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Updated: 9 min 11 sec ago

Trump’s Cruel Holiday Gift for Refugee Families

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 4:27pm

Haiti after the earthquake (Photo: French embassy in Haiti / Flickr)

Two months after experiencing the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti in January 2010, my dad finally made it back home to Boston. What had started as a holiday vacation turned into weeks of sleeping outside the family home in Haiti, fearful that it would collapse on anyone sleeping inside.

My family members lived that way for weeks, as daily aftershocks kept them reliving the traumatic experience that rattled the country’s capital. They never knew whether the next aftershock wouldn’t kill them as the quake had killed their neighbors nearby.

This devastating natural disaster took nearly 316,000 lives and displaced 1.5 million Haitians. Many of these victims sought refuge in the United States — legally, under a classification called Temporary Protective Status (TPS).

Now again, in this holiday season — eight years after the quake — they’re reliving this fear and uncertainty. The Trump administration has moved to end the TPS program, causing many Haitians to face deportation after July 2019.

For these Haitian immigrants, TPS offered a chance to start fresh and build a new life — an opportunity that’s hard to come by in Haiti, a country that’s spent decades struggling with widespread poverty.

Widespread poverty that the U.S. has contributed to both economically and politically.

See, the U.S. has a long history with Haiti, dating back to the early 1800s when Haiti defeated France in the world’s first successful slave rebellion, leading Haiti to become the first independent black nation.

While black people around the world celebrate this moment in history, this victory didn’t come without costs.

After the 1804 revolution, France found a way to gain economic control of Haiti, forcing the new country to pay back 150 million francs for the enslaved Haitians that were freed after the war.

In order to pay this debt, Haiti was forced to take out a major loan from the young U.S., which didn’t recognize Haiti for another 60 years. This debt wasn’t paid off till 1947, at a current value of over $20 billion.

Haiti’s economic dependency on the U.S. didn’t end there, though. From 1957 to 1986, Haiti’s government was run by two U.S.-backed dictators, “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc” Duvalier.

“Duvalier stole millions from Haiti and ran up hundreds of millions in debt that Haiti still owes. Ten thousand Haitians lost their lives,” longtime Haiti human rights advocate Bill Quigley explained in the Huffington Post. “Estimates say that Haiti owes $1.3 billion in external debt and that 40 percent of that debt was run up by the U.S.-backed Duvaliers.”

Although this era had a ripple effect of negative consequences that the people of Haiti still face, the U.S. continues to play a big role in Haitian economics and politics, including efforts to rebuild the nation after the earthquake.

But instead of using relief funds to provide some much needed assistance to the country, the Red Cross used half a billion dollars to build just six permanent homes in Haiti.

Now, the Trump administration’s decision to terminate TPS will force up to 60,000 Haitians back to a country that’s still facing food shortages, widespread homelessness, and lack of access to schools and medical facilities to say the least.

This isn’t only wrong — it’s inhumane. The U.S. should use this as an opportunity to reverse the damage it’s done to Haiti.

The post Trump’s Cruel Holiday Gift for Refugee Families appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Jessicah Pierre is the inequality media specialist at the Institute for Policy Studies.

North Korea: The Costs of War, Calculated

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 4:20pm

The DMZ from the North Korean side (courtesy of yeowatzup / Flickr)

Donald Trump is contemplating wars that would dwarf anything that his immediate predecessors ever considered.

He has dropped the mother of all bombs in Afghanistan, and he’s considering the mother of all wars in the Middle East. He is abetting Saudi Arabia’s devastating war in Yemen. Many evangelicals are welcoming his announcement of U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as a sign that the end of days is nigh. The conflict with Iran is about to heat up early next year when Trump, in the absence of any congressional action, will decide whether to fulfill his promise to tear up the nuclear agreement that the Obama administration worked so hard to negotiate.

But no war has acquired quite the same apparent inevitability as the conflict with North Korea. Here in Washington, pundits and policymakers are talking about a “three-month window” within which the Trump administration can stop North Korea from acquiring the capability to strike U.S. cities with nuclear weapons.

