Wednesday 19 April 2017

Taking Care of North Korea.

Yesterday's Diplomacy: The Trump Administration has dispatched a naval strike force to the seas off the Korean Peninsula. Unfortunately, the Kim family's dynastic dictatorship cannot afford to be seen to back down in the face of the President's gunboat diplomacy. Any US attack on North Korea will, likewise, force "Supreme Leader" Kim Jong Un to unleash "Total War" on its enemies. President Trump is, hopefully, being reminded that Kim doesn't necessarily require an ICBM to deliver a nuclear device to US territory - an unsuspecting container ship will do the job just as effectively.
PRESIDENT TRUMP says North Korea “will be taken care of” if its dictator, Chairman Kim Jong Un, authorises another round of nuclear weapons tests. A naval strike force, led by the Nimitz-class “supercarrier” the USS Carl Vinson, is positioned off the Korean Peninsula. The American ships will soon be joined for “exercises” by an undisclosed number of Japanese naval vessels.*
This grim show of force is intended to serve as a stark reminder of America’s ability to project its military power wherever and whenever if desires. In the aftermath of the recent Tomahawk Cruise Missile strike on Syria, Kim is expected to draw the obvious lessons and stand down his nuclear weapons testing programme.
This is not something the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) can do. Not without sustaining a catastrophic loss of face. Though it possesses all the trappings of a Soviet-style socialist state, the DPRK is, in reality, a quasi-monarchical dynastic regime, whose hereditary rulers are required to maintain an image of unassailable power and strength. Backing down in the face of American threats would likely prove fatal to the Kim family dynasty.
This would not be on account of the North Korean people rising up and overthrowing their semi-sacred head of state. Such is the iron grip of Kim’s “Workers’ Party” government that the North Koreans would never hear a word about their leader’s back down. The threat to Kim would come from his generals and party bosses. They chafe under the Kim family’s ruthless rule. The international humiliation of Kim Jong Un would be a heaven-sent opportunity to bring his family’s dynasty to an end.
A successful American strike against the DPRK’s nuclear weapons test site at Punggye-ri would deliver a similar blow to Kim Jong Un’s prestige. Not that the North Korean people would learn anything at all about a US attack. Punggye-ri is located in rugged, mountainous terrain, far from large population centres. The remoteness of the testing site could not, however, keep the upper-echelons of the army and the party out of the information loop. How would their Supreme Leader respond?
Much would depend of just how successful the American strike turned out to be. Punggye-ri is a complex of deep tunnels drilled into solid rock. An attack using the same ordnance as the Syrian strike would likely prove ineffective.
The Americans do, of course, possess much larger bombs: like the 10-ton “bunker-buster” dropped on an ISIS-controlled tunnel complex in Afghanistan earlier this week. (Was that operation supposed to send a warning to the North Koreans?) The problem with these huge weapons, however, is that they can only be delivered by large, relatively slow, military aircraft. The Americans would, therefore, have to destroy the fighter aircraft and surface-to-air missile batteries with which the Punggye-ri complex is defended. This would be a major military operation on the part of the United States.
There can be little doubt that, confronted with an American assault of such magnitude, Kim Jong Un would order “total war” against the United States. Thousands of 170mm Goksan artillery pieces and 240mm multiple-tube rocket launchers, among the largest such weapons in the world, would rain down death and destruction upon the South Korean capital, Seoul, and devastate the US military bases adjoining the Demilitarised Zone. According to the former US Commander in South Korea, General Thomas A Schwartz, the 28,000-strong US army in Korea “would be destroyed in less than three hours”.
Kim Jong Un’s order to unleash total war upon the United States would set in motion something else. A nuclear device, probably not much bigger than the bomb which devastated Hiroshima, would set out towards one of the key ports of the United States. Concealed in the hold of a fishing trawler. Or, perhaps, hidden in one of thousands of identical shipping containers stacked on the deck of a container ship bound for San Diego or New York, this device would be effectively undetectable and unstoppable until it came close enough to inflict scores-of-thousands of civilian casualties. Such a catastrophe would dwarf completely Al Qaeda’s attack of 11 September 2001.
And President Trump’s response? (Assuming the North Koreans weren’t inventive enough to deliver their nuclear device to a warehouse in Washington DC!) Who would be willing to bet against the enraged American president ordering a retaliatory nuclear strike against North Korea? Would he listen to those who pleaded with him not to incinerate millions of innocent North Koreans for the crimes of their Supreme Leader? Would he care that the radioactive fallout from such a strike would be no more a respecter of international borders than the fallout from Chernobyl? How could America’s Commander-in-Chief be sure that the Chinese and Russians would not respond in kind?
Can Donald Trump really “take care” of this?
* This information was subsequently revealed to be more “fake news” from the Trump Administration. At the time of writing (16/4/17) the USS Carl Vinson and its strike force was nowhere near the location indicated by the White House Communications Director, Sean Spicer. As of this morning (19/4/17) the strike force was still, apparently, en route!
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 18 April 2017.


