Tensions are rising with North Korea. Global security articles tell of Russian bombers near Alaska, armadas of air craft carriers somewhere presumably in the Pacific, and satellite imagery of nuclear test sites showing…volleyball games. If conditions deteriorate, watch for upwelling warm water off the coast of Chile too, and how warm the Barents sea is (along with its own armada–of icebergs). Because the ironic cruelties of the Anthropocene will be every part of North Korea’s near future as well. And as North Korea disintegrates, so too does the global relief community.
In the final days of 2015, Oxfam International warned of “unprecedented strain” on the international humanitarian community due to a super El Nino and the Syrian complex emergency.
To use a sports analogy, the international relief community stayed in the playoff picture in North Africa and Eurasia–conducting operations in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and managing hundreds of thousands of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean through Turkey and Libya.
However, add to this the potential unraveling of Yemen as part of the worst humanitarian crisis (including the Horn of Africa nations) since World War II, the potential resurgence of El Nino, and a brave new world of extraordinary Arctic amplification…the global relief community is teetering on the brink of being eliminated from the playoff picture. That is to say, “playoffs” being an ability to even remotely plug the holes of governance and support each of these complex emergencies.
And like any sports team, when eliminated from the playoffs, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and rebuild. Time to abandon the archaic relief operations of the Holocene and at the very least attempt to come to terms with the climate disruption-catalyzed Anthropocene.
But there is no clamoring at the UN or in the NGO community to do this. No tear up of strategic doctrines of NATO or the strategic interests of Russia or China. Perhaps it is only Turkey that has even dabbled with humanitarian power projection as a way to contain the coming disruption beyond sovereign borders. [Ref: ReliefAnalysis on EurasiaNet]. The global relief community remains very much an anachronism of the late 20th Century “post Cold War era”–a game or two from being eliminated with thousands of crises to go.
North Korea Would Spectacularly End the Holocene Era of Relief Operations
As tensions boil with North Korea, the analysis of what would happens with a regime collapse are clear. There would be a scramble by Great and Regional powers to secure the remaining bits of the North Korean nuclear arsenal, likely involving tense, on-the-ground operations. And the humanitarian situation would be ghastly. North Korea’s population is 24.3M; Syria’s is 22.85M. North Korea would hemorrhage displacement and refugee outflows at least on par Syria. Both complex emergencies would involve the dangerous engagement of Great Powers (Syria=Russia, US; North Korea=China, Russia, US) and Regional Powers (Syria=Turkey, Iran, North Korea=South Korea, Japan) alike.
It is a crude analogy to compare North Korea to Syria, but appropriate for raw scale. Add another massive complex emergency to Eurasia, and the global relief community is spectacularly eliminated from being able to even remotely handle the scale of global disruption. Being able to respond to West Asia (Syria/Iraq), Central Asia (Afghanistan), and the greater Horn of Africa (Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan) simultaneously would be impossible.
Forget even beginning to think about an emerging El Nino or Arctic Amplification-induced weather disruption….
The Cruel Irony of North Korea’s post-Collapse Relief
…Except here is the kicker. North Korea is particularly vulnerable to both El Nino and Arctic Amplification.
The 2015 El Nino was North Korea’s worst drought in a century, an extraordinary stressor on the 70% of the nation’s population, which is food insecure. Crop yields plunged by 20%, and 25,000 children required immediate treatment for malnutrition.
As the Australian Bureau of Meteorology states in its current El Nino Watch, “The pattern of very warm ocean conditions in the far eastern Pacific but neutral conditions overall is unusual. International climate models suggest the steady warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean is likely to continue in the coming months.”
And in terms of Arctic Amplification, according to published research in the journal Nature “severe winters across East Asia are associated with anomalous warmth in the Barents–Kara Sea region” with “regional warming over the Arctic Ocean…accompanied by the local development of an anomalous anticyclone and the downstream development of a mid-latitude trough. The resulting northerly flow of cold air provides favourable conditions for severe winters.”
So in the months ahead, an all-out NGO fracas on the Korean peninsula could be further punctuated by an El Nino-enhanced drought, and in winter, a warm Barents-Kara sea could result in a stuck jet stream and dislodged polar vortex–making winter humanitarian operations an icy humanitarian hell. [Ref ReliefAnalysis on UN Dispatch regarding the challenge of winter operations in Syria.]
Should North Korea deteriorate, turn on the TV–the global relief community has just been “officially” eliminated from the playoffs…with an boundless contests to go.