Red Lines and Blurred Lines – When Do We Go to War?

Rhetoric and deeds are escalating, both in Washington, D.C. and in Pyongyang. It is clear that the regime of Kim Jong-un is trying to achieve nuclear status by all available means. And it is equally clear that the different voices from the Trump administration do not add up to a clear strategy.

Red lines are mentioned, but vaguely, and bombastic declarations (‘fire and fury’) are alternating with diplomatic invitations to negotiate.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is repeating the mantra that ‘there is only a diplomatic solution’. Similar words are used when it comes to China’s artificial reefs and new debates on sovereignty, and Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the continuing meddling in Ukraine’s affairs, which is a rather boring continuation of ordinary robbery.

The invitation to this week’s debate is to take positions on this mantra: That ‘there is no other solution’. Empirically, this is obviously wrong. There were and are military solutions to conflicts, and sometimes economic sanctions work as well. In addition, it is often not a good idea to take certain moves off the table, even when they are not preferred, because then an adversary can calculate how far the opponent will go in resisting him.

But to make things easier, let’s focus on the main problem: aside from matters regarding the DRPK, are there values or interests in the early 21st century for which it is legitimate (or even required) to go to war? Despite our sophisticated knowledge about escalatory risks and the disastrous effects of WMDs? If not, for what do we maintain armies, then?

– Klaus Segbers

Summary
Description
In diplomatic strategy, the so-called „red line“ marks the point of no return. The phrase uses the threat of force to set a limit which should not be passed. But what happens with such lines when they are crossed and no consequence follows?
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  1. Justas Paleckis 3 months ago

    It is legitimate to go to war only if this step is supported by the United Nations. Unfortunately, wars have been launched more than once without the UN resolutions. The mantra that “there is only a diplomatic solution” is right and should be used as often as possible. Even the US Secretary of Defence is in favour of it, arguing that the military answer to the crisis around the Korean Peninsula would be „tragic on an unbelievable scale“ and a potential nuclear incident “would be catastrophic”. Economic sanctions also tend to hit common people, not the elite. Moreover they rarely produce results – let us recall the Cuban economic blockade. The concept of United Nations needs reform. The number of permanent members of the Security Council should increase and in general this organization should become a truly effective peace-protector.

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  2. Alexei Voskressenski 3 months ago

    There are values and interests that must be defended militarily, although war generally is not a tool to achieve any goals in 21 Century. This is the last instrument among many possible. The situation in the case of the DRPK and WMD is as well as in regard to other mentioned examples (South China See, Crimea) are very complex. Where was the international community before (i.e. in case of Pakistan, India, and there is also the Lybian case)? We all must understand – double standards always have consequences. And for South Korea the most accute danger is not North Korean intercontinental missiles but conventional weapons of a powerfull army that is across the border a step from Seoul. North Korean issue must be resolved collectively and the decisive word against WMD must be voiced by China. This is a litmus test for China, and if this test fails, than China fails being a global power and all Chinese words about peacefull rise are null. In this case everything becomes possible, but consequences are unpredictable for everybody.

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  3. Wang Mengyao 3 months ago

    What we want comes much earlier than how we can achieve it, not vice versa. If we only focus on how we can achieve a certain goal, by war or peace, it means we share the same outlook for the future presumably. If we presume that there is only one legitimate outlook without any alternative, it is inevitable to have conflicts which by no means can be solved in peace. Expenditure on maintaining and developing armies is growing alongside the arrogance with which we defend our values as only legitimate ones. War will occur when the expenditure and the determinacy of having no alternative reach a climax at the same time. Although we face challenges in early 21st century, they root in the past. I think, DPRK will trigger a war when there is no acceptable alternative but a doom for the regime provided by the U.S. or China. By the same token, China will not because it has a lot in hands with higher flexibility.