Bill said...

I like the warehouse in Washington DC option best, that would solve a lot of problems...

greywarbler said...

Perhaps the usa will take care of Trump? They have done it before when dissatisfied with their leader.

Nick J said...

Can Donald Trump take care of this? Certainly not directly. But Trump may have put the acid upon China to do so for him. In reality it would appear that the Chinese (and maybe the Russians) are the only members of the nuclear armed nations who might hold enough sway to force a resolution.

Since the inception of nuclear weaponry there has been the problem of nuclear proliferation that the existing nuclear powers have mainly resisted. The two nuclear "hot" spots since the end of the Cold War have been Indian / Pakistani relations, and "possible" Isreali unilateral capability versus the Arabs in general. These powers developed nuclear weapons during the era of capitalist versus communist duopoly on nuclear deployment, and I contend as surrogates of that era.

Our (aka the whole worlds) current problem is that the nuclear powers seem to have decided that sabre rattling is acceptable, and there may even be the possibility of successful first strike. Not good. Into this we have a regime determined to join a club in which all members know that they really should not exist, let alone add new members. Hence the paradox, only a nuclear armed power can stop / deter somebody from joining, but nobody can leave the club or the deterrence fails.

In this case I think that the only option is for China (who one might suggest have been remiss in allowing their little brother regime to go down this road), to step up and work through a resolution independent of the rest of the world. Trump has made his point, time to step aside and leave it to Beijing.

With that in mind who remembers now that the real issue behind the Cuba missile crisis was US nuclear missiles in Turkey that the USSR wanted removed? By upping the odds with missiles in Cuba that could hit the USA they got their way, the US missiles were quietly withdrawn. Khrushchev in "media" terms lost, Kennedy came out as the champion of the hour. In strategic terms USSR 1- USA nil. Problem resolved. We need some wisdom from China here.

Kiwiwit said...

I don't believe Gen. Schwartz ever said the words you attribute to him. A web search reveals the main source for this as one Han Ho Suk from the 'Center for Korean Affairs', who appears to have no credentials whatsoever and is likely to be a North Korean propagandist. Even if Schwartz did say this, he retired 15 years ago so it is hardly likely to be a current assessment. You don't think the American forces, who you admit are capable of taking out North Korea's air defences, could also take out their WW2-era howitzers and rocket launchers? As for the 'undetectable and unstoppable' threat of an atomic bomb delivered in a shipping container, I think you've been watching too many movies and you obviously have no knowledge of existing transport security requirements that every container and vessel bound for the US has to comply with.

I guess we will see if your predictions come to pass.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I notice that in the Trump camp, they are putting it about that his unpredictability is a feature rather than a bug.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Kiwiwit.

I sincerely hope you're right, Kiwiwit.

My sole intention in writing this piece was to alert people to the potential for disaster in attacking a dictator as unstable as Kim Jong Un.

Of course the DPRK would be defeated by the US and South Korea, in the end, but getting there would cost thousands of lives. US servicemen stationed along the DMZ are fully aware of the damage those "WW2-era" artillery pieces would likely inflict before being silenced. Especially the ones firing chemical and/or biological shells!

As for the nuke-in-the-container scenario. I wouldn't dismiss that quite so off-handedly. About the only really formidable military asset the DPRK possesses is its elite Special Forces. These have demonstrated considerable skill over the years when it comes to planning and executing covert operations.

It's one thing to have a security system in place - as US airports did on 9/11 - but it's another thing altogether to have one that works.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I think it's a mistake to characterise Kim as unstable. I suspect everything he does is pretty much calculated to an end, though perhaps he likes tweaking the American tail a little too much. But North Korean dictators have a long history of managing to tread a reasonably delicate line between and among great powers. Kim engages in brinkmanship yes, but usually when he does, people give him stuff. Particularly South Korea, and when you consider how close a couple of their major cities are to the border, you wouldn't necessarily be surprised. South Koreans are willing to pay pretty much anything for stability, because they know that if anything happens to Kim and North Korea becomes unstable they going to be responsible for millions of starving North Koreans. I'm not even sure they'd want to go for unification anymore, but certainly not with any immediacy.

Victor said...

