Monday, March 30, 2009

North Korea as the Pan-Asian Osgiliath; The Two Small Clouds of Lord Kelvin

A little background on this posting. Wretchard over at the Belmont Club compiles these meditations about North Korea's upcoming missile launch and America's response to it (or lack thereof), in which he cites this Voice of America article which quotes Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as saying the following:

I think if we had an aberrant missile, one that was headed for Hawaii or something like that, we might consider [intercepting it], but I do not think we have any plans to do anything like that at this point.

I had to blink twice to make sure I read this correctly. Robert Gates, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, said that if an aberrant missile were heading for Hawaii (one of the 50 states, for those of you who went to the Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Geography), we might consider shooting it down? This is outrageous. A lack of moral conviction of this magnitude ought to be grounds for dismissal. Perhaps Gates himself already foresees that the whole thing won’t be his problem very much longer.

On the larger subject, the lack of political will to deal harshly with North Korea is an ossified feature of the post-war geopolitical order which probably will not change until many other things do as well. Uncorking the malice behind the DMZ would be ruinous to millions unless America was prepared to militarily defend South Korea and Japan, which would mean an air-and-sea battle with China over the surrounding oceans. This scenario would quickly escalate into WWIII; and although it may perhaps be inevitable at some point, it could be prudent to defer it for now.

The resulting stalemate has enabled the Kim Dynasty to achieve something very few ever have: the successful resistance of encroachment by Western world powers. For this reason alone does the regime still enjoy the support of its longsuffering subjects. For this reason alone is it tolerated by the Chinese and even the Russians. It functions as a garrison of hope for Maoist sentiment; a sort of pan-Asian Osgiliath arrayed against the forces of the West. Implicitly, we know (and they know) that we cannot take North Korea without taking the continent, which is impossible.

Therefore, North Korea is a purely symbolic, not a strategic, thorn in our side. The U.S. has no strategic interests on the Korean peninsula any longer; but, like the “two small clouds” of Lord Kelvin, it represents a recalcitrant lump in our otherwise smoothly functioning imperium. The conflict is ideological in nature, and we all know what happened when those two small clouds were investigated.


  1. If N.K. is Osgiliath, are we Yanks the Uruk-hai, or merely the Sauron loyalist Southrons and/or Haradrim? And both being island peoples, who are the closer analogues to the Mornumenedain, the Brits or the Japanese?

  2. I'm not sure how to answer that. I never intended the tossed-off analogy to function as an extended metaphor. My only point was that North Korea is a holdout that drastically changes the strategic situation between two other immensely more powerful forces. It is the mirror image of the U.S. forces (AKA the "tripwire) guarding the DMZ.