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  4. Anastasia Wischnewskaja 3 months ago

    Sticking to own red lines in foreign policy has not been very popular recently. Heidi Tagliavini basically blames Georgia for being attacked by Russia in 2008, Obama binned his own red lines with respect to Syria, the EU pretended not to see the Russian annexation of Crimea and the death of Liu Xiaobo remained almost unnoticed by the European politicians, who are too dependent on trade with China to be able to handle. What they do forget is that their predecessors won the Cold War not by playing down the evil the Soviet Union represented, but by standing their ground firmly. So yes, I strongly believe, that as long as we do not live in the world of rose unicorns, we have to maintain WMD arsenals and have to be ready to use them. As the recent developments around North Korea show, sometimes being firm about red lines and being ready to stick to them is enough.

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  5. Nikoloz Tokhvadze 2 months ago

    It is obviously compelling for many in the world, not falling within the range and interests of N. Korea’s ICBMs (loaded with nuclear warheads) to speak of supremacy of diplomacy (‘Talk is cheap’, so are the tweets) or non-military coercive measures (sanctions, etc.). Yet, perspective of states, allegedly soon to be exposed to imminent threat of annihilation, might be drastically different.

    Values can be conceived and articulated differently in every part of the world (despite the attempt to push the concept of the universal values by the western countries), while interests, having less normative and thus more material – rationalist basis, can render more universal equation for waging a war:

    Neither the US (the whole West coast and more being exposed), but more so Japan and South Korea, can afford putting their people and industries under the imminent threat of North Korean attack. Economic and Humanitarian costs as well as risks are excessively high for that. Things can get even faster out of hand if we perceive a nuclear North Korea not as a rational actor with calculated cold war survival strategy (e.i. logical and predictable) but as an irrational and fundamental actor dogmatically obsessed with obliteration of its ‘enemies’ at any cost (including self-destruction).

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6 Comments

  1. Amir Mohsen HADIAN RASANANI 3 months ago

    The Chinese Style for Peacekeeping:
    The situation in the Korean peninsula is a multifaceted one with many dependent variables. Some particular complexities lies within the Chinese foresight surrounding the region. Having learned its lessons from the unification of Germany and collapse of the DDR and the continuous expansion of NATO and the missile shield program in Eastern Europe, may have haunted the Chinese from a parallel situation in SE Asia.
    A unified Korea would have a huge amount of capital, skilled labor, technology and military hardware, even if it is denuclearized. Furthermore, if the DPRK breaks down from within, the South will inherit the warheads and missile inventory. Will the South be interested in giving up these inventories like Ukraine and Kazakhstan did? One should bear in mind that the South does have the funds and technology to maintain the arsenal and even further develop it. This scenario isn’t void since a surge in Chinese power and tendencies towards Japanese re-militarization and the experience Ukraine had, may give the incentive to a unified Korea to maintain the arsenal or be a threshold state.
    In terms of political thought, a unified liberal-democrat Korea may prove to be a possible obstacle, especially if the US garrison decides to stay and advance closer to Chinese borders like NATO did regarding Russia in Eastern Europe.
    The philosophical dilemma of a Communist breakdown, so close to Chinese borders, (having in mind that China and the North were solid allies during the cold war and the shared history they had) further complicates the issue. Probable atrocities of DPRK will be unveiled and since it is the age of internet, Chinese public opinion may question the decades long support for the DPRK, which might ignite a serious human rights debate.
    Adaptation of a pro-western liberal democracy in a successful economically booming Korea, with a nuclear arsenal or threshold capability and the continuation of US troops presence in Korea would be a headache for Beijing. One that may be bigger than the current DPRK’s occasional bellicose rhetoric.
    The Chinese think tanks and government will probably devise a new approach which will deescalate the current situation and limit the DPRK, since the North Korean rhetoric has recently gained a nuclear flavor , something that disturbs and has the capacity to block the Chinese path of peaceful development. Although, this new devised plan won’t probably lead to a Korean unification for the coming time.
    In other words, China will play a peacekeeping role in its own terms, one that is devised and designed according to other players (such as US, JP, RU and SK) actions’ as well.

