The past 48 hours have been an old school international relations chess match, with North Korea and the US at each other’s throats. Two days ago, we were faced with a missile test into the sea nearby to Guam, the American response to which would likely have been of military force. There was even the possibility of a direct strike on Guam, which would undoubtedly have led to the destruction of North Korea as a nation.
Forgetting international relations logic, the media decided there was cause for alarm. ‘Trump is unpredictable and dangerous. North Korea is a hostile state, and will stop at nothing to see America fall’. I read a huge number of tweets of people worried, even scared, as to how the events might pan out. Said Twitter users had been influenced by the media coverage. The way the media cover a story has the potential to either calm people down, or spread panic and frenzy. Sadly, the majority of the time, it is the latter.
Two days ago, I wrote a piece at the time when things supposedly looked unstable and worrying. The general message was ‘it’ll all be okay. Don’t panic’. In fact, my article forecasted certain things that have since come true: North Korea backing down as a result of the US being firm and stating plain as day that if they were to strike Guam, they would be destroyed, among others. North Korea have no incentive to do what the media is supposedly suggesting they are going to do.
The Canadian economist John Kenneth Galbraith famously divided forecasters into ‘those who don’t know, and those who don’t know they don’t know.’ Whilst this is true in economics, this is not so the case in international relations – just ask George Friedman. In international relations, there are things one can be sure of. Things one should remember in periods of frenzy, to calm one’s self down. Below are three rules of international relations.
Nations are full of people. Indeed, they are run by people. By normal human beings, like you and I. Nations therefore have certain human characteristics. A nation will never do anything that isn’t within its best interests. They may do something that benefits them as well as another, for example, the US often act in a way that benefits both the US and the UK. But the US would never do something that doesn’t benefit them at all. Nations aren’t altruistic as such.
So, based on the rule that a nation will never act in a way that doesn’t benefit them, explain why North Korea would act in a way that may result in their entire population getting killed? North Korea have backed down from their plans to test a missile near Guam. They say they’re ‘holding off’, but that’s international relations speak for, ‘we’re backing down, but don’t want to look too foolish’. This, I believe, was an inevitability. It goes to show that nations are run by humans, and act like humans. North Korea backed down from something that wasn’t going to benefit them at all; indeed, it was likely to result in their destruction. It shouldn’t be a surprise.
A nation, like a person, is by nature self-centred, and will always act to protect their own self-interest. On an international relations level therefore, a nation would never make a conscious decision to disadvantage or endanger itself strategically. Trump stated that future threats from North Korea would be ‘met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.’ This worried people incredibly. They translated it as Trump considering a pre-emptive strike, or, minus the jargon, starting a nuclear war.
However, that’s forgetting my second rule. Trump may be crazy, but he is still a person. And a person will never act to knowingly endanger themselves. How would attacking a fairly small nation, with a tiny nuclear arsenal, endanger the US? Well, that brings me onto rule three (there are quite a lot of rules of international relations. These are just the three main ones of concern).
Friends will act to protect friends. If an aggressor hurts a close friend, you’ll hurt them back. International relations are the same. Take NATO’s Article 5, for example: ‘an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies’. If Trump was to launch a first strike on North Korea, China would undoubtedly declare war on the US: friends protect friends (but not, however, when the friend has been a bit of a fool. China wouldn’t protect North Korea if they were the one who launched the first strike). The second and third rule suggest that Trump would never launch a pre-emptive strike on North Korea. He knows to do so would to be to start a war with China, leading to millions of lives lost.
The media forget the logic of international relations. They report what some would call the worst-case scenario, to the point of publishing articles of what war with North Korea would look like. I would argue, however, that they often speculate on the impossible. Speculating on a nuclear war with North Korea is such an example. They see that A has led to B, and B has led to C, and assume that C will therefore lead to D, ignoring that C leading to D ignores a basic rule in international relations.
The media have the power to scare society. Do not allow yourself to be scared. Look at the facts, and make a judgement on what you think will happen. If the past few days scared you, even a little bit, you weren’t thinking about the facts hard enough.