Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Military Options in North Korea (7 March 2013)

      According to an opinion piece by Henry M. Seggerman in The Korea Times back in December of 2010, "North Korea has 11,000 heavy artillery pieces pointed at Seoul and could kill one million Seoul residents in a few hours. North Korea can continue with provocations without any fear of heavy South Korean retaliation." This is a bit hyped. Although estimates go up to 13,000 artillery pieces, the formulation I recall for effective fire was "5,000 artillery tubes," and, as Popular Mechanics — of all publications! — points out, North Korea is incapable of rendering Seoul "flattened," nor would Seoul be consumed in, in one translation, "a sea of flames" in a North Korean attack.

            However, Seoul is only 35 miles from the border with North Korea; North Korea has mobile artillery and rockets; North Korea does have an air force and a large army; and North Korea has had time to infiltrate the Demilitarized Zone with the South with, well, God knows what weapons. After noting serious problems for the North Koreans with their military, a subdued report by The International Institute for Strategic Studies states that"In any conflict, North Korean artillery, firing from fortified positions near the DMZ, could initially deliver a heavy bombardment on the South Korean capital. Allied counter-battery fire and air strikes would eventually reduce North Korea’s artillery capability, but not before significant damage and high casualties had been inflicted on Seoul. Similarly, the North Korean air force could launch surprise attacks against military and civilian targets throughout South Korea before allied air superiority was established. The potential delivery of chemical or biological weapons by artillery, short-range missiles and aerial bombs is an additional threat – especially to unprotected civilians."

            At any given time, the US has some 30,000 troops in South Korea as what even respectable sorts used to call "trip-wires," and my friends and I more cynically called "hostages": A North Korean attack would bring in the US, and we do have the firepower to reduce North Korea to a wasteland.
            But not without a lot of fallout — starting with nuclear fallout — on South Korea, and problems with the Chinese, North Korea's neighbors, and the main US creditor.

            Short-form: There really are no military options on the Korean Peninsula. Not sane ones, not for the US of A.

            The non-military option I suggest is to give the North Koreans what, for the last couple decades or so, they've said they've wanted: direct negotiations with the United States and a peace treaty ending the Korean War (or "Police Action" for the pedants who note that the US Congress never declared war).

            But, you might well say, the North Koreans have developed and are deploying nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

            Okay, I respond, that is a dangerous thing for them to do but understandable.

            Consider this. China invaded Tibet and remains in Tibet, and the United States and "the International Community" viewed that aggression with alarm and sent strong notes of protest … and that was that. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and got hit with the Gulf War (Iraq War 1.0) and what we call "The Iraq War" (Gulf 2.0 and following), upon the tenth anniversary of which I am writing this essay. What were the differences between Iraq and China prompting different responses to aggression?

                        (1) There are reasons to believe that Kuwait actually is a country with historical existence. Still, its most immediate existence comes from the drawing of lines on imperial maps. Many of those lines don’t make sense in terms of tribal geography, ethnic and linguistic groups' territories, and other matters of practical concern (like a port for Iraq) — and in a rational world such political lines would've been drawn differently to start with and, again, in a rational world, be peaceably readjusted today. But trying to redraw lines in our world leads to trouble, and it is an important rule among the countries that emerged from the old European empires, "Successor states to the European empires shall not attempt to change their borders by force." Saddam broke that rule.

                        (2) There are a whole lot more Chinese than Iraqis.

                        (3) Iraq and Kuwait have a lot of oil, with them and their oil near Europe and not all that far from the USA; China has coal and is close to the US only by container ship.

                        (4) China has nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them.

            George H. W. Bush pushed the Iraqis out of Kuwait; George W. Bush defeated Iraq in war and overthrew the regime of Saddam Hussein. And George W. Bush included in "an Axis of Evil" Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.

            Iran and, relevantly here, North Korea, can't change much about their differences with China — they're not going to change geography or geology —with one exception: they can get atomic bombs.

            And North Korea is getting a deliverable bomb, and, however loony much of the North Korean leadership might be, that is a rational decision.

            Fortunately, the North Koreans don't have much capacity to deliver nuclear bombs, plural, and we have over-kill. North Korea can cause a whole lot of damage in its region now, with conventional weapons, and may be able eventually to nuke a USA city or two, which would probably end republican government in the USA but otherwise not represent "an existential threat": as World War II and its aftermath demonstrated convincingly, countries can lose a number of cities and survive.

            However, as World War II demonstrated even more convincingly, destroying cities is very unpleasant for the former inhabitants thereof, and, if les so, for their surviving families, friends, and many fellow citizens.

            So we have a stand-off with North Korea, and a very dangerous one, and not one that won't be resolved just with sanctions: the minute North Korean elite will not be hurt much by the sanctions, and they don't have to worry about being turned out of power by their suffering subjects in a 2014 (or 2016) election.

            So let's do what we have to do: cut a deal.

            The North Koreans want a peace treaty; let's negotiate one and as much as possible get the hell out of Korean politics. South Korea is a major economic power, and China is a major power every which way. Let us be an honest broker and good Pacific-rim neighbor — but let the Koreans deal with Korean problems, with quiet help from the Chinese.

            And we can continue quiet efforts to encourage the Chinese to be a bit more decent to the people of Tibet. 

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