As the debate swirls about North Korea’s latest shows of force:
- Launching a missile over Japan
- Exploding what may be a thermo nuclear weapon of some size bigger than that used against Hiroshima
There is need to consider the next steps for the west and North Korea. Several weeks ago North Korea seemed to be backing down as its rhetoric and actions slowed after the US show of force. And then last week the US and South Korea conducted the military training exercise that the North had been trying to stop. The training included an attack by B-2 bombers and other aircraft against simulated North Korean targets. This was obviously part of the signaling that the US has been doing trying to deter the North Koreans. It obviously didn’t work!
One doubts that UN ambassador Niki Haley’s comments that:”We have kicked the can down the road long enough, there is no more road left.” Or Secretary of Defense Mattis”s comments that the US can annihilate North Korea will have any effect. Another UN declaration condemning North Korea will also not have any effect.
A UN declaration that any country that trades with North Korea will have all of its trade from the other member nations suspended might be tried. The US stopping $600 billion a year of trade with China would be significant, but is not likely. It would harm the US as much as it might harm China. Conversely, it might create the leverage that President Trump has been seeking in negotiating with China about trade in general. Interesting—the short term pain might be worth the long term gain—increased pressure for China to rein in North Korea and a new trade arrangement between the US and China.
On the military front the US is dropping its limits on the weight limit of South Korean missiles—they will be able to carry more powerful warheads. The Japanese are talking g about pre-emptive strikes against North Korea. We haven’t heard a Chinese response to this discussion, yet. (One must remember that the Chinese have said that they would defend North Korea against a US attack, but would not get involved if the North Koreans started a conflict.) Are the Japanese (or the US and South Koreans) trying to provoke the North Koreans to truly step over the line in the sand—whatever it is? What do the North Koreans have to do to provoke the disarming and decapitating attack we talked about in an earlier article?
- Fire missiles near Guam?
- Fire missiles at Japan?
- Take some form of aggressive action towards South Korea?
- Begin the mobilization and readiness enhancement that are necessary on the road to war?
It is interesting to note that there has been no mention of the last bullet above and yet it is the most important indicator that military conflict may be coming. Given the limited transportation and other logistical shortcomings of the North Koreans should they begin mobilizing for war this would be a very critical indicator. One wonders if they could stop the mobilization once it started. (History reminds us that many authors of contended that once the mobilization started before World War I it could not be stopped. “How can I stop if he doesn’t?)
The diplomatic posturing will continue as will the threatening rhetoric, but will there be military signaling by missile launches or other activities that cross that mystical line in the sand. That is what we must look for, anticipate and be fearful of. In the meantime the North Koreans will continue to try and be relevant and considered a true international actor.
It was quite surprising to see White House chief strategist Steve Bannon rule out military force so definitively in a new interview with the American Prospect’s Robert Kuttner:
There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.
This is the conventional wisdom! BUT what if a preemptive strike or a surgical strike could accomplish the decapitation or emasculation of desired systems/personnel, etc. Would North Korea risk becoming a parking lot by attacking Seoul? In other words is there some form of deterrence that can be achieved to prevent this North Korean attack and still accomplish the mission. And how would we know? The Chinese might tell us.