Saturday, July 15, 2017


The current issue of The Atlantic has an interesting article about nuclear brinkmanship by Mark Bowden, Can North Korea Be Stopped?  Bowden is the author of the best battle book I've ever read, Blackhawk Down about the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993.

During the current president's term, the rogue nation North Korea is likely to obtain nuclear missiles it can deliver to the US mainland.  I live in Washington DC, so it's less of a concern for me as the residents of Los Angeles.  It's about 7800 miles from North Korea to DCA, and "only" about 5800 miles to LAX, probably a reachable distance for North Korean nuclear-tipped missile in a few years, or maybe months.  North Korean leader, the semi-god dictator for life Kim Jong-Un, has assured America that he will create a "sea of fire" here, or in Japan, South Korea or elsewhere for transgressions against the sovereignty of North Korea that his fevered mind perceives or conjures up. Apparently it's personal, because the Young One wants to stay in power for life and he intends to do this with a nuclear arsenal and a fevered populace whipped into a frenzy of rhapsodic xenophobia by fiery state-controlled rhetoric.

People of Los Angeles, do you want your personal safety to rest in the palm of President Trump's hand?  Unless you're related to him, do you think he has your best interests in mind?  But it is him who will act upon this threat, or not act. And the issue will be resolved by 2020, I am sure, one way or another.  The likely outcomes to me seem to line up along three main possibilities: a bombastic nuclear North Korea to be dealt with (acquiescence), a nuclear, chemical or biological desert somewhere (the light military option, turning the screws a little more tightly, with unpredictable results), or a vassal state in North Korea controlled by America, South Korea or China, with millions of Asians and thousands of Americans dead with possibly still an ongoing war or world war (the heavy military option).

Bowden lays out four options for the US, based upon the certainty that North Korea, in its current state, will never give up its nuclear program or ambitions because the Young One views this as essential to its, or his, survival.  None of the realistic options are good, as Bowden points out.

Prevention envisions a massive military strike suddenly launched by the US either with or without South Korea that a) would be a surprise to the Hermit Kingdom of the north; b) hopes China would idly stand by; c) involves Seoul, 40 miles south of the DMZ, being subjected to hours or days of massive artillery bombardment with horrendous casualties (not to mention Tokyo being subjected to a missile, or nuclear, attack by the north only about 800 miles away) and d) imagines everything going like clockwork (no fog of war) and that the North Korean army doesn't escape to Manchuria or the mountains of North Korea (or South Korea) to form a formidable guerrilla army.  It is unimaginable that this option would go well, even if the US could sneak a million soldiers into South Korea along with several air fleets and many naval units offshore and the South Koreans would cooperate, even if that meant merely standing by (their people would suffer the most).

Turning the Screws is the military option lite.  It imagines limited but aggressive military responses to provocations like bombing nuclear production sites whenever a test missile is fired or a nuclear device is detonated (tested).  An attempt at altering the north's state of mind and behavior with a firm cause/effect infliction of force.  It's hardly likely that this approach would work and either North Korean behavior probably wouldn't change one whit except to become even more determined or insidious, and it could easily and quickly slide into the scenario outlined above, only without the surprise start.

Decapitation is a third alternative being considered.  Take out the Young One with a pinpoint strike of some sort and hope that a more reasonable leader would assume power who could be pressured or bought off or reasoned with to abandon nukes.  This seems highly unlikely because it's not like we could send a drone over to drop a bomb on the North Korean leader (it would be shot down) and the US doesn't send suicide squads out (this would be more complicated than the ill-fated mission to rescue the Teheran hostages under President Carter, which doomed his presidency).  If such an attempt was made and it failed, the response from North Korea would probably be entirely unpredictable and disproportionate.  This is the stuff of a spy novel thriller, not the real world.  Bowden implies that a better option than trying to kill the Young One is to wait and hope he'll die in the meantime from being so obese so young and the fact that he comes from a family with a history of heart afflictions and strokes.

Acceptance is the last option, and the most likely to occur, if by nothing else, with the passage of time.  It's the inevitable or immutable occurrence, dealing with an armed and bristling North Korea like we deal with a hostile Russia and an inscrutable China, through the time-tested resort to MAD (mutually assured destruction) because we could annihilate North Korea with a nuclear strike and for the foreseeable future, even if the reclusive nation could hurt us, it can't destroy us.  North Korea is a real problem, and could conceivably be the source of ending life as we know it, but Bowden's choice, and I guess mine, seems to be to just deal with it.  Unless we are ready to have millions die due to an action we undertook.

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