Eating the Apple

Eve did it. Adam did it. Now it's my turn to take a bite. Why not? Hey! It's delicious.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Bomb and North Korean Objectives

Soon North Korea will be testing a long range missle that may be capable of reaching cities in the United States. This coupled with North Korea's development of atomic weapons presents an ominous and dangerous situation. North Korea may become the first rogue state possessing intercontinental missles tipped with nuclear bombs.

The Bush administration cited this possibility as the reason for withdrawing from the anti-ballistic missle treaty and developing new anti-ballistic missile missiles.

I do not believe that North Korea now intends to vaporize American cities. Although that possibility presents a long term danger, I do not think that it serves the current strategic interests of the ruling clique in North Korea.

What are the strategic interests of the rulers of North Korea? Let me hazard a couple of guesses.

The first priority for any government is to maintain power. This applies to democracies as well as dictatorships. Thus I do not believe that North Korea would start a war that it could not possibly win. However they may make a serious miscalculation. When Kim Il Sung started the Korean War in 1950, he surely believed that he would win. And he nearly did. What he did not count on was that President Truman would respond forcefully to this aggression. He did not expect a United Nations force would be mobilized against him. He counted on the Soviet Union to veto any Security Council resolution. But the Soviet ambassador to the U.N. was boycotting Security Council meetings when the war started, and thus no veto was cast. Such miscalculations led to the failure of the North Korean invasion.

Kim Il Sung's son and successor has had many years to learn from the mistakes made in 1950. I doubt that he would start a war unless he had a plan for winning it. I don't imagine that he could win a war by nuking American cities. That would be like committing suicide.

This leads us to considering what strategic objectives North Korea has aside from simply staying in power. The most obvious objective is the re-unification of North and South Korea. Both North and South agree on this objective. The argument is about which government would control a united Korea.

I do not think that any combination of diplomacy, threats, or intimidation will induce South Korea to accede to an anschluss. Thus the only way that North Korea can unify the Koreas is through war.

Is there any hope that the rulers of North Korea can go to war and win? They might believe they can do it. They might believe that they have a window of opportunity while the United States Army is bogged down in Iraq and Afganistan. The window will open when the North Koreans have produced nuclear warheads small enough to fit on their medium range rockets. This window will likely extend to the end of the Bush presidency, and perhaps another year or two.

What might be the plan that the North Koreans use for a war against South Korea? Although I am no militay expert, I can imagine a plan that the North Koreans could use.

The border between North and South Korea is heavily fortified on both sides. North Korea could use atomic weapons to blast gaps in the fortifications. They could dig tunnels under the fortifications and place atomic weapons in the tunnels. This would not require the miniaturized warheads. Larger warheads would suffice.

I envision three armies invading South Korea through three or four holes in the border defences. The western offensive would be directed at Seoul, cvapturing that city as quickly as possible. The second offensive would bypass Seoul but proceed down the west coast of South Korea. The eastern offensive would run down the east coast to the port city of Pusan. A fourth offensive down the center would mop up military units in that sector.

The North Koreans could also use a nuclear weapon to destroy the port facilities at Pusan. During the Korean war, the United Nation forces brought enough troops and supplies through Pusan to stop the North Korean invasion. Destroying Pusan would make it virtually impossible for the United States to send troops to oppose an invasion of South Korea.

In addition, the North Koreans could use nuclear weapons to destroy military airfields in South Korea. The rulers or North Korea would expect that their armies, being numerically superior to the armies of South Korea, could prevail in spite of any inferiority in weaponry.

The likely response of the United States would be to use air strikes and cruise missles from its fleet. The North Koreans could counter by threatening the U.S. fleet with nuclear tipped missles. The North Koreans would have a major problem in locating the U.S. fleet. But the danger to the fleet would force it to operate hundreds of miles from the Korean shores, reducing its effectiveness.

The North Korean rulers might calculate that they could overrun South Korea before the United States could make an effective military response. In order to stop an invasion, the U.S. would have to put an army into South Korea. Without the port of Pusan, that would be extremely difficult.

In the Korean War, the U.S. mounted a large-scale landing at Inchon. Instantly, the tide of the war turned. But now, the North Koreans might destroy an invasion fleet with medium range nuclear missiles. They may not have to actually use such a weapon. The threat of a nuclear strike will imperil any U.S. fleet within the Sea of Japan. It will likely deter the U.S. from attempting such a landing.

It is likely that North Korea will soon develop an intercontinental ballistic missile that can hit American cities. It is fair to ask, how can such a weapon be used by the North Koreans? I doubt that Kim wants to destroy American cities with the United States. Instead, the threat of such destruction may keep the United States out of a new Korean war. And this threat may deter the president from any military action against North Korea. The president may have to decide between sacrificing the thousands of American troops in South Korea or sacrificing an American city.

For the North Koreans, the best use of nuclear weapons is not to make war against the United States, but to keep the United States out of a new Korean war.

In the Cold War, the threat of mutual destruction deterred both sides from starting a nuclear war. We must ask, will the threat of nuclear destruction deter the rulers of North Koprea from starting a nuclear war? They might view nuclear destruction as just another hardship that their people must endure for the sake of victory.

We should remember that Korea was once part of Imperial Japan. Even after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan's military was opposed to surrender. Some military leaders attempted a coup to prevent the Emperor from broadcasting his message of surrender. That day many Japanese officers committed suicide. The North Korean leaders live in this imperial world, and may be impervious to western assumptions underlying the doctrine of 'mutual assured destruction'.

Whether the North Korean military can actually conquer South Korea may be a moot point. The important question is whether the leaders of North Korea believe that they can conquer the south. Given sufficient nuclear weapons and the willingness to use them, the North Koreans might actually try to invade the south while the U.S. is bogged down in Iraq. Then the U.S. would be forced to choose between sacrificing South Korea and sacrificing Iraq.

One thing that the United States military planners must do is think through the problem of conducting a war when faced with battlefield nuclear weapons.

One great problem with the Bush administration is its instinct to go-it-alone. It follows the anti-Dale Carnegie approach, "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People." After burning many of our allies abroad over Iraq, the Bush administration is not likely to get any help from the United Nations. In any case, either Russia or China may veto any U.N. Security Council resolution supporting South Korea. Is the United States ready to go it alone against North Korea?

While the United States is losing the war in Iraq, our ability to defend South Korea is seriously compromised. Only after analyzing the strategic aims of North Korea do we understand how dangerous the current situation is.


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