That estimate allegedly comes from the CIA, though the messenger is the ever-unreliable John Bolton, the former flame-thrower of a U.S. ambassador to the UN. Bolton has used that estimate to make the case for a preemptive attack on North Korea, a plan that Trump has also reportedly taken very seriously.

North Korea, too, has announced that war is “an established fact.” After the most recent U.S.-South Korean military exercises in the region, a spokesperson from the Foreign Ministry in Pyongyang said, “The remaining question now is: when will the war break out?”

This aura of inevitability should put prevention of conflict with North Korea at the top of the urgent to-do list of all international institutions, engaged diplomats, and concerned citizens.

A warning about the costs of war may not convince people who want Kim Jong Un and his regime out regardless of consequences (and nearly half of Republicans already support a preemptive strike). But a preliminary estimate of the human, economic, and environmental costs of a war should make enough people think twice, lobby hard against military actions by all sides, and support legislative efforts to prevent Trump from launching a preemptive strike without congressional approval.

Such an estimate of the various impacts can also serve as a basis for three movements — anti-war, economic justice, and environmental — to come together in opposition to what would set back our causes, and the world at large, for generations to come.

It’s not the first time the United States has been on the verge of making an extraordinary mistake. Can the costs of the last war help us avoid the next one?

Doomed to Repeat?

If Americans had known how much the Iraq War was going to cost, perhaps they wouldn’t have gone along with the Bush administration’s march to war. Perhaps Congress would have put up more of a fight.

Invasion boosters predicted that the war would be a “cakewalk.” It wasn’t. About 25,000 Iraqi civilians died as a result of the initial invasion and about 2,000 coalition forces died up through 2005. But that was just the beginning. By 2013, another 100,000 Iraq civilians had died because of ongoing violence, according to the conservative estimates of the Iraq Body Count, along with another 2,800 coalition forces (mostly American).

Then there were the economic costs. Before it blundered into Iraq, the Bush administration projected that the war would only cost around $50 billion. That was wishful thinking. The real accounting only came later.

My colleagues at the Institute for Policy Studies estimated in 2005 that the bill for the Iraq war would ultimately come in at $700 billion. In their 2008 book The Three Trillion Dollar War, Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes provided an even higher estimate, which they later revised further upwards toward $5 trillion.

The body counts and the more accurate economic estimates had a profound impact on how Americans viewed the Iraq War. Public support for the war was around 70 percent at the time of the 2003 invasion. In 2002, the congressional resolution authorizing military force against Iraq passed the House 296 to 133 and the Senate 77-23.

By 2008, however, American voters were supporting Barack Obama’s candidacy in part because of his opposition to the invasion. Many of these people who supported the war — a majority of the Senate, former neoconservative Francis Fukuyama — were saying that if they knew in 2003 what they subsequently learned about the war, they would have taken a different position.

In 2016, not a few people supported Donald Trump for his purported skepticism about recent U.S. military campaigns. As a Republican presidential candidate, Trump declared the Iraq War a mistake and even pretended that he’d never supported the invasion. It was part of his effort to distance himself from hawks within his own party and the “globalists” in the Democratic Party. Some libertarians even supported Trump as the “anti-war” candidate.

Trump is now shaping up to be quite the opposite. He is escalating U.S. involvement in Syria, surging in Afghanistan, and expanding the use of drones in the “war on terror.”

But the looming conflict with North Korea is of an entirely different order of magnitude. The anticipated costs are so high that outside of Donald Trump himself, the most resolute of his hawkish followers, and a few overseas supporters like Japan’s Shinzo Abe, war remains an unpopular option. And yet, both North Korea and the United States are on a collision course, propelled by the logic of escalation and subject to the errors of miscalculation.

By making sure that the probable costs of a war with North Korea are well known, however, it is still possible to persuade the U.S. government to step back from the brink.

The Human Costs

A nuclear exchange between the United States and North Korea would go off the charts in terms of lives lost, economies wrecked, and the environment destroyed.

