North Korea has fired over 100 ballistic missiles of all kinds in the past 12 months over or near Japanese and South Korean territory, some seven-fold greater than in the previous half-decade.
Nuclear Threat: Russia, China, North Korea, Iran
China has built 360 new ICBM silos in Western China, now exceeding the number of ICBM launchers in the United States, while sending a surveillance balloon across the United States in violation of American sovereign airspace.
Iran has according to the United Nation’s IAEA enriched uranium to 84%, within a few percent of the weapons grade fuel needed for a nuclear warhead, sufficient quantities of which they can produce in a month for a dozen warheads.
And Russia continues to threaten the use of nuclear force against the US, NATO and Ukraine should the US not refrain from supplying weapons to Ukraine and have recklessly forced down a USAF surveillance drone operating in international waters.
And so, this is the news in early 2023 as the United States intelligence community seeks to “connect the threat dots” and calculate the threats the country faces. While cataloguing specific actions or “dots” makes some sense by what one might describe as the “four brothers mayhem”, there is rarely a strategy framework discussed from which the American people can judge the seriousness of events.
For example, media descriptions are usually of the “look at this additional provocation” variety when describing missile tests, for example. But actually, the Russians and Chinese, Iranian and Korean hostile acts are not to provoke the US to retaliate in kind and attack. The very opposite in fact. The four hostile nations are seeking to divide the US alliances in the Western Pacific, in central Europe, and in the greater Middle East. And to persuade the US to retreat in any future military crisis, and to force the United States to withdraw from key geographic regions where the United States military now regularly operates.
The strategy and objectives of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran also cannot be ameliorated by more talking or diplomacy or arms control. Talking about peace does nothing about these nations arming for war. Though the four may not want to fight the United States, they want to fight Ukraine, Taiwan, South Korea or Saudi Arabia and other Gulf State Arab nations, but without the US military presence. Winning without fighting is not as some would believe not fighting. It is not fighting the United States with its very formidable conventional and nuclear forces. But it is fighting our allies.
From left to right, Russian President Vladimir Putin, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Closer ties with both Beijing and Moscow in the wake of the Ukraine war mean Kim faces a delicate balancing act. (Source photos by Kyodo, KCNA/Kyodo, Kremlin/Reuters and Xinhua/AP)
Russia is trying to intimidate the US from sending advanced weaponry to Ukraine, and to a degree Moscow’s threats have succeeded to truncate or delay US military assistance to Ukraine in a timely manner.
North Korea’s continued belligerence has certainly strengthened the US-ROK-Japanese alliance, creating conditions under which the three Pacific alliance partners have significantly enhanced military preparedness, spurred on by what the ROK population sees as a weakness in the US extended deterrent.
China has run roughshod over international rules in the South China Sea, and repeatedly violated US and Taiwanese airspace, while building motors for Iranian drones provided to Russia for use in Ukraine, while building a coercive nuclear capability to help push the United States around, while seeking at least in part superior nuclear capability than the United States.
As for Iran, its Navy ships visited Brazil and it has exercised its military with the Chinese and Russians, while massively supporting its own major military buildup by deploying the largest inventory of missiles of any nation in the Middle East.
The most important central characteristic of each nation’s recent behavior has not been its relative recklessness although that has been present. But their uniform pursuit of what Dr. Keith Payne has called “nuclear coercion” ---threatening to use nuclear weapons to secure the fruits of aggression even as the four mayhem brothers seek to keep the United States from entering any conflict on the part of its allies---whether Ukraine, South Korea, Taiwan or Israel.
Of further importance is that the four nations are cooperating along the lines of joint military operations, exercises and arms sales.
Without a robust presence in the Pacific, the US cannot protect Taiwan or have a leadership role in the direction of the five billion people and $55 trillion in GDP the Indo-Pacific will achieve in the next two decades. While North Korean aggression can deflect the US attention from Taiwan, China can move against the island along with help from a cooperative Russia.
As for Europe, Russia in turn has hoped to strip NATO of its eastern most members, starting with engulfing Ukraine from which it could open all of eastern Europe to once again become Russian satellites unwilling to help the United States keep Europe safe and whole. While adding 40 million Ukraine citizens plus very large natural gas and grain resources to Moscow’s exchequer to make up in part for the declining Russian population and economy.
Iran and its missile inventory and eventual nuclear weapons could then cement its domination of Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon, and from these centers of military power, surround Saudi Arabia and other western allied Gulf States and thus have hegemonic control over 75% of the world’s conventional hydrocarbons. This would provide China with its long sought guaranteed access to petroleum and natural gas supplies at preferential prices.
And also, hep allied Russia with indirect control over the oil and gas of the region which Moscow---not a member of OPEC but one of the largest exporters of petroleum in the world-- has referred to as Russia’s patrimony. With such vast oil resources under indirect Russian/Chinese control, the world’s reserve currency could then switch from the US dollar to the Chinese renminbi, a long sought objective of the CCP.
Finally, the four rogue states can also make life miserable for the United States in our own hemisphere. Iran Navy vessels have docked in Brazil and have long reported to be interested in building a missile base in Venezuela, the exact distance from which an Iranian Sahab missile can reach Miami. China controls access to both ends of the Panama Canal and is building a new base on the Atlantic coast of Africa from which to project power across the ocean.
Geographic control over key real estate is critical to the successful implementation of the grand hegemonic strategy of these four nations or “brothers’ mayhem”. There is, however, certainly nothing inevitable about their success. But there is no automatic “arc of history” that bends toward the US and its allies. For liberty and freedom to prevail requires a counter strategy rooted in a realistic understanding of how serious these brutal dictatorships are about their goals, and how US political, diplomatic, economic and military capabilities must be brought to the struggle for the US to prevail.