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  2. Sandra Miller 3 months ago

    There’s an old latin saying that goes “if you want peace, prepare for war”. It suggests that, he who wishes peace, let him maintain strength, since strong society is less likely to be attacked by enemies. If we update this saying for the modern world, we can see that also in our times governments develop weapons in order to maintain their military preeminence. However, the nuclear age changed the way governments actually think about war itself. Nuclear weapons are so destructive, that they are not supposed to be used in war, they are supposed to deter war. Due to nuclear weapons wars between great powers have not taken place in the history. So if we think in the logic of nuclear strategy, the mantra “there is no other solutions” is the only solution we got. In age of growing possession of nuclear weapons, if any state’s nuclear program is seen as alarming by its neighbours, it might be seen as defensive by its leaders.

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  3. Ding Yuhang 3 months ago

    War can solve problems, but it must be the worst way. Red lines cannot be crossed, so people always choose an eclectic method, that is, so called blurred lines. Regarding to North Korea issues, the United States thinks verbal threats or economic sanctions can be effective deterrence, which may be true in the Middle East, South Asian countries and other parts of the world. But when North Korea launched its latest round of threats against the United States, saying it plans to deploy military units (nuclear weapons and missiles) targeting U.S. bases under combat ready status. American politicians and militants should begin to be aware that traditional ways of threats failed. Though Diplomatic solutions seem to be the best way for resolving problems, but they are always regarded as voices of weakness and actually cannot tackle the causes. In the view of Realists, armies and forces can be effective ways for problem solving. In the global world, red lines sometimes have been overlooked. But for Pyongyang, it has issued a range of bombastic threats against the U.S. when angered by U.N. sanctions and joint military exercises. Red lines and diplomatic solution seem to be useless for North Korea. Today, they both become aggressive and firm in their positions, but the U.S. cannot take actions like the Korean War in the past period of time, sticking to its positions firmly. After the emergence of Trump administration, the U.S. has become more helpless, especially when faced with domestic pressure, congressional rhetoric and protests from populism and isolationism. We can see that the principle of solving disputes by peaceful means now become gradually nonbinding, relations between countries has become more and more complex and tied up closely. If red lines have been crossed, if a state really want to resort to war, the state will find an excuse of its action for wining international legitimacy, for real or potential actions. At this time, values and interests cannot be defended or achieved by diplomatic ways or just verbal never lose sight.

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  4. Ding Yuhang 3 months ago

    War can solve problems, but it must be the worst way. Red lines cannot be crossed, so people always choose an eclectic method, that is, so called blurred lines. Regarding to North Korea issues, the United States thinks verbal threats or economic sanctions can be effective deterrence, which may be true in the Middle East, South Asian countries and other parts of the world. But when North Korea launched its latest round of threats against the United States, saying it plans to deploy military units (nuclear weapons and missiles) targeting U.S. bases under combat ready status. American politicians and militants should begin to be aware that traditional ways of threats failed. Though Diplomatic solutions seem to be the best way for resolving problems, but they are always regarded as voices of weakness and actually cannot tackle the causes. In the view of Realists, armies and forces can be effective ways for problem solving. In the global world, red lines sometimes have been overlooked. But for Pyongyang, it has issued a range of bombastic threats against the U.S. when angered by U.N. sanctions and joint military exercises. Red lines and diplomatic solution seem to be useless for North Korea. Today, they both become aggressive and firm in their positions, but the U.S. cannot take actions like the Korean War in the past period of time, sticking to its positions firmly. After the emergence of Trump administration, the U.S. has become more helpless, especially when faced with domestic pressure, congressional rhetoric and protests from populism and isolationism. We can see that the principle of solving disputes by peaceful means now become gradually nonbinding, relations between countries has become more and more complex and tied up closely. If red lines have been crossed, if a state really want to resort to war, the state will find an excuse of its action for wining international legitimacy, for real or potential actions. At this time, values and interests cannot be defended or achieved by diplomatic ways or just verbal negotiation, so it is possible that armies should stand in the frontier to prevent unpredictable factors.
    Red lines still exist, blurred lines can be buffers, emerging countries can issue a challenge to old powers, but they should still remember: NEVER lose sight.