In his apocalyptic scenario in The Washington Post, arms control specialist Jeffrey Lewis imagines that, after widespread conventional U.S. bombing of the country, North Korea launches a dozen nuclear weapons at the United States. Despite some errant targeting and a half-effective missile defense system, the attack still manages to kill a million people in New York alone and another 300,000 around Washington, DC. Lewis concludes:

The Pentagon would make almost no effort to tally the enormous numbers of civilians killed in North Korea by the massive conventional air campaign. But in the end, officials concluded, nearly 2 million Americans, South Koreans, and Japanese had died in the completely avoidable nuclear war of 2019.

If North Korea uses nuclear weapons closer to home, the death toll would be much higher: over two million dead in Seoul and Tokyo alone, according to a detailed estimate at 38North.

The human costs of a conflict with North Korea would be staggering even if nuclear weapons never enter the picture and the U.S. homeland never comes under attack. Back in 1994, when Bill Clinton was contemplating a preemptive strike on North Korea, the commander of U.S. forces in South Korea told the president that the result would probably be a million dead in and around the Korean peninsula.

Today, the Pentagon estimates that 20,000 people would die each day of such a conventional conflict. That’s based on the fact that 25 million people live in and around Seoul, which is within distance of North Korea’s long-range artillery pieces, 1,000 of which are located just north of the Demilitarized Zone.

The casualties would not just be Korean. There are also about 38,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, plus another 100,000 other Americans living in the country. So, a war just confined to the Korean peninsula would be the equivalent of putting at risk the number of Americans living in a city the size of Syracuse or Waco.

And this Pentagon estimate is cautious. The more common forecast is more than 100,000 dead in the first 48 hours. Even this latter number doesn’t factor in the use of chemical warheads, in which case the casualties would quickly rise into the millions (despite some overheated speculation, there is no evidence that North Korea has yet developed biological weapons).

In any such war scenario, North Korean civilians would also die in large numbers, just as huge numbers of Iraqi and Afghan civilians died during those conflicts. In a letter solicited by Reps. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Ruben Gallego (D-A), the Joint Chiefs of Staff made clear that a ground invasion would be necessary to locate and destroy all nuclear facilities. That would increase the number of both U.S. and North Korean casualties.

Bottom line: Even a war limited to conventional weapons and to the Korean peninsula would result in, at minimum, tens of thousands dead and more likely casualties closer to a million.

Economic Costs

It’s somewhat more difficult to estimate the economic costs of any conflict on the Korean peninsula. Again, any war involving nuclear weapons would cause incalculable economic damage. So, let’s use the more conservative estimate associated with a conventional war that’s restricted to Korea alone.

Any estimates must take into account the economically advanced nature of South Korean society. According to GDP projections for 2017, South Korea is the 12th largest economy in the world, just behind Russia. Moreover, Northeast Asia is the most economically dynamic region of the world. A war on the Korean peninsula would devastate the economies of China, Japan, and Taiwan as well. The global economy would take a significant hit.

Writes Anthony Fensom in The National Interest:

A 50 percent fall in South Korea’s GDP could knock a percentage point off global GDP, while there would also be substantial disruptions to trade flows.

South Korea is heavily integrated into regional and global manufacturing supply chains, which would be severely disrupted by any major conflict. Capital Economics sees Vietnam as the worst affected, since it sources around 20 percent of its intermediate goods from South Korea, but China sources over 10 percent, while a number of other Asian neighbors would be affected.

Also consider the additional costs of the refugee flow. Germany alone spent over $20 billion for refugee resettlement in 2016. The outflow from North Korea, a country somewhat more populous than Syria was in 2011, could be likewise in the millions if a civil war erupts, a famine ensues, or the state collapses. China is already building refugee camps on its border with North Korea — just in case. Both China and South Korea have had difficulty accommodating the defector outflow as it is — and that’s only around 30,000 in the South and something similar in China.

Now let’s look at the specific costs to the United States. The cost of military operations in Iraq — Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn — was $815 billion from 2003 though 2015, which includes military operations, reconstruction, training, foreign aid, and veterans’ health benefits.

In terms of military operations, the United States is up against, on paper, a North Korean army three times what Saddam Hussein fielded in 2003. Again, on paper, North Korea has more sophisticated weaponry as well. The soldiers, however, are malnourished, there’s a shortage of fuel for the bombers and tanks, and many systems lack spare parts. Pyongyang has pursued a nuclear deterrent in part because it is now at such a disadvantage in terms of conventional weapons compared to South Korea (not to mention U.S. forces in the Pacific). It’s therefore possible that an initial assault might yield the same results as the first salvo in the Iraq War.

