Refocusing NATO on Imminent Existential Threats

By Danny Lam

President Trump will be at the May 25 NATO meeting.

Nuclear Ballistic Missile Threats from North Korea are an existential threat to NATO members.

DPRK is presently not on NATO’s agenda.

It must be.

NATO was founded as a collective security organization to defend against existential threats to members. Post war core Anglo-European values that war is abhorrent, and causes of war, whether economic, political such as territorial disputes, etc. should be settled peacefully are at the heart and soul of NATO.

After the cold war, when Russia violated these core values, first in Georgia, then Crimea, and finally the Ukraine, NATO members unambiguously defended these core Anglo-European values against Russia.

Today, the greatest existential threat to the Anglo-European NATO alliance is not Russia, but coming from North Korea under Kim Jong Un.

North Korea will be able to directly pose an existential threat to at least two NATO members (Canada and USA) within a matter of years, and shortly thereafter, Western Europe.   Existential threats are not just the ability to terminate the existence of an opponent.

But, “the capability to permanently change another group’s values and the way it governs itself against the latter’s will”.

North Korea pose an existential threat in at least two ways: First, by acquiring a credible capability to launch a thermo-nuclear ballistic missile strike aimed at any NATO member in Europe or North America. Secondly, by attacking core Anglo-Western values.

Western analysts and the priesthood of DPRK apologists applied their rose tinted glasses to the DPRK and presumed that they share the Anglo-European abhorrence of war. North Korean motives for acquiring thermo-nuclear weapons and ICBMs to deliver it worldwide is presumed to be for the purpose of “deterrence” rather than war fighting or other motives.

North Korea is assumed to be no different than every previous nuclear power (whether P5 or not) who have acquired nuclear WMDs as an insurance policy but have never used it after WWII. In the classic view, nuclear weapons are only useful as deterrence against existential threats.

But this view does not apply to the DPRK’s historical and present behavior.

DPRK under Kim Jong Un is in fact attacking a core post-war Anglo-European value no different than Russia unilaterally changing borders by force: No war for profit.

The Anglo-European value under attack is that economic gains is not a legitimate motive for war, and winning wars should not result in economic gain. This core value was the result of centuries of European wars fought for wealth and spoils, which in the 19th century resulted in the collection of indemnities by European and later, Japanese victors.

After the Great War, the term “indemnities” was replaced with “reparations” in recognition that no amount collected by the victors could “break even,” let alone garner a profit from the war.  Unfortunately, the smaller Great War “reparations” was found to be itself a cause of World War II.

Thus, post war, the very idea of victors receiving sizable economic gains of “reparations” never entered into the equation. Germany, Japan, Italy and other belligerents that lost paid modest (or none) reparations.

The notion that a major 21st Century state can go to war for economic gain in the old fashioned European Way prior to the Great War, and in the process, collect sizable indemnities that make war profitable is nearly inconceivable to Anglo-European statesman.

Until Kim Jong Un’s DPRK, this consensus was shared by every nuclear armed power:   Russians/Soviets, Chinese (whether communist or not), Indians, Pakistanis, Israelis, etc.

North Korea under Kim Jong Un is now challenging this core consensus by acquiring a credible nuclear arsenal with global reach for the purpose of extortion.

DPRK behavior – the long term, sustained and widespread, formal use of military capabilities – for the purpose of extortion by a government that is not a failed state has no precedence in modern history since 1945.

Extortion is the use of force or threat of force to obtain money, property. It is fundamentally and legally distinct from blackmail. (Bracken, 2017).

DPRK is primarily motivated by profit, not deterrence.

Based on DPRK’s history and precedent, and the dynamics of the Kim Jong Un regime, there is no doubt that the ultimate goal of DPRK’s nuclear arsenal programs are to extort wealth, money, etc. from anyone they can threaten and collect from.

Or in Northeast Asian lingo: Demand Tribute from vassals.

The threat from DPRK is against NATO members “within range” like the US and Canada or successfully extorting from NATO is at present limited.   Other states more immediately threatened by DPRK: Republic of Korea, Japan, China, Russia are prospective tribute paying vassals of DPRK in the medium term.

If DPRK succeeds in extortion with WMDs, a core value and necessary element of global commerce will be undermined.  Once North Korea breaks this taboo, it opens the door for Kim Jong Un to sell the same capability to other powers like Iran, jihadists, and any takers that want to set up their own local racket.

Global commerce as we know it cannot survive the return of extortionist regimes who “tax” commerce or require the payment of “protection money”.

If extortion successfully begins with DPRK, it will not end with Iran.  

Nor will it end with economic motives but revive others like religion and race, to name a few.   As such, Kim Jong Un’s DPRK is, indisputably, an existential threat to all NATO members and the world as we know it.

NATO members, including the United States, have failed to recognize the severity and dangers of this existential threat and the power of collective Anglo-European defense.

NATO was never intended to address an existential threat originating outside of Europe from Northeast Asia.

How to reorganize NATO and seek a new, closer and robust defense pact with Asian allies like Australia, Japan, South Korea, etc. is a clear, present, immediate problem.

President Trump have the opportunity to secure a new NATO consensus about the severity and imminency of the DPRK threat during the meeting.

The Trump Administration must before it is too late.


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One response to “Refocusing NATO on Imminent Existential Threats”

  1. ed johnson says:

    I left a lengthy comment on the version of of Mr Lam’s excellent analysis of Kim’s motives for developing WMDs and would be grateful for any feedback.

    With respect to this column, I would just add that Kim has another powerful motive: payback. For the DPRK the U.S. and her allies are the ultimate villains.

    The U.S. wreaked devastation upon the Korean Peninsula c. 1950-53 and since then the U.S. has been viewed by the DPRK as an existential threat to the DPRK’s existence.

    Hence, apart from profit and deterrence, the DPRK has a third motive for WMDs. They want to extract revenge agains the U.S. and her Allies.

    The DPRK knows that both their civilian and military populations can retreat into good bunkers and shield themselves from Allied attacks.

    By contrast, the U.S. civilian contingency plans for WMD attacks are essentially nonexistent.

    Thus, for clear and rational motives Kim, unlike other nuclear powers, may well launch WMD attacks for both profit and revenge; this should frighten any rational person in the Allied world.

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