Much as I abhor Trump, I was starting to get ever so slightly impressed by the way he was pressuring China into becoming something approaching a collaborator vis a vis North Korea.

But now he's revealed as the ultimate "paper tiger" as the USS Carl Vinson et al meander towards the Indian Ocean or wherever.

Next time Trump threatens someone, who will believe him? Perhaps the threats will be for real but he still won't be believed. And then Armageddon could follow. It's like a black comedy from the Cold War era except that it's really not the slightest bit funny.

David Stone said...

Hi Chris
Interesting that the "armada" set sail in the opposite direction. Very wise though. Parking your expensive boats within range of Kim's sky rockets might be silly while the atmosphere is so tense . I assume it will get there eventually though.
But it is a very complete reversal of Trump's previous position on international affairs isn't it. In a period of about 24 hours. It's not just the bullshit gas attack Syria thing, It's changed everywhere. All at the same time.
If it carries on in this direction we are in for it aren't we. But if it all dissipates , comes to nothing much, and drifts away like our recent cyclone, then what will it all have meant?
So far he's sent some after use by date missiles to damage some old sheds and broken airplanes in Syria , having done what he could to avoid casualties (with limited success) , Dropped a great big bomb in Afghanistan again apparently avoiding civilian casualties , and sent a fake news armada to North Korea with surprisingly mild rebuke from China.And now he has won acceptance from the US establishment and can start having a go at being President.
Is he sort of calling the bluff of the neocons? Is he giving them a look at what they seem to want when the vilify Russia and condemn him for speaking of co-operation and peaceful co existence. Is he forcing them and the public both US an abroad to really confront what the alternative to negotiation is.
Few indeed I know would attribute this thought to him and I'm not saying this what I think is going on , but if over the next 12 months the tension subsides and no new wars break out , and little by little the middle east wars quieten it will be interesting to reflect.
Cheers D J S

Nick J said...

David Stone,
I am just as bemused by all the contradictions apparent in Trump, but I do think that he might be displaying the one thing that he is (supposedly) good at, "negotiating", doing the deal. So long as the end result is China sorting out North Korea, who cares? I get the feeling he might just be playing the neo cons along like you suggest.

Maybe Trump sending the fleet into reverse was a part of a "negotiation"...."showed you what we got, and you can have the credit locally for out bluffing the big bully USA...meanwhile remember that I am bigger than you"..I really hope that is what is going on but with Trump who knows?

Wayne Mapp said...

None of this is going to happen. The US is not going to bomb North Korea, even if they test a nuke. The likely response from North Korea would be too catastrophic to contemplate, and that is just the artillery response. Even if targeted to only military targets, it is a lot of dead Americans and South Koreans.

The US military already knows what war in Korea looks like. Once China was in, stalemate on the 38th parallel. That is after China pushed the Americans (and the UN troops including NZ) back from the China/North Korea border. So the US does not want to risk a war of any sort with China.

I am sure China has quietly made the US aware of Chinese "redlines" in recent meetings. A direct attack by the US could quite easily result in a China/US air war over North Korea. At the very minimum, such a war could not be ruled out. I imagine the quid pro quo to no US military action is that China also said they would rein in their neighbour/ally.

It looks to me, based on what has been said and done, that China has been given the space to do that by Trump. If so, that is sort of a win for the US. But as with Cuba getting a guarantee of no US attack in 1962, it is also a win for China. The status quo of preserving the current ceasefire (in place since 1953) is maintained.

It is not yet clear what the North Korean back down looks like, but it will probably be just the absence of destabalising activity, and maybe talks with the new South Korean president. China will make that worthwhile for North Korea.

greywarbler said...

That sounds like a series of reasonable steps in a danse macabre. But with unreasonable men at the top is it possible to anticipate the next steps as well as you think?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Hmmm.... Here's me agreeing with Wayne again – in the main. Must be getting old. Let's just hope though Wayne, that whoever is advising Trump is also cognizant of all this. Because at least one of them is an unconvicted war criminal who runs a private army.
Had an online conversation with an ex-US naval officer a while ago. He claimed that in exercises, unless things were biased in their favour, carriers always, always got sunk by submarines. North Korea has submarines. Carriers are really expensive. Mind you, Trump doesn't have to pay for them out of his own pocket so there's that. :)

Victor said...

Nick J

Perhaps you're right. But don't expect the Japanese or South Koreans to be very impressed. China ditto.

Moreover, it's a trick that can only work once. After that, it loses credibility.

Bushbaptist said...