But however brutal the Kim Jong Un regime is, the population would not likely welcome American soldiers with open arms. An insurgency comparable to what took place after the Iraq War would likely arise, which would end up costing the United States even further loss of life and money.

But even in the absence of an insurgency, the costs of the military operation will be dwarfed by the costs of reconstruction. Reconstruction costs for South Korea, a major industrialized country, would be much higher than in Iraq or certainly Afghanistan. The United States spent about $60 billion initially for post-war reconstruction in Iraq (much of it wasted through corruption), and the bill for liberating the country from the Islamic State runs closer to $150 billion.

Add to that the monumental costs of rehabilitating North Korea, which under the best circumstances would cost at least $1 trillion (the estimated costs of reunification) but which would balloon up to $3 trillion in the aftermath of a devastating war. Ordinarily, South Korea would be expected to cover these costs, but not if that country too had been devastated by war.

Spending on the military campaign and on post-conflict reconstruction would push U.S. federal debt into the stratosphere. The opportunity costs — the funds that could have been spent on infrastructure, education, health care — would be enormous as well. The war would likely put America into receivership.

Bottom line: Even a limited war with North Korea would directly cost the United States more than $1 trillion in terms of military operations and reconstruction, and considerably more indirectly because of setbacks to the global economy.

(Photo: Seongju Rescind Thaad / Facebook)

Environmental Costs

In terms of environmental impact, a nuclear war would be catastrophic. Even a relatively limited nuclear exchange could trigger a significant drop in global temperatures — because of debris and soot thrown into the air that blocks the sun — which would throw global food production into crisis.

If the United States tries to take out North Korea’s nuclear weapons and facilities, it will be sorely tempted to use nuclear weapons first. “The ability to take out the North Korean nuclear program is limited, with conventional weapons,” explains retired U.S. Air Force General Sam Gardiner. Instead, the Trump administration would turn to “hard-target-kill” weapons fired from nuclear submarines near the Korean peninsula.

Even if North Korea is unable to retaliate, these preemptive strikes carry their own risks of mass casualties. The release of radiation — or lethal agents, in the case of strikes on chemical weapons repositories — could kill millions and render large tracts of land uninhabitable depending on a number of factors (yield, depth of explosion, weather conditions), according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Even a conventional war fought exclusively on the Korean peninsula would have devastating environmental consequences. A conventional aerial attack on North Korea, followed by retaliatory strikes against South Korea, would end up contaminating large tracts of territory around energy and chemical complexes and destroy fragile ecosystems (such as the bio-diverse Demilitarized Zone). The use of depleted uranium weapons by the United States, as it did in 2003, would cause more widespread environmental and health damage.

Bottom line: Any war on the Korean peninsula would have a devastating impact on the environment, but efforts to take out North Korea’s nuclear complex would be potentially catastrophic.

Preventing War

There would be other costs of war associated with an attack on North Korea. Given the opposition to war of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the United States would strain its alliance with that country to the breaking point. The Trump administration would deal a blow to international law as well as international institutions such as the United Nations. It would encourage other countries to push diplomacy aside and pursue military “solutions” in their regions of the world.

Even before the Trump administration took office, the costs of war worldwide were unacceptably high. According to the Institute for Economics and Peace, the world spends over $13 trillion a year on conflict, which works out to about 13 percent of global GDP.

If the United States goes to war with North Korea, it will throw all of those calculations out the window. There has never been a war between nuclear powers. There hasn’t been an all-out war in such an economically prosperous region for decades. The human, economic, and environmental costs will be staggering.

This war isn’t inevitable.

The North Korean leadership knows that, because it faces overwhelming force, any conflict is literally suicidal. The Pentagon also recognizes that, because the risk of casualties to U.S. troops and U.S. allies is so high, a war is not in the U.S. national interest. Secretary of Defense James Mattis acknowledges that a war with North Korea would be no cakewalk and, indeed, would be “catastrophic.”

