Even in the 21st century, as far as we’ve come, the world is not without dictatorships and we are currently witnessing two of the worst: Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Kim Jung-un in North Korea.
Late Thursday evening, the U.S. launched an airstrike against a Syrian air base, a proportional and legal response to the Assad regimes use of chemical weapons against its own people just a few days before.
Beyond the tactical benefit of taking out aircraft, the airstrike sends a powerful message to Assad, as well as to Russia and even Iran that the U.S. is not afraid to act when necessary and appropriate.
However, we’re not yet at an appropriate place in time to discuss regime change – that is until Russia backs down from their support of Assad. I believe that this show of force could be a way of convincing Vladimir Putin that siding with Assad is not worth the problems he’s caused.
I spoke with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC about this, and you can watch the interview below:
At the same time, the Syrian strike, which took place during President Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s first face-to-face meeting, provided the same not-so-subtle hint to the Chinese that the U.S. is not afraid to use force, a lesson that can be applied to North Korea as well. Kim Jung-un is untested, unlearned and unpredictable.
But he is not irrational, a mistake some observers make. It’s clear that the road to Pyongyang goes through Beijing, and while the Chinese will pay serious attention to idea of participating in sanctions against North Korea, I don’t think they’ll exert enough leverage to change the course of events.
We’re currently at the moment of maximum danger on the Korean peninsula. The Chinese would like to continue to see a contentious relationship between the two Koreas, because a unified Korea would create a powerful state – and rival – in East Asia.
I had the opportunity to discuss Xi Jinping’s visit to Mar-a-Lago and what to expect from China on the North Korea issue with CNBC. Watch below:
Peace with North Korea is going to take a combination of covert military action and diplomatic efforts. Placing U.S. nuclear weapons in South Korea will only ratchet up tensions with the North and could escalate an already precarious situation. However, a combination of U.S. and South Korean Special Forces operations, as well as planned cyber offenses could offer some of the desired outcomes without destabilizing the region entirely.
But similar to the situation in Syria, a quick regime change will also not be a solution, given that the removal Kim Jung-un (without a clear line of succession or plan to replace the leader) could create a power vacuum, leading to unintended or undesired consequences for the West and its allies. You can watch my commentary on this issue on NBC News here.
As always, thanks for reading.
Dean Stavridis with his basset hound, Lilly.
Dean James Stavridis is the 12th leader of The Fletcher School since its founding in 1933. A retired Admiral in the U.S. Navy, he led the NATO Alliance in global operations from 2009 to 2013 as Supreme Allied Commander.
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- What Can You Do With a Fletcher Education? April 21, 2017
- A U.S. Foreign Policy Reset April 14, 2017
- Dealing with Dictatorships April 7, 2017
- Why Fletcher? March 31, 2017
- On Reading and Leading March 24, 2017
- Don’t Make Diplomacy the “Missing Man” in Our Foreign Policy Formation March 20, 2017
- Adapting to Today, Turning Towards Tomorrow March 10, 2017
- Don’t Increase Defense Spending on the Backs of Diplomacy and Development March 6, 2017
- A Guide to Getting U.S. Foreign Policy Back on Track February 24, 2017