Sunday, May 21, 2006

Kooks, Spooks and Nukes

The Pillsbury Nuke Boy and his demented minions are in a quite difficult situation. Strategypage notes the new North Korean defense priorities:

North Korea appears to have decided to allow its conventional forces to deteriorate. The amount of money required to rebuild the aging weapons and equipment is far more than the north can expect to extort from its neighbors or the United States. What resources that are available are going into the secret police, ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. The North Korea leadership is intent on keeping their tyranny going, because the alternative is death at the hands of an angry population, or war crimes trails for a long list of atrocities.

Secret police and nuclear weapons are the new leading instruments to keep Kim Jong Il and his merry band of murderers in power. Interesting priorities given that the North Koreans like to insist they fear we will invade them at any moment.

And more interesting in how it limits North Korea's crisis options and opens up our options.

I've long thought that as long as North Korea retained the ability to invade the south, the ability through conventional arms to destroy Seoul made nukes pretty irrelevant as a deterrent.

Consider that North Korean threats to invade can increasingly be ignored. As long as North Korea could invade South Korea and threaten to actually win, Pyongyang could hold nukes in reserve to keep the fight conventional where they might have an advantage. But without that conventional ability, North Korea would have to immediately go nuclear to have even a chance for their crippled army to road march south and occupy a devastated South Korea. And if they did that, American nuclear retaliation would be swift and sure.

And from our point of view, without North Korean armies able to seriously threaten South Korea, it is easier for us to strike at North Korea's nuclear and missile assets. If North Korea could invade, we'd have to consult with South Korea before striking with air power to avoid the North Koreans just attacking south in response and conquering the south. This would always be a brake on our action. But with the North Korean army rotting, we could afford to strike North Korea out of the blue if we had to without worrying that North Korea could conquer the South and so without consulting too much with South Korea--and more importantly without giving Seoul a veto over our action.

And with a weaker North Korea, the South Koreans might in fact want to attack north in the Seoul area just to drive back North Korean artillery and rockets. That would be an interesting development for North Korean stability, I should think.

And if the regime in Pyongyang is demoting the army, even if it is unable to take on the South Korean and American armies, it will still be strong enough to fight the regime secret police. Downgrading the army will likely set in a spiral of mistrust and resentment on the part of the North Korean leaders and the army. The North Korean army might begin to identify more with the oppressed people who along with them will be stuck with the lowest priority in resources. And with the South Korean army quite good, the North Koreans cannot afford to disband significant chunks of their army and visibly appear weaker. This will prevent the North Koreans from concentrating the fewer resources into keeping a smaller army happy.

It would make sense for a North Korea relying on nukes for protecting the regime against invasion to try to negotiate a reduction in ground forces in South Korea and North Korea to reduce the coup threat in the North and reduce the invasion threat from the South Koreans. It would of course be portrayed as a measure of good faith when in fact it would be a desperate act.

If Pyongyang offers such a mutual troop reduction, we should debate the shape of the table for about three years.