Even the Trump administration’s own strategic review of the North Korean problem didn’t include military intervention or regime change as recommendations alongside maximum pressure and diplomatic engagement. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has recently said that Washington is open to talks with Pyongyang “without preconditions,” an important shift in negotiating tactics.

Perhaps during this holiday season, Donald Trump will be visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Future. The ghost from the past will remind him once again of the avoidable tragedies of the Iraq War. The ghost from the future will show him the ruined landscape of the Korean peninsula, the vast cemeteries of the dead, the devastated U.S. economy, and the compromised global environment.

As for the ghost of Christmas Present, the ghost who carries an empty and rusted scabbard and who represents peace on earth, we are that ghost. It is incumbent on the peace, economic justice, and environmental movements to make ourselves heard, to remind the U.S. president and his hawkish supporters of the costs of any future conflict, to press for diplomatic solutions, and to throw sand in the gears of the war machine.

We tried and failed to prevent the Iraq War. We still have a chance to prevent a second Korean War.

The post North Korea: The Costs of War, Calculated appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and the author of the dystopian novel Splinterlands.

Trump’s Jerusalem Decision Rubber Stamps 70 Years of Israeli Violations

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 1:58pm

(Photo: Cycling Man / Flickr)

President Donald Trump’s decision to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was irresponsible and dangerous for more reasons than I can count. Let me outline just a few of the principle concerns.

While we have all grown weary of hearing the over-used mantra “this is the end of the peace process,” Trump’s decision may, in fact, be the nail in the coffin for any negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the first place, there is no peace process. It has been replaced, instead, by a breath-holding exercise with Israelis and Palestinians waiting for Trump aides to cook up “the deal of the century.” It is presumed that when “the deal” is presented negotiations will begin.

The unilateral American recognition of Jerusalem not only prejudges one of the conflicts most sensitive issues, it does so in Israel’s favor. From the beginning of the modern “peace process,” there have been two fatal flaws that have hampered the effort: the asymmetry of power in Israel’s favor and the clear U.S. bias in support of Israel.

Trump’s action has accented both flaws. It has emboldened and rewarded the most hardline and intransigent elements in Israel while weakening and compromising those Palestinian and Arab leaders who have put their trust in the U.S. role. The decisions to recognize Jerusalem as the capital and to begin the process of relocating the U.S. embassy makes it clear that the U.S. is not an “honest broker.” In this context, the president’s appeal to the parties to continue to focus on achieving peace simply doesn’t pass the smell test.

It must be recalled that when the Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995, its Republican authors, working with Israel’s right-wing Likud Party, viewed it as a poison pill that would sabotage the then still barely operational Oslo Peace Process. The legislation was a GOP-Likud slap in the face of both Rabin and Clinton. The reason why U.S. presidents, Clinton, Bush, and Obama have used the act’s waiver provision to defer its implementation was precisely to avoid this poison pill and to preserve some U.S. peace-making credibility. The pill has now been taken and swallowed.

What the authors of the act and anti-peace forces in Israel and the U.S. knew was that Jerusalem is not to be toyed with. It is not just any city. It is central to the narratives of all three Abrahamic faiths. For this reason, the architects of the UN partition plan, set it aside as an international zone. It was for this reason that when Israel occupied the western side of the city in 1948 and later declared Jerusalem as their capital, that unilateral decision was never recognized by the international community.

Israel compounded their defiance in 1967 when, after occupying the rest of Palestine, they annexed a substantial area of Palestinian land (including over two dozen Palestinian villages) and declared the entirety of West and East Jerusalem as “Greater Jerusalem,” insisting that it was their “eternal undivided capital.” This flagrant violation of international law was unanimously condemned by the United Nations.

Seen in this context, Trump’s action puts the U.S. stamp of approval on Israel’s 70 year record of violations of law and UN Resolutions.

For Arabs and Muslims worldwide, Jerusalem has become a powerful symbol representing a century of betrayal by the West. Like the issue of Palestine itself, mention of Jerusalem evokes broken promises, brutal occupation by imperial and colonial powers, loss of control of history, and denial of fundamental rights. I often remind American audiences that Jerusalem is to Arabs and Muslims what the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee was to Native Americans. It may not have been their tribe that was involved in the infamous brutality inflicted on those who were killed at Wounded Knee — but what happened there spoke to all of them, reminding them of their collective history dispossession and continuing hurt.

