HistoricalMullet: North Korea A 4 Week War, a 2-5 Year Occupation

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War is policy carried out by other means. The first post was the reason we had to step past policy into military conflict, this focuses more plainly on the “how to” of the equation, both for the short war and the long occupation.

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:

If I were a US enemy I would *never* allow the US to buildup military capability in a neighboring country. I would strike first before the buildup was significant. Fortunately none of our enemies has quite figured this out yet. Also in South Korea we have the existing bases & infrastructure to make any buildup slightly less obvious than say, buying off Qatar and building air fields there. Diego Garcia is also in close range to NK and air forces can easily be stationed there.Pre-Conflict:
Unlike previous engagements in recent years there can be no “72 hour deadline or else.” North Korea cannot have much warning because it doesn’t take much time to rev those artillery pieces up and start sending shells south.Now I’m not saying we should launch a dud cruise missile into Pyongyang with the words “FYI,@WarKthxbyeN00b!” scrawled on it, but the announcement of war should not be too far ahead of the commencement of warfare. Fortunately the original Korean War officially ended, just a cease fire armistice. If we wanted to be extra nice we could hand over a declaration of war as our planes were already enroute.Phase I “Shock and Awe”:

The entire focus of the first few hours has to turn the band of territory from the DMZ north into North Korea, where the artillery pieces are located, into one of chaos and death. MOAB’s, MLRS, artillery, bunker busters, daisy cutters, cluster munitions, carpet bombing – the works. It’s not necessary to kill each and every artillery piece. But you must convince every North Korean soldier in that stretch of land that the world is ending and to even poke a head outside of the bunker is suicide. It’s like a boxing match where your first punch is to your opponent’s nose – their eyes water, they take a step back, and they have to collect themselves. Our goal in the first phase is to knock the NK’s back on its feet and prevent them from effectively retaliating into South Korea with their artillery.Phase II “Air Campaign”:
Basically a replay of Iraq I & II, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan – the sustained pummeling and dismantling of what little military and civic infrastructure North Korea has left while killing troop formations. As I said above I believe Kim has built a great army for the last war – but doesn’t have the airpower or defensive capabilities to protect his army from the kind of high-tech warfare the US has perfected in the last 20 years. The three main thrusts: command & control, basic infrastructure, and troop formations aim to leverage the first punch landed on the DMZ and southernmost territory of NK into sustained paralysis. Key goals would be to kill anything moving south in force, watch where we think the nuclear weapons are and kill anything moving around them – and completely dismantle Kim’s ability to control his troops. Psy ops similar to Iraq 2.0 where generals are bribed, coerced, seduced into standing down their troops could work simultaneously. Assuming we neutralized their artillery retaliatory capability early on this phase would not be hard to accomplish. We must be very careful not to get too near China’s airspace however.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.The entire timeline of major operations are 2-4 weeks I think, maybe a bit more.Post-War Occupation 2-5 Years
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.

Tim C.


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