Islamic State On The Korean Peninsula
“As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don’t know we don’t know” - Donald Rumsfeld, United States Secretary of Defense.
What comes after Kim Jong-un? That is the question.
by Kudakwashe Kanhutu
Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defence under George W. Bush during the 2003 Iraq invasion, said something that greatly amused pundits, he said: “As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” While pundits and comedians were amused insofar as this could be a punchline when they tell their next joke at a party, the person who studies international dynamics, to make predictions on the next security threats, must take a different instruction from the “unknown unknowns” quote.
Donald Rumsfeld was trying to make the case that they should invade Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to obviate the danger of the “unknown unknowns” threat from Saddam Hussein. In hindsight, it was a disingenuous and cynical claim, because as it turns out, the invasion caused more instability and suffering than any unknown Saddam Hussein capability. This is not lost on analysts who notice that, the result of the invasion, was suffering for the Iraqis, and the creation of a hitherto unheard of armed group that now threatens Europe at will – the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
With the knowledge we now have of how things turned out in Iraq and Libya, after United States regime change actions there, we can make the case – with mathematical certainty – that if the United States attacks North Korea as threatened, the outcome is knowable. The United States thinks it can make a decapitating strike on the North Korean Supreme Leader. This will then lead to the population being freed from a dictatorship and thus there will be no retaliatory strikes from North Korean Rocket Forces. The problem with that line of reasoning is that experience belies it. It is no longer a case of unknown unknowns what will happen after regime change action, but known knowns: civil war and rise of armed non-state actors in those ungoverned spaces.
What will happen if the United States attacks North Korea, is that North Korea’s Rocket Forces will retaliate with missiles against South Korea and Japan – a situation which will put over 20 million people directly in harm’s way. But even if this danger was not there, and Kim Jong-Un could be removed by force, wherever a power vacuum has occurred, non-state armed groups have invariably filled the vacuum. We have never heard of a single terrorist attack in North Korea, but this will not be the case once the monopoly on the legitimate use of force is taken away. And with Islamic State being the umbrella of choice for those aggrieved by the West, it is not inconceivable that terrorist attacks against Western interests will start happening on the Korean Peninsula, if use of force is pursued as an option against North Korea.