.  Whilst a limited war may have some immediate successes there is always the possibility that it could develop into a ‘total war’[33]—especially if a ‘pre-emptive military action’[34] was launched by the US—and a ‘knock-on’ effect would inevitably be the US being blamed by the UN for the  war.  If the war became total it would be a disaster for the region (and the world) as  a war of this type ‘take[s] on the characters of a fight for survival, they tend to mobilize resources and means to wage battles with few restraints … The goals in total wars are much more open-ended and often expand as the war progresses.  Total wars often demand the complete overthrow of the leadership of the other side whether through the demand of unconditional surrender or total annihilation … ’ and such a catastrophic event would inevitably draw in other nations.  Concomitant and reinforcing the  current state-of-affairs and because of North Korea’s limited, military capabilities by comparison to the  US, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently stated that there can be ‘no winners’[35] in a war between North Korea, the US and South Korea.


In 2013 the (then) US Secretary of Defense Hagel, stipulated North Korea was a ‘clear and present danger to the United States’[36]  and in 2017, the US was ‘having a big problem with North Korea.[37]  Whilst both comments acknowledge that the US has over time continues to observe North Korea as a rogue state, the rhetoric has been moderated recently from the original tension-filled position to one of President Trump exclaiming he would be ‘honoured’ to meet Kim Jong-un under the ‘right circumstances.’[38]  Whilst there no guarantee that a kinetic exchange between the US and North Korea because will not take place, as the situation remains fluid however, neither actor has reinforced their rhetoric beyond anything other than a requisite ‘display of power’ to pacify their domestic audiences and in the case of the US, its regional allies as well—the US moving the USS Carl Vinson strike group near to the Korean Peninsula,[39] and the North Korean government warning that it is ‘ready for war.’[40]  Therefore, with the current dialogue happening—rhetoric- and tension-filled as it is—the chances of a war breaking out is diminished considerably as the exchanges signify that no actor is willing to lose the regional power-stakes.  Remaining hostile and its requisite show-of-strength does not necessarily end indirect action; and moreover is a necessary part of preponderance.  Historically several examples of this state-of-affairs are, Russia moving troops to the Finnish border in World War Two (WWII), China on numerous occasions moving troops and matériel to coastal facilities near Taiwan, and Britain moving a permanent garrison onto the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas after the Falklands War/Guerra del Atlántico Sur (1982).

What is of most importance although often not part of the general commentary is there are inconsistencies in how North Korea is represented by the West and this factor needs to be examined.   The claim that North Korea is isolationist is misleading as it has well-entrenched ties with China, the Russian Federation, and moreover based on the comments of President Bush, also has a connections with Iran.  This is not a sign of a politically-isolationist sovereign nation-state and it is fair to argue, the West—the US in particular—has difficulties with the geo-strategic allies that North Korea has chosen are as problematic as its missile-strike capabilities.  Notwithstanding the missile program there is another single enormous issue driving the US’ need to be rid of the ‘rogue’ state of North Korea and it is the production of counterfeit US one hundred dollar bills—so-called ‘super dollars’—which North Korea has been producing since the 1970s, for all intent and purpose, indistinguishable from genuine US currency.[41]  A flood of this currency onto the world market would pose a serious threat to the US economy and is a major, if not the major, reason for the US’ military stance.   Knowing this single fact it is safe to argue, changes the  focus of why there is such preponderance and tensions in the region.

There are however, other extenuating circumstances that would impact on the US if a war were to break out.  The US’ post-WWII dominance of the region would be weakened due to US losses as well as South Korean.  A war could result in but not be limited to a reduction in the overall regional power of the US; allow China to gain an immediate exponential geo-political and geo-strategic advantage; offer an opportunity to the Russian Federation to gain greater regional geo-political and geo-strategic footprint; include European Union involvement in future political stability; and motivate other actors to assert their regional demands in the face of a weakened US.

Taking all of the above into account if the US thought North Korea posed an overwhelming threat to US and/or regional security, it would have acted earlier in the twenty-first century—possibly as early as 2002, and in recent days without doubt, would move more than a single carrier strike group into the region if the threat was real rather than imagined.   Therefore and based on the evidence, both the US and North Korea are both intent on winning the hostilities without going to war.


[1] ‘Korean War’  History.comstaff., 2002.

[2] Gabriel Kolko.  Another Century of War?  New York: The New Press, 2002, 92 – 93.

[3] A ‘rogue nation’ is an early-twentieth century term for a nation-state ‘which acts in an unpredictable or belligerent manner towards other nations; (in later use) specifically – “rogue state”.’  See: Oxford English living Dictionary.

