Defence Secretary Jim Mattis gave some valuable clues about US strategic priorities last week, during his first visit to the UK since taking up his new job. Reminded by a journalist that he’d previously called Iran the biggest threat to US interests, Mattis quickly turned the conversation to North Korea instead. Does this mean a change in American policy?
I don’t really think it does. The truth is, Iran has never posed any real threat to US interests. It simply doesn’t have the global reach. Its armed forces are big enough and tough enough to make any invasion a very iffy prospect, and some advanced air defence systems mean raiding their nuclear facilities wouldn’t be simple either, but there’s no power projection capability there. Iran’s missiles are no threat to anyone outside the Middle East, and its conventional military doesn’t have the sea- or airlift capacity to get anywhere in numbers unless it’s invited in. Iran does pose a threat to Saudi Arabian interests, and perhaps to Israeli ones, but those are not the same as US interests, whatever those countries’ lobbyists might say.
North Korea is different. It still doesn’t have the reach of a real global military; the likelihood of North Korean marines storming up the beaches of California is exactly zero. On the other hand, it does have the ability to drop missiles on US bases in the Pacific, including Okinawa, and those missiles might just be nuclear-capable. In a decade at most, Pyongyang will be able to hit the west coast of the USA with a crude ICBM. North Korea also has a very large and extremely effective special forces capability; they might not have the state of the art training and equipment of US special forces, but they’re tough, determined and fanatical enough to take on suicide missions if they’re ordered to.
There’s another reason to focus on North Korea, too. China has dreams of being then next global superpower, taking the USA’s place as the dominant nation. They’re smart enough to realise that without a strong economy there’s no chance of achieving this, and economic success depends on playing by the rules. They do like to have some muscles to flex, though, and North Korea is one of their tools when some pressure is needed. Beijing likes to remind people that only it can control the madmen who rule their client state; it’s always a good line to use when they want concessions on something.
Unfortunately, China has chosen an unstable and potentially dangerous tool. There’s a limit to how much real support they’ll give the rogue state, but the North Koreans don’t seem to realise that. They’re frighteningly confident in their ability to play games unchallenged, and that means they are a real threat to everyone within the growing range of their missiles. At the end of the day, Iran is just a distraction; North Korea is the one that needs watching.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.