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  5. Zoltan Eperjesi 2 months ago

    North Korea or what are the military alternatives to counteract provocations? According to President Trump “all options are on the table” after North Korea fired a missile over Japan. North Korea’s official news agency distributed a photo, allegedly of the rocket launch. Thus, the propaganda machinery of North Korea works intensively hand in hand with the military on its “own” further ideologically motivated strategic moves. Let’s review what could military action against Kim Jong-un’s regime in point of fact look like? Background: – as a ballistic rocket passed over the Japanese island of Hokkaido inhabitants were informed to take cover. The missile launch can be assessed as an offensive act, which has been followed by further warnings from the North Korean regime. Thus, this provocation was accompanied by aggressive rhetoric being based on the warning that it was just a “first step”. As an answer to this offensive move several nations and the UN have imposed sanctions on North Korea, while President Trump declared that he was thinking on the next steps. However, while the US has a status of unparalleled military power, the range of military options it actually has against the self-isolating state are quite narrow. – One possibility as answer of the US to Kim Jong-un’s regime could be to send volleys of precision Tomahawk missiles launched from submarines off the North Korean seaside and attacks by B-2 stealth bombers against strategic North Korean nuclear positions and ballistic missile equipment may seem like a smart system, at first. The US Navy and Air Force have the most innovative operating strike capabilities in the World. It is certainly the case that substantial destruction could be caused on crucial military objectives, with intensely hidden and annealed underground capabilities exposed to the 30,000lb Massive Ordnance Penetrator bomb. The direct risk to US plane would depend on a lot of aspects, together with the sum of warning what Pyongyang received, the amount of airstrikes flown and the involvement of non-stealth aircraft within operating range of its own borderlines. Nevertheless, the state of North Korea’s air protection system is precise in to identify hostile elements since it is a combination of Chinese, Soviet/Russian and home-produced radar systems and surface-to-air rockets. This system was developed after the end of WWII and is one of the most complex networks in the region. These defense systems are among the most concentrated in the world, however they have been adjusted and improved to a new configuration, but as it is a secret military project this is why their full operational capacity is problematic to calculate exactly. If the offensive of North Korea lost aircraft to defensive operations or accidents would happen it would then have to face the worst-case scenario of having to try to save its flight crew, or abandon them to their own fate. Far more important, however, is the crucial detail that even effective airstrikes on missile and nuclear objectives, control hubs or even the political headship itself, would not simply stop Pyongyang to hit back. It is very probable that People’s Army would still have the capacity to cause practically unavoidably shocking destruction as a reaction in immediate revenge for example against South Korea, which is the most important partner of the USA in this conflictual context. It comprises over a million regular soldiers and, by rough estimates and over six million reserves plus the paramilitary units. A vast number of regular and missile artillery stocks, generally concentrated nearby the demilitarized area, contain military hot-spots that are within the outreach of parts of Seoul. The South Korean capital city is home to around 10 million people and in the case of an open military confrontation among the adversary blocks, huge civil losses were unavoidable. Even the U.S. Air Force and military would cost precious time, measured in more days to completely destroy just the mentioned anti-aircraft artillery and batteries, which would have the capacity to shoot tens of thousands of missiles and artillery shells in these times in particular. The big scale destruction waves that these artillery stations would cause on a congested mega city, as well as to the South Korean armed units, is why the government of Seoul is opposed to any pre-emptive military action, even U.S. Airforce surgical strikes against North Korea. Indeed, the Kim regime could cause overwhelming destruction and probably counteract the US-South Korean cooperation as we know it today even without a functional nuclear-powered missile and without directly occupying its western-oriented neighbor. – Another possibility could be the least dangerous but possibly the least operative choice existing since it would basically build on deployments that have long been in position in the region and have had little achievements in preventing North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic rocket program. The USA and/or its allies could transport further ground troops into South Korea, as well as ground-based missile defenses, such as the debated Thaad system, armored forces and heavy artillery to show its readiness to think in military strategical terms in order to back up its most stringent requirements. But, Seoul conditionally stopped the modern Thaad deployment and is firmly against any rises in foreign ground forces, because of fears to provoke the regime of Pyongyang. Indeed, North Korea would almost surely interpret such actions as a foreplay to an invasion of ground forces, given its feedbacks to yearly common maneuvers between the South Korean and US armies. Moreover, Russia and China would probably vigorously object too, and both have the influence to use their power status against American interest in various regions such as the South and East China Seas or even Eastern Europe. It is true that the US Navy could intensify its presence around Korea by sending more destroyers and ships able to shoot down ballistic missiles and, perhaps, positioning a second carrier strike group, but even this strategy has its political difficulties (decision makers). Combined with the naval possibilities, the US Air Force could strengthen its forward-based air defense, with more surveillance aircraft, support tankers, attack fighter squadrons and heavy bombers at military bases in Japan, South Korea and even Guam. Conversely, the US Navy and US Air Force are both particularly seriously busy with several missions around the world and are under pressure since over a decade by executing continuous high-intensity assignments in support of various actions, comprising such complex tasks as those of Iraq and Afghanistan. What is more significant in the current state of affairs, possibly, is the fact that is time on Pyongyang ‘s and US diplomatic sides to also rethink their own strategy, since a greater foreign or American military presence would not itself coerce an imminent stop to North Korea’s speedily developing nuclear armaments program and ballistic missile testing. Moreover, the situation is currently quite complicated as any way or intent to shoot down Pyongyang’s ballistic missiles that are “tested” outside the country’s airspace would itself involve a fast increase in US Navy presence around the already highly militarized peninsula. Furthermore, it is not to forget that North Korea already has an enormous ballistic missile…