[4]Realpolitik’ is posited in the notion of power and the desire and to a certain extent the ability to use it in a forum of sophisticated peers and recognized institutions.  Realpolitik is posited in, and summed up as ‘traditional power politics … Realpolitik [however] is a ‘jungle’, so to speak, where dangerous beasts roam and the strong and cunning rule, whereas under the League of Nations [now the UN] the beasts are put into cages reinforced by the restraints of international organization … .’’  See: Robert Jackson and Georg Sorensen.  Introduction to International Relations. Theories and approaches.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, 38.  Italics mine.

[5] Andrew Greene.  ‘North Korea threatens nuclear strike against Australia if it doesn’t stop ‘blindly toeing US line.’  ABCnews.  22 April, 2017.

[6] See: ‘Text of President Bush’s 2002 State of the Union Address.’  The Washington Post. 29, June 2002.

[7] The address was made on January 29, 2002. See: ‘Speeches by US presidents, 2002, George W. Bush.’ State of the Union Address Library. <>

[8] Eleanor Albert and Beina Xu.  ‘The China-North Korea Relationship.’  Council on Foreign Relations, 26 April, 2017.

[9] Alexander Dor.  ‘North Korea’s Growing Isolation.’  5 Sept, 2015.

[10] For a comprehensive analysis. See: Liudmila Zakharova. ‘Russia-North Korea Economic Relations.’ Joint U.S. – Korea Academic Studies. 2016, 210 – 215.

[11] ‘What is the Kaesong Industrial Complex?’ BBCnews.  10 Feb, 2016.

[12] ‘Charter of the United Nations.  Chapter VII—Action with respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches to the Peace and Acts of Aggression.’


[14] See: ‘Security Council Strengthens on Democratic Republic of Korea, Unanimously Adopting Resolution 2321 (2016).’  United Nations.  30 Nov, 2016.


[16] Xiaodon Ling. ‘The Six Party Talks at a Glance.’  Arms Control Association. May, 2012.

[17] ‘North Korea. Nuclear.’  Nuclear Threat Initiative.  Sept, 2016.

[18] Joint U.S. – Korea Academic Studies, 2016, 210 – 215.

[19] JayShree Bajorta and Beina Xu. ‘The Six Party Talks On North Korea’s Nuclear Program.’ Council on Foreign Relations. 30 Sept, 2013.

[20] The Project for the New American Century has many contributors and the directors are William Kristol, Robert Kagan, Bruce Jackson, Mark Gerson, and Randy Scheunemann.  The project was established in the Spring of 1997 and is an initiative of the New Citizenship Project.  See: Project for the New American Century.

[21] Project for the New American Century.

[22] Scott Snyder.  ‘U.S. Policy Toward North Korea.’ Jan, 2013.

[23] ‘U.S. Policy Toward North Korea.’

[24] Maria Cotudi.  ‘The limits of “strategic patience”:  How Obama failed on North Korea.’  NKNews. 2 Nov, 2016.

[25] ‘U.S. Policy Toward North Korea.’

[26] ‘America First Foreign Policy.’  The White House.


[28] The Process of War.  Advancing the Scientific Study of War. Edited by Stuart Bremer and Thomas Cusack.  Australia: Gordon and Breach, 1995, 97.

[29] Harriet Agerholm. ‘US national security adviser says ‘be prepared for military action against North Korea.’     1 May, 2017.

[30] Carl von Clauswitz. Vom Kriege: Hinterlassenes Werk des Generals …(Gebundene Ausgabe)Dümmlers: Verlag,Berlin, 1832. See: Karl von Clausewitz.  On War.  Edited by Anotel Rapoport. Translation by Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1908.  London: Penguin Classics, 1982, 402.

[31] Adrian Lewis.  The American Culture of War.  The History of U.S. Military Force from World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom.  New York: Routledge, 2007, 203.

[32] The American Culture of War, 203.

[33] John Vasquez.  The War Puzzle.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 67.


[35] ‘North Korea: War with North Korea can bring no winners, China says.’  ABCnews, 18 April, 2017.

[36] Joel Wit and Jenny Town. ‘7 Reasons to Worry About North Korea’s Weapons.’ 16 April, 2013.

[37] ‘We have a big problem’ in North Korea: Trump.’ Reuters/video. 5 April, 2017

[38] Jeremy Diamond and Zachary Cohen.  ‘Trump: I’d be honored to meet Kim Jong-un under ‘right circumstances.’ CNNpolitics.  2 May, 2017.

[39] Edward Helmore.  ‘Tillerson: China agrees on ‘action’ on North Korea as navy strike group sails.’ The Guardian.  10 April, 2017.

[40] Samuel Osborne.  ‘North Korea says it is ‘ready for war’ with Donald Trump’s United States.’ Independent.     21 Mar, 2017.

[41] Moon Sung Hwee.  ‘Super Notes Still in Production.’ Daily NK.  6 April, 2009.

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