Weekly cables

Week 24 - 2017

The US needs to assure Beijing and convince Seoul before attacking North Korea 

As proved by MacroGeo, until a couple of months ago the Trump administration didn’t want to make war to North Korea but only to increase pressure on Kim Jong-un, especially through China, to get rid of Pyongyang’s burgeoning nuclear program. Washington, however, is becoming more convinced by the minute that a military attack is the only way to pursue its strategic goal. The United States cannot live with North Korea potentially being able of bombing the America’s west coast and it feels it needs to act before such a dreadful scenario becomes reality. Most likely within the next year or so, unless Kim Jong-un abandons his nuclear ambitions altogether - a highly improbable event at this point. Nevertheless, before attacking North Korea Washington needs to reassure China and persuade South Korea. In particular, the US has to reassure Beijing that it would only target North Korean nuclear installations without trying to dismantle the regime. China shares America’s interest in preventing Pyongyang’s from becoming a full-fledged nuclear power, but it also wants Kim Jong-un to stay in power, as a different regime or a unified Korea would put American soldiers on China’s border. Moreover, the US needs China’s intelligence to thoroughly map North Korea’s nuclear sites, as Beijing’s assessment is considered to be the most accurate in the world (although flawed as it is). Even more importantly, the White House needs to persuade Seoul that the price in terms of human lives caused by a war against Pyongyang would be worthwhile. If struck, Pyongyang would certainly retaliate by bombing Seoul, possibly causing thousands of victims, but if the US attack proves successful – the Americans have been telling their counterparts - South Korea would be then freed from a looming nuclear threat. Necessary maneuvers that only if carried out would bring the US and North Korea closer to war. Otherwise, war remains a costly last resort.

Netanyahu tells Trump that his plan to revive the peace process is dead on arrival

On June 20 Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the construction of the first Israeli West Bank settlement in 25 years. A move which comes right after Trump had announced he wants to revive the long stalled peace process between Israelis and Palestinians and after the White House had asked Bibi to hold back on settlement activity. The actual construction of the new village, to be named Amichai, won’t start before several weeks, but Netanyahu wanted to signal right away that he might pay lip service to Trump’s plan but won’t comply for real. Public statements of good will notwithstanding, Israel doesn’t need to make any concessions to the Palestinians and won’t do it. Quite the contrary, as any other country, Israel needs to move its first line of military defense away from its core and it has always done so by controlling Gaza, the West Bank, Golan Heights and Southern Lebanon. Something which didn’t change even when Jerusalem formally ceded Gaza and the West Bank and which won’t change in the foreseeable future. Unless Israel is military forced to by other powers to abandon its comfort zone and concede territory to its neighbors.

US Congress wants to reduce White House power to wage war

On June 29 the U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to repeal the wide ranging 2001 law that allows the president to wage war against terrorist groups around the world. The amendment would cancel the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), the authorization approved right after 9/11 which still provides the White House with the legal framework to fight as many terrorist groups as it deems fit. The amendment was broached by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California) but also backed by many Republican lawmakers, showing how Congress usually tends to act as an institution rather than merely following the instructions of America’s two main parties. In the end, the repeal might never take place. Capitol Hill, however, wants to warn president Trump that it might reverse what has happened for the past 30 years and strip him of the prerogative to unilaterally make war, in accordance with the recommendations of the founding fathers who thought Congress should craft foreign policy alongside the White House. A trend which we believe will continue to strengthen in the next years.