Part 2 of analysis
All eyes in the international theater are currently on Washington. The White House also understands that the North Korean attack
on the South Korean island is a challenge to the US no less so – and possibly even more so – than it is a provocation towards Seoul. Officials in Washington know that a failure to respond in this case would have grave strategic and international implications: Iran is closely monitoring North Korea's conduct on the nuclear and sanctions front, and there are quite a few indications that Pyongyang serves as a model for emulation. On top of it, there is the close cooperation between the two states on the missile and nuclear development front.
Syria is in the same boat and draws from North Korea not only military and nuclear assistance, but also inspiration for provocative conduct vis-à-vis the US. Meanwhile, the concern shown by America's traditional allies in Asia and in the Middle East is growing in the face of the weakness and helplessness displayed by Washington in respect to Pyongyang's provocations.
Major question marks regarding America's power and leadership are in the air, ranging from Riyadh to Tokyo: If this is how the White House conducts itself vis-à-vis the small, poor North Korea, would it have the power and desire to protect the oil states against Iran should Tehran decide, for example, to disrupt oil tanker traffic in the Persian Gulf? Can Japan and Taiwan count on the US to protect them in face of Chinese aggression?
And that's not all. There is substantial danger that should North Korea's provocation not be met with an effective Western, international response, it would provide Pyongyang with an incentive to embark on additional adventures with graver results – to the point of all-out war – as was the case with Nazi Germany on the eve of World War II.
We can assume that at this time, South Korea and the US would not be initiating military retaliation to the North Korean attack. It is also doubtful whether the US would adopt a grave step such as a total naval blockade against North Korea that may escalate to war. South Korea would be the first to oppose such move. However, the US still has two options on the diplomatic and economic front that may deter the regime in Pyongyang and make it think twice before undertaking the next provocation.
One option is to enlist China to the cause of exerting pressure on its ally, Pyongyang, to put an end to the provocations and return to the negotiating table. China has a substantial interest at this time in appeasing Washington, which is pressing Beijing to devaluate its currency and improve the balance of trade between the two countries. China also holds more than a billion-dollar worth of US bonds and has an interest in seeing an American economic recovery. Hence, China is attentive to Washington's concerns and is uninterested in seeing the US completely losing its superpower status.
Another option available to the US is to convene the Security Council and pass a resolution that imposes further sanctions on North Korea and even threatens Pyongyang with Chapter VII in the UN charter, which allows for military action against a rogue state that jeopardizes world peace. China would then be facing an uncomfortable position, where it is forced to impose its veto power in defiance of all other Security Council members or endorse the resolution and become a party to sanctions against its ally. In any case, the key to restraining North Korea via non-violent means is currently in Beijing's hands.
Should all this fail, the US has another possibility at its disposal: Redeploying tactical nuclear weapons on South Korea's soil. Such move would not only make clear the seriousness of America's intentions to Pyongyang, but also prove to China that it risks a nuclear war at its doorstep. This move would also signal to Iran what it can expect should it continue with its nuclear provocations.
Should Washington be able to prompt China to impose effective pressure on Pyongyang, or should the US deploy nuclear weapons in South Korea, this would have a restraining effect on Iran on the nuclear front. However, should the White House show weakness, the North Korean model is expected to repeat in our region, in a doubly dangerous fashion.