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

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  1. Justas Paleckis 7 days 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. Anastasia Wischnewskaja 7 days 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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  3. Alexei Voskressenski 7 days 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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  4. Wang Mengyao 7 days 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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1 Comment

  1. Amir Mohsen HADIAN RASANANI 3 days 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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