Currently the strategic and global nuclear balance develops on the basis of three factors which are closely interwoven.
The first one is related to Europe, which is marginalized after the end of the Cold War and will remain so for the years to come.
Today the European Union, both the Euro area and the EU-28, has not an overall strategy for the future. It has no credible nuclear weapons outside NATO, not even for the French-British duo, which stems from well-different considerations and interests.
Europe is destined to bad integration, because it lost the particular “third world war” called globalization, with the Middle East and the Maghreb region which will be for the EU the equivalent of what Southern Europe’s economies and societies were at the beginning of the unification process of the Eurasian peninsula, which was functional only to put pressure on the USSR and its military pact.
Indeed, President Barack Obama’s new geopolitics, which will certainly be maintained and followed by his successor to the US presidency, is to encircle the Russian Federation – hence the new strategic alliance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – and finally China.
In fact, China will be the next global competitor for the United States, both at Euro-Mediterranean level and in the Pacific region, which will be increasingly important for the United States.
NATO shall be rethought in this context, because it can no longer be the coalescence point of two strategic axes which are progressively distancing each other, namely the European Union and the United States.
Rethinking the Atlantic Alliance means, above all, to reformulate its nuclear threat.
This means NATO, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the United Nations themselves, namely all the pillars on which the post-war world peace has been based so far.
NATO was designed for a final nuclear strike against the Warsaw Pact, thus playing a defensive role in relation to a wide invasion from the ground.
At the beginning there was no linkage between the Central European defense and the protection of the link between the Middle East and the Mediterranean.
Nevertheless the Warsaw Pact has always considered nuclear weapons as an effective weapon system as any other, in relation to the magnitude and goals of the struggle for conquering Europe – the action that Raymond Aron called the “battle for the large Central European plain”.
The second factor of geopolitical renewal regards Asia, where the regionalization of geopolitical tensions and theories is growing.
China wants the security of its near seas and full control over the terrestrial area stretching from Xingkiang to Afghanistan and reaching up to the point of contact between the Heartland and the largest regional sea in the world, namely the Mediterranean, which will be the pivot of future global development.
In China’s logics, Land and Sea – the two axes of Carl Schmitt’ strategic thinking – are a continuum, not an opposition between Anglosaxon Thucydidean “thalassocrats” and European and Roman-Germanic chthonic forces.
Furthermore China will have ever more serious conflicts with Japan, which has started a timid rearmament, still scarcely effective at theoretical level, which, however, is a way for Japan to put an end to the mindset imposed on it by the winner MacArthur, after the end of World War II.
Both Russia and China have turned the “world without nuclear weapons” proposed by US President Obama during the current Summit held in Washington into the idea of a world without non-US nuclear weapons.
China wants either full security towards the Taiwan area, with a military projection onto the Pacific, or the de facto integration of the Republic of China into its region.
This will inevitably lead to very strong tensions with Japan, but we do not know to what extent it can acquire the US support in this new Asian scenario.
As already mentioned, the third factor of the global geopolitical transformation is related to the Middle East.
It is military divided between Sunnis and Shiites after the Cold War leaving it deprived of safeguards and controls. Nevertheless none of the two regional powers of reference, namely Iran and Saudi Arabia, is able to manage a unified geopolitical project for the whole region on its own.
Integrating the Middle East chaos into an area without global geopolitical guidance, except for the oil blackmail, and with now obsolete weapons, as is currently the case for the EU, is an invitation to wage war, not to reach peace.
Moreover, today oil is causing tensions on world markets both because its price is driven by sectoral futures and because the costs of the Sunni or Shiite armed projection cannot be managed by the same actors, due to the ever smaller oil reserves and the need for internal social stability within the two countries.
If Iran and Saudi Arabia expand themselves, they acquire new energy sources, but precisely in doing so they destabilize the market of their buyers and depress the oil barrel price to pay military expenses.
Not to mention the US and Canadian shale oil and gas industry, which is currently undergoing a deep crisis because of the oil price, but which, in the future, could at least support the North American domestic market consumption.
Hence tensions which, in the Greater Middle East, are bound to remain so for a currently unpredictable lapse of time.
Furthermore, the United States have recently increased the funds for updating the nuclear arsenal by over 1 billion US dollars. This implies inserting nuclear weapons in high-precision carriers, in a strategic perspective which sees the new nuclear weapons operate in correlation with conventional military structures.
