New Delhi: The world doesn’t yet fully grasp that it is going to be thrown in turmoil following North Korea’s successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach Alaska. In due course, the United States heartland will be threatened and US voters will curse their luck for electing a most incompetent and strategically illiterate President at just such a time. For India, meanwhile, caught in its own troubles with China, the ending won’t be happy unless it sheds its jingoism and squarely addresses the military realities of the neighbourhood.

North Korea remained an unfinished business even at the end of the Korean War, which concluded in stalemate for the principal combatant states, namely China and the United States. US strategic doctrine at the commencement of the Cold War with its bias towards “containment” of the Soviet Union and “Red” China did not factor for local conflicts like the 1950 Korean War. Fortunately for the US, American and allied forces were in the vicinity of the conflict zone, and its best general of the era, Douglas MacArthur, was on hand to lead the campaign.

The world had not entirely lost its innocence then despite the millions killed in World War II, the industrialized terror of the Holocaust, and the guilt associated with the first and only time that atomic bombs were dropped on civilian populations. Trusting to the collective security posited and promised by the United Nations, the United States fought the Korean War under its aegis. The rest of the war did not go as planned for the United States, which had to keep it limited for fear that it would become all-out with the entry of China supposedly backed by Stalinist Russia.

General MacArthur was determined to take the war to China and to settle the issue once for all with nuclear weapons. The then President, Harry Truman, recoiled in horror and sacked the general for public insubordination. Truman’s successor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, called upon MacArthur for advice and instruction on winding down the hostilities, but by then, any hope for the US for a clear victory was gone.

The Korea stalemate prompted much reflection and executive actions in the United States towards fighting a limited war under a nuclear overhang. But it left the Korea question unresolved. One could reasonably argue that the Korea experience still left the United States unprepared to terminate the conflict that followed in Indochina to its advantage and satisfaction. Nevertheless, the unification of Vietnam, while problematic for some decades, eventually resolved itself, with the country electing to join the international mainstream. The unintended consequence of united Vietnam was that China found its historical adversary to the south to have become stronger, leading to a new pattern of pronouncedly uneven bilateral relations interspersed with open hostilities.

The divided Korean peninsula, on the other hand, kept the old fires burning. As its only ally, China has employed the North from time to time to keep US allies South Korea and Japan off balance. (China has also used North Korea as a cut-out to proliferate to Pakistan.) Beyond that, China prefers the pariah North Korean regime to a united Korea attached to America. Russia is bound to share this Chinese thinking, seeing the problems that liberal democracies of Western Europe and the independent former Soviet satellite states of Central Europe are posing to its security. Selfishly, too, for Russia, heat on China for North Korea means that much reprieve from its own troubles from NATO and the United States.

Problems for the world, however, come from the divisions in the Atlantic Alliance because of Donald Trump and from Trump’s own inexperience as President and his lack of strategic understanding to squarely confront the North Korean crisis. In the Korean War of 1950, the United States could still take some small comfort from its location being thousands of miles away from the mainland. But a North Korean ICBM that can reach Alaska now and the very heart of the United States a short time ahead in the future puts at stake the very survival of America.

The United States finally lost the fig-leaf of the United Nations in its prosecution of hostilities in Indochina. Although the war was inherited from Metropolitan France, France and Great Britain turned their backs on the United States in Vietnam because of events related to the 1956 Suez Crisis. Although Britain drew closer to the United States thereafter, the constituent Western European states of NATO considered Vietnam “out of area” for NATO intervention.

With the added hostilities engendered by Donald Trump, it is impossible to conceive that Western Europe will come to America’s aid in this new North Korean crisis. Britain may still participate, but America itself is not the superpower it was during the Cold War. South Korea and Japan can scarcely contribute to any action that the US may have in mind, and currently, it looks as though it has no plans at all to stop the mad march of North Korea.

This turn of circumstances could be of immense advantage to China and Russia to balance US threats; and true to form, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping have promptly capitalized on the offered opportunity. Defensiveness would have cost China. Smartly, it has taken offensive action by allying with Russia on North Korea. The United States will have to deal with both Great Powers to get a measure of control on North Korea, and it is exactly this sort of collusion that was most apprehended by US Presidents at the apogee of the Cold War. Alas, with Donald Trump in charge, hope does not float. Able as the US establishment is, it still needs exemplary presidential guidance and leadership.

This writer sees the balance tilting to China and Russia’s advantage till the North Korean threat is abated and neutralized. A balance weighing in favour of China cannot be received well by India especially in its current situation of confronting a mini cold war with its northern adversary. India needs the best strategic minds to get it out of its current rut with China and Pakistan. But with a Trump doppelganger at the helm, the future looks very dark indeed.