There are four primary military threats to going to war with North Korea. The most significant is their artillery. They have thousands of pieces within range of the South Korean capital of Seoul – and can hurl an estimated several hundred thousand shells an hour into the city once they get started. A lot of South Koreans live in Seoul, my brother-in-law lives in Seoul, so do most of the other 30,000 US troops in Korea. It’s this artillery threat that has made normal conventional methods of dealing with North Korea difficult. Any selectively targeted conventional strike – the oft touted ‘just kill the ICBM on the launching pad’ risks a very quick response of artillery fire.
The second military threat is with the North Korean’s believed 6-8 nuclear weapons. They’re not large. They have no deliver systems. But close only counts in horse-shoes, hand grenades and nuclear warfare.
The third military threat is with China – any US forces approaching too close to the Chinese border, or worse crossing their airspace, might provoke a massive retro replay of the worst US military battlefield defeat in 40 years. This was the famous miscalculation in the Korean War – when US troops reached the border with China expecting them to stay there only to be pushed back all the way to the 38th Parallel.
The final military threat from North Korea is the army itself. Despite it’s size I rank it lowest of all four because for the past thirty years this army has been built to fight the *last* Korean conflict: an infantry based war of attrition across a fixed piece of no-man’s land in the DMZ with limited close air support. Also my belief is that paranoid dictator regimes like Kim’s do not produce a strong fighting force. Too many intelligence agencies watching everyone and each other, too much fear and paranoia of saying the wrong thing, too much cronyism and favoritism rather than promotion based on merits – all of these bleed the military dry as a cohesive fighting force.
So how do we go about this?
Build Up to War:
We’re Americans – we don’t need a plan for what happens after Major Operations End do we?!? =) Seriously though I think North Korea is different from Iraq in a few key ways.
1) We have an ally in South Korea who desperately wants to unify the peninsula, and there is not the kind of long term simmering ethnic conflicts you have in Iraq.
2) There is no historical background or religious motivation for the kind of suicide bombing, willing-to-die-if-I-at-least-kill-you guerilla activities we see in Islamic countries occupied.
3) Likewise it’s unlikely that foreign Jihadists or Mujahedeen coming to North Korea’s aid – and even if they do – they’ll have as hard a time blending into the population as I would.
4) North Korea has no major natural resources that others are going to be willing to fight over. The only value North Korea has geopolitically is that it’s North Korea, one North Korea and South Korea become simply: Korea – I think most of the world, after its a fati accompli will just shrug and say “Okay, moving on.” (See China-US below).
5) Believe it or not we have learned a lot from Iraq about what to do and what not to do.
6) The North Korean population are in very desperate straits. It makes sanctioned Iraq under Saddam look like candy land. I just don’t think, once you’ve broken the militaries back and deposed Kim – you’ll see the energy to pick up arms and resist if the other option is regular food and healthcare.
So how do we handle the massive rebuilding and humanitarian relief operations that would follow any war like this? To put it bluntly – you don’t.
In South Korea the US has a partner who is willing, ready and able to take the lead in rejoining the two parts. I think the US can provide valuable advice & leadership – but the fewer US boots in North Korea the better China will feel about things. It becomes a “Korean” matter – we simply removed the barrier to reunification. Afterwards it plays along the lines of East German and West German – lots of ‘issues’ to work out, but they’re worked out internally. It will take years, and there may very well be guerilla insurgencies ala Iraq but I think the population of North Korea is at that point of near complete devastation that allows effective rebuilding without *too* much resistance. The occupation would be as much the world’s largest humanitarian relief mission as anything else. I see 2-4 years here – with rapidly decreasing need for US fighting troops – though lots of aid etc.
Those who have gotten this far with even the barest knowledge about China are probably banging your head against the monitor and saying “WTF about China!” It seems almost impossible that China would let this happen on its doorstep. This is where I think a cohesive long term plan and diplomacy are critical, as well as a little humility and realization of our capabilities.