For example, the US Ohio-class submarines, which are the most efficient ones at nuclear level, will be fully renovated in 2012.
The newly designed non-nuclear US weapons are already being tested on the ground.
And this happens both in the United States and the Russian Federation, as well as in China.
Today we have reached the “second nuclear age” and it is almost useless to talk about old nuclear arsenals without connecting the reductions to the new geopolitical and technological environment which, like it or not, today is multipolar in itself.
Therefore the Chinese fears of a new arms race are well-grounded.
The new arms race, however, would take place in a context which is strategically diversifying itself, whereas the traditional global contact points are de facto obsolete.
Nevertheless the fourth Nuclear Summit of 2016, with more than 56 participating nations, excluding Russia, which did not accept the invitation, is a turning point for redesigning the nuclear potential.
Yet it is worth recalling that the world has really changed.
Russia has regarded President Obama’s proposals and the US policy in the Middle East as potentially hostile actions against its security, not to mention the new deployments of North American weapons and soldiers at the European borders of the old Warsaw Pact.
Russia does not want to be regionalized and China suspects that the new NATO and US encirclement of Russia is the second line of a forward defense, the primary goal of which is China’s containment along the terrestrial axis.
An encirclement which would reach South Asia’s regional seas, up to the US, NATO and even EU defense lines, as well as Japan’s (and South Korea’s).
But, within this framework, how can we regard the North Korean nuclear issue and its inclusion in global equilibria?
North Korea has nuclear capacity for many reasons: 1) to raise the price of its possible reunification with South Korea, but also 2) to ensure its autonomy after the definition of borders inside its peninsula, and finally 3) to marginally support both Russia’s and China’s defensive nuclear potential.
North Korea has never really relinquished the idea of an “anti-imperialist” linkage with Russia and China, but now the situation has changed and the two former big Communist countries operate on their own.
Furthermore Russia has freed for itself the axis between Ukraine and the Eastern Mediterranean basin.
It is well-known that North Korea carried out nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, 2013 and even in January 2016, although it is unlikely for the device to have a thermonuclear nature, as maintained by North Korea.
Therefore, North Korea cannot reasonably use its nuclear arsenal for security in the North, where China continues to support Kim Yong An’s regime, albeit in an ever more lukewarm way.
North Korea does not need to secure its regional sea, where the only hypothetical threat is connected to a linkage between a South Korean ground offensive and a US missile action.
Such an action would immediately trigger off the reactions of China, Russia, India, Iran and even Saudi Arabia, threatened in its areas of reference by the warheads responding to the US ally’s attacks against North Korea.
It is an option which, for the time being, has to be certainly ruled out.
The Kim Yong Un’s Nodong missiles have a range of 1,300 kilometres and the Musudan missiles have a range of 4,000 kilometres,while the Taepodong 1 and 2 missiles have a range of 2,000 and 8,000 kilometers, respectively.
A global threat from a country like North Korea is not a real threat, but rather insurance on the long life of that regime.
If the regime melts in the globalization of its “capitalist” South, Kim Yong Un will be willing to retain the role of armed contact between South Korea and the Central Asian landmass.
Conversely, if North Korea remains a sort of Marxist-Leninist Shangri-La, its nuclear potential will be useful to obtain better economic and political treatment and conditions from China and Russia, which would have an interest in integrating a reluctant North Korea into their continental set-up.
In a not too distant future it would not even be impossible to think of “fluidifying” the North Korean Armed Forces in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which could eventually be useful also for some Western countries.
As is well-known, the six-party talks between North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States started in 2003, immediately after North Korea’s withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The finalization of talks and the denuclearization of the whole Korean peninsula are no longer an effective project.
Moreover, unlike what happened in 2003 – and this implies a specific North Korea’s interpretation of US actions against the jihad in Central Asia – today all participants in the talks have nuclear diversified, and sometimes conflicting, strategies.
China has an all-out military nuclear capacity, which will gradually be extended in view of protecting its economic and strategic expansion.
The United States, too, have a comprehensive nuclear system which, however, does not sufficiently differentiate between high-risk areas and areas in which a reduction of the US military pressure would be useful, because this nuclear system is the result of the Cold War and of a sort of compulsion to repeat it.