Shock horror, I find myself in almost total agreement with Wayne Mapp. The risk of a war with NK and the Yanx is minimal to almost non-existent. Artillery weaponry, heavy and light abound along the 38 Parallel. Enough fire power to do considerable damage to Seoul and several cities at a similar distance. Their missiles are capable of reaching Japan and even north Philippines. Very likely those places would glow green in the dark.

Whilst the west have short memories NK has a long one and they remember the "Scorched Earth" policies of the withdrawal back to the 38th. The Yanx bombed dams, fire-bombed power stations and hospitals as they withdrew. The country was almost totally destroyed and the civilian casualties were enormous! N. Koreans have never forgotten that.

Trumpy is an idiot and didn't even know that the "Armada was heading in a different direction and nearly 4000mi away.

Paulus said...

It is the fact that North Korea has an enormous cache of chemical gas as believed used to kill the Dictator's brother in KL recently which should give serious call for concern.
It is believed he has many tonnes of this each pin drop capable of killing a person as has been publically seen.

jh said...

One strategy would be to convince China to use it's operatives to divide the regime and have a tactical strike on the Kims. Replacing it with a less extreme regime?

Unknown said...

Tube and Rocket Artillery

The biggest anticipated cost of a North Korean artillery barrage in response to an attack would be the at least partial destruction of Seoul. But the volume of fire that the North can direct against the South Korean capital is limited by some important factors. Of the vast artillery force deployed by the North along the border, only a small portion — Koksan 170-mm self-propelled guns, as well as 240-mm and 300-mm multiple launch rocket systems — are capable of actually reaching Seoul. Broadly speaking, the bulk of Pyongyang's artillery can reach only into the northern border area of South Korea or the northern outskirts of Seoul.

All forms of North Korean artillery have problems with volume and effectiveness of fire, but those issues are often more pronounced for the longer-range systems. Problems include the high malfunction rate of indigenous ammunition, poorly trained artillery crews, and a reluctance to expend critical artillery assets by exposing their positions.
Based on the few artillery skirmishes that have occurred, roughly 25 percent of North Korean shells and rockets fail to detonate on target. Even allowing for improvements and assuming a massive counterstrike artillery volley would be more successful, a failure rate as high as 15 percent would take a significant bite out of the actual explosive power on target. The rate of fire and accuracy of North Korean artillery systems is also expected to be subpar. This belief is founded on the observably poor performance of North Korean artillery crews during past skirmishes and exercises. Though inaccuracy is less noticeable in a tactical sense — especially as part of a "countervalue attack," where civilian areas are targeted — at the higher level an artillery retaliation rapidly becomes a numbers game.

Ineffective crews also rapidly curtail the potential for severe damage. Rate of fire is crucial to the survivability of artillery systems — the name of the game is to get the most rounds on target in the shortest period of time, lest your position be identified and destroyed before the fire mission is complete. Poor training translates to a greatly reduced volume of fire and a painfully limited duration of effectiveness.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Oh – Stratfor again. You realise that they are a laughingstock amongst real experts right? For one thing they got the whole question arse to backwards. The question is not how much artillery fire at the North Koreans can put down the South Korean capital, but how much damage to their sparkly new glass covered buildings the South Koreans are willing to put up with. And even with all the shelters they have there would be thousands of casualties. This is not a dictatorship. And I suspect that the South Korean government would go to quite extensive lengths to avoid this sort of attack.

Unknown said...

Nearly all major conflicts across the globe, both current and historical, are characterized by individuals defining themselves and others by group membership. This existence of group-biased behavior (in-group favoring and out-group hostile) has been well established empirically, and has been shown to be an inevitable outcome in many evolutionary studies. Thus it is puzzling that statistics show violence and out-group conflict declining dramatically over the past few centuries of human civilization. Using evolutionary game-theoretic models, we solve this puzzle by showing for the first time that out-group hostility is dramatically reduced by mobility. Technological and societal advances over the past centuries have greatly increased the degree to which humans change physical locations, and our results show that in highly mobile societies, one’s choice of action is more likely to depend on what individual one is interacting with, rather than the group to which the individual belongs. Our empirical analysis of archival data verifies that contexts with high residential mobility indeed have less out-group hostility than those with low mobility. This work suggests that, in fact, group-biased behavior that discriminates against out-groups is not inevitable after all.

THE problem with that rosy hypothesis is that migrations are not reciprocal they are increasingly based on a shrinking pool of prime destination countries. Most people are relatively rooted in place.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

And now that I've done a bit of digging, if you did take that analysis of North Korean artillery from Stratfor it seems to have possibly been plagiarised from a report written by an actual expert,Roger Cavazos – who as far as I can see has never worked for Stratfor. Not that that surprises me, as I said they do tend to be considered a laughingstock.