Jerusalem is the wound in the heart of Arabs and Muslims that never healed. With his callous decision to absolve Israel of its crimes and recognize their control of the city, by conquest, Trump rubbed salt into this wound.

It was, therefore, absurdly insensitive and galling for the U.S. president to couple his provocation with an appeal to Palestinians to remain calm and peaceful. He was in effect saying, “I don’t care what you have suffered, nor do I care how unjust and illegal Israeli actions have been, just sit back and take it.”

I would add that while, with his decision, Trump was playing to his right wing evangelical Christian supporters, he ignored the feelings of the Christian community in Palestine. In a statement issued the day before the president’s announcement, the patriarchs and bishops of the eastern Christian churches headquartered in Jerusalem pleaded with him not to recognize Israel’s exclusive claim to the city.

Finally, there is the reality of daily life for Palestinians in and around Jerusalem. Having closed East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, Israel has accelerated its policy of strangling the life out of Arabs in Jerusalem. Denied employment, victimized by home demolitions and land theft, and subject to host of discriminatory policies that violate fundamental human rights, the endurance of East Jerusalem’s Palestinian Arab population is tested daily. Trump’s silence on these matters while offering a hollow “God Bless the Palestinian people” at the end of his remarks was more like “ashes in the mouth” than an expression of real concern. It aggravated, more than it comforted.

While Americans remember December 7, the date of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, as “a day of infamy,” Arabs and Palestinians may well feel the same about December 6 — the date Donald Trump delivered a fatal and fateful blow to peace and justice in the Holy Land.

The post Trump’s Jerusalem Decision Rubber Stamps 70 Years of Israeli Violations appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

James Zogby is the director of the Arab American Institute.

How the U.S. Could Provoke a New Korean War

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 12:31pm

(DOD photo by D. Myles Cullen/Released)

In April 2002, about a year before the invasion of Iraq, then-president George W. Bush told a group of assembled reporters that Saddam Hussein had to go. When asked how he would accomplish this, Bush replied cryptically, “Just wait and see.”

I was reminded of this quote when President Trump was asked about North Korea’s test launch of a Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile, reportedly able to strike anywhere in the United States. Trump’s response was simply, “We’ll handle it.”

Trump’s incendiary rhetoric about “fire and fury” and “totally destroying” North Korea have garnered much of the headlines. But perhaps because his grandest pronouncements — “build the wall,” “repeal and replace,” “lock her up” — have all proven hollow, his subtler comments hinting toward war, such as when he termed a meeting of top generals in October as “the calm before the storm,” seem far more alarming.

The Bare Bones of a Deal

North Korea characterized the Hwasong-15 launch as the “completion of the state nuclear force.” Some analysts have seized on that as evidence that the country will now switch to the second track of the official “byungjin” (parallel development) policy and focus on economic growth, while concurrently becoming more amenable to dialogue with the United States.

This would line up nicely with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis’ three preconditions for talks: no further testing, no further development, and no proliferation. (It should be noted that these “three no’s” were originally proposed by the former Los Alamos National Laboratory director Siegfried Hecker following his return from an inspection of the nuclear facility at Yongbyon several years ago.)

If North Korea’s nuclear arsenal truly is “complete,” there would be little incentive for testing or further development, and the country’s leaders would have to be truly crazy to attempt to sell military hardware or technology in the current environment.

On the surface, then, this would seem to be a promising development, especially as Trump could use the opening to claim that it was his strategy of using tough sanctions that forced Kim Jong-un to finally come to the bargaining table. This is the outcome that pundits on both the right and left have been clamoring for, after all.

Yet the question remains: What exactly will the two sides discuss once they begin speaking in earnest? A quick look at the dueling objectives gives little cause for optimism that negotiations will take us any closer to peace.

How a Deal Could Be Derailed

On the U.S. side, a successful negotiation would require ditching denuclearizing North Korea as Washington’s long-standing end goal and being willing to live with the country as a nuclear state.

