How the DPRK Riddle is Freaking out the US Establishment

The 19th Party Congress has made it very clear that “socialism with Chinese characteristics” – as codified by President Xi Jinping – is China’s roadmap ahead. Not only the strategy graphically eschews those much-lauded “Western values”; it will, in Xi’s own words, offer “a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence.”

Xinhua even dared to venture, “the 21st century is likely to see capitalism lose its appeal while the socialist movement, led by China, rapidly catches up”.

To say this won’t go down very well in the West, especially in the US, may be the understatement of the century – even considering that the Chinese system is more like “neoliberalism with Chinese characteristics.”

It’s enlightening to crisscross what happened in Beijing with what was happening in Washington on the eve of President Trump’s trip to Asia, when he will visit China but also Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines. Discussion of virtually all the key issues in Asia-Pacific will be on the table.

Asia-Pacific is where the real action is – geopolitically and geoeconomically. And once again, the number one issue in the intractability stakes will be the DPRK.

At a recent meeting with top US military and intelligence chiefs Trump, referring to the DPRK, asked to be provided “with a broad range of military options, when needed, at a much faster pace.”

For his part, Pentagon head Mattis has emphasized that “the US army must stand ready.” He has been extolling his targeted military audience to read T.R. Fehrenbach’s This Kind of War – a history of the 1950-1953 Korean War, and even extracting a chilling quote from it; “You may fly over a nation forever, you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life. But if you desire to defend it… you must do this on the ground the way the Roman legions did: by putting your young men in the mud.”

Yet the real story regarding the Trump meeting is what was taking place behind the scenes involving key business/economic decision makers – call them some of the Masters of the Universe – as revealed to me by a high-level intel source privy to these meetings. The conclusions of the debate were then presented directly to Trump, ahead of his visit to Asia.

The Sudetenland revival

The source stressed how principals in these meetings were familiar with “key strategists above Mattis who were responsible for most of the major US defense programs in place.” They know, for instance, how “we are four generations behind in defensive missiles which seals the Russian airspace” – even though any expert in US Think Tankland persists in total denial.

The number one concern is about “the present satellite and missile capacity of North Korea to detonate nuclear bombs over the US knocking out the entire electronic infrastructure through a electromagnetic impulse (EMP) attack liquidating 90% of the American population within a year. This concurs with public statements by Putin that tiny countries in the future can obtain the capacity to destroy superpowers.”

Putin’s comment should be interpreted as this possible DPRK threat being capable of affecting a very advanced nation much more than those in the Global South; a completely different dimension compared to the former MAD concept of mutually assured (nuclear) destruction.

In his own presentation to Trump, Mattis emphasized the EMP “as a potential horror beyond imagination. Within 24 hours Walmart shelves would have nothing on them.  Food distribution would grind to a halt. Food riots all over the US would take place. 80% of the population would perish according to Mattis.”

The debate then moved to whether the DPRK already possesses submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). According to Heritage’s Bruce Klingner, the DPRK has twenty Romeo class submarines capable of carrying SBLMs (their range is 9,000 miles; the distance from Pyongyang to New York City is 6,783 miles). True, they are old, built in the 1950s. The question is open on how far advanced the DPRK is in miniaturization.

The debate considered the possibility the EMP threat was “a leak from Mattis to justify war tension, or it so should be interpreted by China and Russia. Mattis said the US would lose 80% of their population based on Pentagon studies, though they did not go that far. Mattis has no strategic sense at all and should be no more than a minor Marine functionary as his ability is very limited.”

Regardless of Mattis’s judgement, the principals agreed that the highest concern is the miniaturization of a hydrogen bomb set off via satellite as an EMP attack – even though that would not be very high above the earth and could, in theory, be knocked out by US ground missiles.

What was interesting is that this possible DPRK threat invoked the specter of the Sudetenland.

“The Sudetenland analogy was one of the principals’ way of expressing that WWIII has already started”, according to the source. “My interpretation was that he was referring to actions of North Korea, and actions in Syria and Ukraine. Those were his words, not mine. You could say Russia occupied Crimea or exerts its influence over Donbass. Or has displaced the US in Iraq and Syria. The main point is that Russia and China are starting to roll back US influence. So the North Korea threat is also part of Sudetenland.”

What’s clear is that the DPRK drama is further straining US alliances, and not only in Northwest Asia. According to the source, “a lot of this has to do with a wide perception that US weaponry does not measure up to the Russians and Chinese. And that US interests such as stopping North Korea from reaching the US overrides US considerations of its allies. These alliance structures are falling apart out of sight of the public.”

In a nutshell, this behind the scenes debate does show how alarmed is the US establishment. It’s unclear what Trump will make of its conclusions as he gets ready to hit the Asia trail.

Wang Yang to the rescue?

The ultimate question for the US establishment is how to find some sort of balance in breaking up the Eurasian landmass from the long-term China-Russia strategic partnership embrace. Tactics include mixing a push to resurrect Pilsudski’s Intermarium Plan against Russia with countering China by seeking to ally India, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. This is by now classic Cold War 2.0 – but this time around with China and Russia massively stronger than the alliances attempted against them, and on top of it constituted as a Eurasian peer-competitor strategic partnership.

Progressive alienation, simultaneously, of China, Russia and Germany (for instance, via US Congress sanctions on German companies over Nord Stream Two), is not only a de facto act of strategic insanity. This will end up forcing the trio into a solid, long-term realignment in which Washington will be completely alienated from the entire Eurasian landmass to the benefit of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and its spin-offs.

In their upcoming meeting in Beijing, a plausible scenario is Xi suggesting Trump the possibility of a deal with Kim Jong-un – eventually leading to de facto ending of the Korean War (instead of the current armistice). The process would include multilateral security guarantees (by the US, and endorsed/supervised by Russia and China) and a US no-sanction commitment towards some sort of economic opening if the DPRK freezes for good the testing of nuclear weapons and ICBMs. Xi would be a sort of guarantor of the DPRK. The question is whether Pyongyang would accept it.

In realpolitik terms there’s not much the Trump administration can do about the DPRK, except work through Beijing and Moscow to defuse the crisis. Some action is underway via the so-called “New York channel”, with Joseph Yun, US negotiator for North Korea, talking to diplomats at the DPRK mission to the UN. A potential, unilateral US attack on the DPRK could trigger the very World War destruction it’s supposed to halt, as China has made it quite clear.

So all eyes, once again, are on China. Apart from Xi, the man to watch with the emergence of the new 7-member Politburo Standing Committee is Wang Yang – the number four in the hierarchy who now becomes executive vice-premier.

Wang is the former party chief in both Chongqing and Guangdong, and previously vice-premier in charge of agriculture and foreign trade. He’s the top Chinese official dealing with Washington on economy and trade – and may now have his work cut out for him; to convince Team Trump, via Chinese diplomacy, that to do business with the DPRK is actually a good deal.

That certainly beats the specter of an EMP inferno.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).  His latest book is Empire of ChaosHe may be reached at