Remember our goal is to get out of Korea completely. To paraphrase Gingrich I think China would give us little help, but little trouble. A disintegrating North Korea on its borders is a refugee nightmare they’d rather not have. The China of today is not the China of 50 years ago. Plus Kim has repeatedly embarrassed Beijing. As long as the US was clearly pulling out of the Korean peninsula: including our bases and military assets, after the successful unification – I think China will vote with its dollars and raise a hue/cry, but do little.
July 13 2006, 21:52:40 UTC COLLAPSE
Those who have gotten this far with even the barest knowledge about China are probably banging your head against the monitor and saying “WTF about China!”
Heh, I should have read this post before responding to the other.
There seems to be a sense that in the changing China, it’s less ideologically tied to North Korea than, say, in the last two East Asian-centric wars.
A good point you somewhat touch upon but I wanted to elaborate upon is that most North Korean people would prefer reunification, or at least that’s my impression from my family and following some Korean online sources. War is horrible, and horrible things would happen, but it wouldn’t be a unified sense of “You came into MY home and fucked things up” — it’s clearer that things are uniformly bad for those not in power.
July 13 2006, 22:25:13 UTC
And my growing theory on war is you have to absolute devestate the enemy and enemy population prior to any plan to occupy them successfully. I don’t know which is worse – that that’s the way it may have to be – or that the NK population is already in such a state before we even fire a single shot.
July 13 2006, 22:31:23 UTC
Then again, if I only have a hovel, I don’t want your bombs dropping on it any less than I’d want them dropping on my McMansion.
July 13 2006, 22:42:49 UTC
In war – if you are comfortable in your McMansion, well fed and willing to shoot at me I need to bomb you into a hovel and starve you until you are unwilling to shoot at me.
In NK I think 2 out of 3 have already been done – so in some ways it may be a less cruel and/or quicker war than had to be done to Germany/Japan in WWII or the South in the Civil War to break the populations will to resist utterly. We just have to get them to stop being willing to shoot at us.
July 13 2006, 22:04:55 UTC
– Phase III “Boots on the Ground”: This is the actual invasion of North Korea. I think we’ll see a collapse of military resistance like Iraq I & II, like in Kosovo, like in Afghanistan. Totalitarian mass armies don’t do well when crippled by sustained bombardments and confronted by high tech, highly mobile, motivated troops. I’m not sure how far the US should move its own troops and how far they should let the South Koreans push. Obviously US teams should move quickly to secure or neutralize WMD assets, but classic ‘soldiers on the corner’ security could be provided by a quite capable South Korean army who at this point has 30 years experience at guarding things. –
I think that the North Korean leadership and its “Cult of Personality” afflicted military might be just fanatical enough to plant nuclear weapons on their own soil and then detonate them when our formations are fighting their way through. It solves the delivery problem, it’s low-tech enough that preparations might not be noticed (no missiles fueling up on the launch pad or bombers hurtling down the runways), and detonating the first one will stop us in our tracks.
July 13 2006, 22:20:57 UTC
A very real possibility. It’s hard to gauge from outside how far the cult of personality will go when the methods of control are firmly broken. I don’t know if we have the intel on approximately where the nuke weapons are. For example do we know that somewhere near X hill we’re pretty sure there are nuclear weapons? If we have that kind of intel I’d say we put a 24×7 overwatch and *everything* in that area dies. Military, civilian, animal – if it moves it gets killed until the quick deployment forces get there. It’s unfortunately harsh and brutal – but as you say it may be the only way to keep a crazed last minute “blow it up with us” approach.
I’ve considered the possibility that we simply aren’t able to locate/contain or neutralize the nuclear weapons – and they go off. Even so I think the case for going to war with NK justifies this risk/consequence. They will only gain more nukes over time and I don’t see a peaceful conclusion to this besides military action – so the cost just increases with time.
I don’t know…maybe we use multiple EMP pulses over the country to try and disable the electronics of the nuclear? I don’t know if that’s more scifi than not. Certainly after the artillery is disabled the highest priority HAS to be whatever it takes to keep those nukes from going off.
