Red Glaring Era

Not so very long ago, just a few years back –when Kim Jong-il was Washington’s designated Yellow Peril boogeyman– a couple of American rocketry specialists proposed a novel and intriguing thesis … which they then backed up with data and analysis in an unclassified monograph.  Long story short, they asserted that North Korea lacked the scientific, technical and industrial infrastructure (as well as the money) required to design and manufacture the relatively sophisticated missiles then soaring off the sacred soil of the DPRK.

Curiously, however, these missiles exhibited all the operating characteristics (range, payload, telemetry, engine thrust, etc.) of hardware with which the American rocketeers were already quite familiar: Russian missiles.  And when Kim Jong-il paraded his missiles through the streets of Pyongyang on major holidays, whadda ya know, they looked an awful lot like Russian missiles too.  Not top-tier stuff; second-class, older-model Russian rockets.

Golly, how can this be?  Were these Korean missiles carefully copied exact clones?  Uh … probably not, for the reasons noted above.  Instead, concluded our intrepid aeronautical engineers, it was much more likely that Kim Jong-il was sourcing his hardware inventory in off-the-shelf, plug-and-play, launchpad-ready condition from (cue the gasps of surprise and dismay) Comrade Bear.  That’s right, Bad Vlad hisseff.  Now, of course, as former employees of –and current consultants to– the United States military-industrial complex, these analysts didn’t come right out and accuse democratically elected officials of the Russian Federation of violating UN sanctions and the rules of fair play.  Such forthright candor would have been undiplomatic and downright unseemly.  But they took pains to point out that medium-range missiles are generally considered a closely-guarded defense technology and are very rarely known to cross international borders unassisted.

Then, just for fun, the analysts built a timeline of Kim Jong-il’s nuclear tests and missile launches … cross-referenced with a chronology of Russian foreign policy initiatives.  Should we be surprised that they found repeated instances in which tensions between Russia and the United States or Japan were promptly followed by bellicose posturing from Pyongyang?  This pattern suggested the possibility that North Korean weapons tests were in some cases “commissioned” by Russia, with the requisite materiel furnished on an as-needed basis.  When Comrade Bear wanted to twist the trousers of the US, South Korea or Japan, Kim Jong-il was exactly the right man for the job.

So, was this –is this– at all a credible thesis?  Those who might know ain’t talkin’ ’bout it in public.  Nobody’s even botherin’ to ridicule the possibility, fer cryin’ out loud.  What might we infer from that?

That was then, this is now

Here we are in the Year of the Fowl and it’s déjà vu all over again.  Seems that those who don’t care to know recent history are only too happy to repeat it.  Kim Jong-un suddenly starts launching missiles that (allegedly) have intercontinental capability, and Chicken Little promptly notices that the sky is falling.  How convenient.

It’s not surprising that Donald Trump has seized this marvelous opportunity for saber-rattling with both tiny hands: he desperately needs an excuse to deflect public discourse away from his amply-demonstrated ignorance, incompetence and venality.  To that end, his overheated rhetoric is furiously furnishing further fuel for the waning yin fire that still lingers from the Sheep Month.  Not to worry (too much): it’s all part of the script for Trump’s latest “reality” television series.  The plotlines were laid out over dessert at G20, and almost everyone (even you) is playing their appointed roles.  We haven’t yet seen the credits roll, but in reality TV, the screenwriter’s name never appears. How convenient.

It should be pretty obvious what the donald might hope to gain from edging to the brink of his own splendid little war, but perhaps some readers may find it less clear what Putin gets out of this artful deal.  Here ya go:

Comrade Bear benefits from 2017’s DPRK Monkey Month antics in at least 4 ways:

  • a manufactured war crisis diverts U.S. media attention away from the Mueller investigation of Russia-Trump collusion.  A helping hand extended to his fellow Gazprom shareholder?
  • payback for U.S. Senate sanctions against Russia’s siloviki kleptocracy.
  • a wedge into the joints of America’s North Asia alliances with Japan and South Korea: each nation has different interests at stake.
  • the usual suspect, China, gets all the Confucian blame for the misbehavior of Number One Son Kim Jong-un … while sly Comrade Bear basks in the sun at a lakeside dacha.  He’s not actually relaxing.

In these circumstances, what would Marshal Shaposhnikov suggest?  Perhaps a peek at the Vostochny cosmodrome might provide an answer.

 

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