This is perhaps not as unlikely as it might seem: The administration is reportedly considering a Cold War-style deterrence strategy toward the North.

And given the choice between a devastating war and grudgingly accepting one more nuclear state in the world, the majority of the American public would probably choose the latter. Indeed, it is — unsurprisingly — Trump’s Republican base that is most eager for a war. And given the transfixing hold he’s demonstrated over this portion of the country, the president could easily spin a negotiated settlement with Kim Jong-un as another notch in the win column for America. In such a scenario, he would even be right.

The more important consideration, then, is what would North Korea demand? Or, to put it another way, what is the end goal for the regime?

If the ultimate objective is simply survival, then the U.S. should be able to find common ground with Kim Jong-un and hash out some sort of agreement where he’s allowed to keep his weapons in return for a pledge to adhere to the “three no’s” outlined by Mattis. Of course, Japan and South Korea would likely demand their own nuclear weapons in this case, but given that these countries are already allies under the nuclear umbrella of the U.S., such a change in the status quo should be not be unmanageable.

On the other hand, if nuclear weapons are viewed as a vital component in a North Korean drive to reunify the Korean Peninsula — by means peaceful or otherwise — the situation becomes much more complex and dangerous.

A growing number of experts are coming to the conclusion that the real agenda for the North Korean nuclear program is to threaten the United States into withdrawing its military from the Peninsula. North Korea has already proven more than willing to engage in provocations that have lethal consequences, with the sinking of the Cheonan warship and the shelling of Yeongpyeong Island in 2010 being two of the most prominent examples.

With the protection afforded by a nuclear deterrent, the regime may feel emboldened to raise the stakes, particularly if they perceive that the ongoing sanctions regime and covert actions such as cyberwarfare and the smuggling in of outside information present a real risk of destabilizing the country.

In that case, the United States is going to face an unpalatable choice between either withdrawal or a military response that would risk spiraling into nuclear war.

Provoking the Inevitable

Of course, a new Korean War could easily kick off before things ever reach that point. On Dec. 4, the U.S. and South Korean air forces began their largest ever joint exercise, a five-day series of drills called Vigilant Ace that involved 230 aircraft and 12,000 U.S. personnel operating from eight military bases in South Korea.

These exercises came less than a month after the U.S. Navy conducted an exercise with three aircraft carriers in the western Pacific Ocean for the first time in a decade, and two months after two U.S. B1-B strategic bombers crossed the Northern Limit Line on a mock bombing run for the first time this century. Clearly, the Trump administration is showing little interest in the “freeze-for-freeze” proposal that the Chinese government has been floating as a first step for negotiations.

A cursory glance at American history shows that the country has mastered of the art of taking actions that simultaneously provoke conflict while allowing the United States to claim the role of the aggrieved party. In 1846, the Mexican-American War started after President James Polk sent the U.S. Army right up to the disputed Texas-Mexico border, then sat back and waited for an incident to occur that would justify a declaration of war. Fifty years later, the Spanish-American War began after the battleship USS Maine blew up under mysterious circumstances in Havana Harbor.

In 1964, an American naval vessel on patrol in the Gulf of Tonkin supposedly came under fire from the North Vietnamese, precipitating President Lyndon Johnson’s request to Congress authorizing U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. And closer to the present day, the U.S. invaded Iraq after the Bush administration manufactured a situation where Saddam Hussein’s only way to avoid a conflict was to turn over weapons of mass destruction that never existed.

When historians look back to the causes of a second Korean War that seems increasingly likely to happen, will the blame lie with North Korea, or the constant barrage of American military exercises taking place on the country’s doorstep? Or will it instead be the result of failed negotiations that had little hope for success in the first place?

One thing is clear: Unless the U.S. is prepared to dramatically alter its security posture in East Asia, the country will bear a heavy responsibility for the inevitable, regardless of who fires the first shot.

The post How the U.S. Could Provoke a New Korean War appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Geoffrey Fattig was formerly a speechwriter for the U.S. Department of State and is currently the deputy international editor at the Hankyoreh newspaper in Seoul. He holds a master’s degree in International Affairs from UC San Diego’s School of International Relations/Pacific Studies.