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  6. Zoltan Eperjesi 2 months ago

    Continuation of the first blog… Furthermore, it is not to forget that North Korea already has an enormous ballistic missile arsenal, and US interceptor missiles are particularly costly systems. However, this kind of defense program also involves the fact that their immediate availability is conditioned as it is hugely restricted in quantity aboard each ship of the Navy. For that reason it would be probable for Pyongyang to overcome and diminish the current US Navy’s stocks, leaving them exposed to open conflict and forced to withdrawals to their harbor. But such a strategy or cat-and-mouse game would also represent a very costly and undoubtedly unmaintainable experiment to the regime of North Korea, not to mention the fact that it always bears a risky escalation towards direct military conflict on both sides. The last military possibility could be a full-scale invasion of US troops in the North, but by knowing the current largeness and versatility of the People’s Army, the strategic positions of its artillery, its thick air defenses network and South Korea’s unwillingness to fully maintain any further operative US military mission, this alternative is particularly unlikely. Any try to overrun and also control North Korea would necessitate costly time that can be in fact measured in months. Thus, any evident US army movement, full-sized South Korean contribution and a way to assure by open attack the neutralization of North Korea’s shadow nuclear capabilities would also involve the lost of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians on both sides. Consequently, the reality is that none of the military options available to the US for dealing with North Korea come without a lot of expenses and substantial risks to use nuclear or biological weapons in a prolonged conflict. Thus, the considerations that it will have to weigh up against ambiguous and problematical potential outcomes are still prevailing. The further development of the nuclear program is a prestige and power question for the regime of North Korea, which is based on the strong (political, military) traditions of the Cold-War era. Furthermore, the country also tries to come out – paradoxically but ideologically founded- of its imminent diplomatic isolation to gain a power status. It would be insightful if the highly developed and powerful US diplomatic network would start direct or indirect negotiations with Pyongyang by offering him the possibility to save its face and search for viable reciprocal recognition in order to start peaceful cooperation. China could be a key in this respect.

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