Russia wants a nuclear system to protect its South and its oil areas, as well as to project its power onto the orphans of the Warsaw Pact and design a new strategic, but peaceful, expansion towards the Mediterranean basin and the Indian region.
Hence, with a view to reducing the North Korean threat, it is useless to unite the so called “six parties”, which reach an agreement at night and then quarrel during the day.
Furthermore nuclear talks should be combined with the talks on chemical and biological weapons, as well as with any discussion held at the Summit on the new weapon systems being tested.
If North Korea accepted a curbing of its nuclear potential, it would immediately be tempted to expand – covertly or not – its research and actions on the rest of non-conventional weapons.
We must avoid so by creating comprehensive talks.
So global talks, but with a basic idea: we must, first and foremost, ensure the sovereignty of North Korea, an old useless remnant of the Cold War, namely the post-war period in which the USSR decision-makers thought they could wage and spread many regional wars.
The issue lay in fomenting military clashes in the whole region stretching from Iran to northern Vietnam, so as to weaken NATO and US forces and de facto encircle, with a domino strategy, the European region and neutralize it against the Warsaw Pact.
Moreover, Indochina’s destabilization would directly threaten Japan, isolate US bases in the Pacific and finally bring the Communist threat up to California’s coast.
A pincer movement which succeeded only partially and only for Vietnam, which was the central axis breaking the so-called US “pearl necklace”, with the possible Communist control of the Straits of Malacca from the ground, from the “liberated” South Vietnam.
Thus ensuring North Korea’s national autonomy to dilute its N and BC potential at first along the Russian axis and then along the Chinese one.
In fact, the UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea seem to mainly damage the Russian strategic interests.
Russia, however, is also fed up with North Korea’s nuclear actions and tests, which isolate the Korean peninsula and severely undermine Russian plans for controlling the routes from the Persian Gulf to China and South East Asia, where Russia still has wide interests which will be even wider in the future.
Furthermore Russia still regards South East Asia as the base for the military security of the Southern part of Siberia and hence has no interest in destabilizing the Korean peninsula.
Hence Russia’s interest in stabilizing North Korea’s NBC arsenal is very great and should be fully used.
Therefore no more six-party talks, but rather a tripartite mechanism between China, Russia and the United States, in which the United States would ensure North Korea’ safety from US attacks from the US soil or bases, while Russia could project part of its nuclear missile arsenal to protect the North, thus gradually defusing North Korean carriers.
Finally, China could back part of North Korea’s economic development, by ensuring its North-eastern borders and expanding the Korean “Special Economic Zones” (SEZs), which have always been floundering in deep crisis.
The first North Korean SEZ was Razon, the first one built in the Raijn-Sombong area in 1991.
It is strategic because it could link the inland areas of the Chinese borders to the sea.
Sinuiju was founded in 2002 on the Yongbion river but, shortly after its creation, the Sino-Dutch businessman who ran it was put under investigation for fraud in China, while the SEZ project in the region is going on without great success.
The Kaesong SEZ, at the border between the two Koreas and spreading on the territory of both of them, is not yet operating in full swing and, at the time, the two leaders which created it, namely Kim Jong Il and Roo Moh Youn, were already planning a new SEZ in Haejou, along the coast.
Then we have the most recent SEZs, namely Hwanggumpyong and Wihwa, on the islands bearing the same name, with even fourteen new economic zones that the North Korean regime has planned to create.
The linkage is simple, namely the one between a transfer of N and BC potential and the expansion of North Korea’s old and new SEZs, mainly supported by China, while the Russian Federation, in a tripartite initiative with China and the United States, would support the North Korean uranium and plutonium cycle, with criteria similar to those adopted before and after the JCPOA with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Otherwise, the forgotten old Cold War between the two Koreas could overheat, ignite and set fire to the link between the Greater Middle East and the Central Asian Heartland – a disaster which is no good to anyone.
Giancarlo Elia Valori * (@GEliaValori)
* Presidente della merchant bank “La centrale Finanziaria Generale S.p.A.”
– Presidente della “Cattedra sugli studi della pace, la sicurezza e lo sviluppo internazionale presso la Facoltà di relazioni internazionali della Peking University, nonché “professore straordinario” di economia e politica internazionale nello stesso Ateneo
– Honorable dell’Académie des Sciences dell’Institut de France