July 13 2006, 23:57:01 UTC
I find your plan interesting but I dont see it surving contact with the enemy. North korea is not Iraq. Their military is professional and well equiped. They are infact fond of the preemptive action and they will call the build up of forces a justification for first strike. I am not so certain they will not start out with nukes thinking we will back down at a shock and awe type attack our selves. Instead our response would actually be to respond in kind. The mess we would make would improve nothing.
As to your arguement we would not face iraq style insurgency I simply have one word for you. Vietnam. You dont have to be religiously extreme to have a powerful insurgency.
July 14 2006, 00:19:20 UTC
“I find your plan interesting but I dont see it surving contact with the enemy. North korea is not Iraq. Their military is professional and well equiped.”
Their last successful military conflict being…? If we aren’t first fighting them on the ground the only true capability that matters (after aritllery) is their ability to project air superiority – I do not think their air force or surface-to-air would last a day against US land based, carrier based and submarine based percision weapons and jets.
More importantly, despite the size of the army it is very likely it would collapse at the first real pressure applied to it. Foreign Affairs wrote a very detailed analysis “Saddam’s Delusions – A View from the Inside” located here:
It catalogues the effect paranoid dictators and their multiple intelligence agencies can have on armed forces. Although their analysis was on Iraq II, it applies to Iraq I, the Russian Army in WWII at the point of the German invasion etc.
“They are infact fond of the preemptive action and they will call the build up of forces a justification for first strike.”
I agree that they would take such an action – why I propose attacking without a 72hour warning. As for buildup we don’t need to make it as obvious as we needed to in Afghanistan, IraqI & II, Kosovo becuase we alreayd have extensive military infrastructure in South Korea and large air assets in the Indian Ocean and Japan.
“As to your arguement we would not face iraq style insurgency I simply have one word for you. Vietnam. You dont have to be religiously extreme to have a powerful insurgency.”
I did consider the lessons learned from Vietnam, and the many many factors that contributed to our failure there – but I do not think that they are applicable here except for perhaps the safe harbor one. South Korea is ethnically homogeneous to North Korea – as was North & South Vietnam, but there isn’t the rampant corruption/failure to deliver services in South Korea that you saw in South Vietnam or today in Iraq. There is no independent opposition or militia forces in NK as there were in Vietnam (Viet Cong & NVA). The Vietnamese had several decades of insurgency experience kicking out the French prior to our arrival there.
I’m not saying there won’t be resistance cells or guerilla efforts for some period of time after the invasion. But this is why I propose a handoff to South Korea (who I believe wants the unification) and withdrawal of ground troops in very quick order. Quite honestly once the ICBM and nuclear threat has been neutralized – North Korea, strategically saying, is not a concern of the US any longer. It’s a problem for South Korea and China to work out – a regional issue, not a global one. I don’t propose wiping our hands completely – when we break it we need to fix it, but that would be the reality of it.
July 14 2006, 01:19:19 UTC
Their air force is larger than anything we have ever faced. Their equipment while not up to our standards is not crap. They have proven to have innovative technological tricks such as a neat little signal jumping communication technology that the commander of the us forces in south korea concidered a problem when he testified before congress. We have simply put never faced as well equiped or as numerous an oponent. This is cold war era scenario. One which we damn near lost the last time we tried it. Yes we have a technological superiority and I dont deny that will make the difference. What I am saying this is not the “clean” war of first iraq and early part of iraq2. we had the advantage of technology and numbers in the first korean war and it ended in a bloody tie. China may or may not step in. if they step in on our side and help then hands down it is a short war, agreed. if they relize it is in their interests to keep north korea around then we have a problem. Whats more the nuke problem should not be underplayed. We dont think they have icbm. Thats good. but that does not mean they wont use them.
Imagine if you will they relize the us is deploying an excessive ammount of force and no it is not that hard for them to relize and they nuke the carrier group and air bases in south korea. That is something they are capable of I am sure.
And where do we get the military might for this with out abandoning our already active fronts elsewhere. As much as I hate the iraq war just up and leaving is a mistake at this point. Same to a lesser extent in afganistan. Will we start up a draft? Wont they noitice that?
there is only one way to effectively fight that war and it is an option no rational man would concider and that is nuclear first strike. The lead up to a conflict will be noticed and prompt a first strike perhaps before we are ready. We cant lightneing strike them effectively enough to diasble them. The nuke is the only way that works. hit them so hard and in a meathod they simply cannot stop. This of course is the bad guy option. We stop holding anything near the moral high ground at that point.
July 14 2006, 01:46:50 UTC
“>This is cold war era scenario. One which we damn near lost the last time we >tried it. Yes we have a technological superiority and I dont deny that will >make the difference. What I am saying this is not the “clean” war of first >iraq and early part of iraq2. ”
Are you referring to the last time cold war scenario to the Korean War in 1950 or something more recent?
“>we had the advantage of technology and numbers in the first korean war and >it ended in a bloody tie.”
I don’t agree with your interpretation of the Korean war – we certainly were outnumbered in many times of that war and it was beginning of the jet age, far before sattelite communications and location systems. The technology gap between haves and have nots in terms of airpower, sattelites, computers – all technology – was not as large as it is now.
“>China may or may not step in. if they step in on our side and help then hands >down it is a short war, agreed. if they relize it is in their interests to ”
The main hurdle is getting SK and China to agree to it – I think you have to sit down in a backroom with a little realpolitik and see if it sells. Without the active support of SK and the passive acceptance of China, I agree, you can probably not go forward.
“>Imagine if you will they relize the us is deploying an excessive ammount of >force and no it is not that hard for them to relize and they nuke the >carrier group and air bases in south korea. That is something they are >capable of I am sure.”
You are mistaking our delivery vs. their delivery. None of their ICBM’s can carry a nuclear missle. None of their nuclear weapons have ever even been tested as far as we know. We don’t know the size, it probably isn’t as large as Big Boy or as small as our backpack nukes. But you *are* correct in that it is a risk that may materialize if we attack. But you also must admit it is a risk that may materialize if we do not attack either. This is a classic case of the prisoners dillema – who moves first has the advantage.
“>And where do we get the military might for this with out abandoning our >already active fronts elsewhere. As much as I hate the iraq war just up and >leaving is a mistake at this point. Same to a lesser extent in afganistan. >Will we start up a draft? Wont they noitice that?”
You’re thinking again in terms of raw numbers. We don’t need to match them man for man. We have 150k troops in Iraq, 30k already in South Korea – of a million man army. The assets of the Navy and Air Force are not as involved in Iraq now as they were earlier, they are available for the air campaign part of it. I do not propose trying to slug it out mano-e-mano with the NK military, but bolstering a division of troops on the ground might not be a bad idea. But in this case Iraq helps us. Two of our modern made-to-kill-the-Soviet divisions (3rd or 4th style) are mobilized to rotate into Iraq – there’s bitching and groaning from the public, Democrats scream for timelines, tanks roll onto ships and leave to the Persian Gulf by way of the Pacific. They can be disembarking in Korea as the first planes hit.
We stop holding anything near the moral high ground at that point.
You are correct on that ground but there is nothing moral about warfare, I doubt there ever will be.
July 14 2006, 00:28:21 UTC
When it comes to assassination I go back to the quote from Heat, to paraphrase “What if you had a chance to shoot the Devil in the back – what if you missed?”
My biggest fear would be that we simply miss and he gets to start shooting first. The second fear is that we don’t have Mr. #2 ready to step into his place, and one of his cultist generals take over and now the situation is entirely destabilized.
I spent a long time of thinking – how do you disarm NK’s biggest threat first and leave it reeling while the air campaign dismantles their military threat. I would be more in favor of the use of nuclear weapons over assassination – I see the threat being that grave and our need to act to remove NK in the next 5 years important enough, before the emergence of stronger ‘players’ complicate it.
July 15 2006, 15:44:46 UTC
Diego Garcia is also in close range to NK and air forces can easily be stationed there.
You have a very interesting concept of “in close range.” 🙂
July 16 2006, 18:29:41 UTC
This isn’t your father’s aircraft. If Diego Garcia can be used as a staging point for daily runs into Iraq during GWI,certainly NK is within range as well. =)