As North Korea's military has eroded along with the state that built it following the collapse of their sponsor the Soviet Union, the threat from North Korea has moved from conquest to mass murder.
North Korea seeks nuclear weapons to restore the correlation of overall forces by putting all of South Korea at risk of destruction. That, they hope, will deter the increasingly superior South Korean military from moving north.
Now North Korea has to rely on the destruction of Seoul with conventional and conventional artillery to do that job.
Honestly, that's probably enough to get South Korea to leave North Korea alone.
But South Korea is gaining the capability of operating north of the DMZ.
Years ago, I speculated that South Korea would naturally want to carve out a no-launch zone north of the DMZ to gain the ground from which artillery could pummel Seoul.
A couple years ago, I wrote that America and South Korea plan to seize North Korean nuclear assets from the ground to prevent their launch.
And a few months ago, I noted a report that said that South Korea was building a capability to use precision weapons to go after North Korean leadership.
While the rationale for the capability--to retaliate for being nuked--made no sense, the growing capability of the South Koreans to operate north of the DMZ pulls this into a single picture.
And now I read that the South Koreans are creating a ground unit to go after North Korea's leaders:
The brigade will aim to remove the North's wartime command and paralyze its function if war breaks out, according to an official from Seoul's Defense Ministry, who refused to be named, citing office rules.
The only way this constellation of air and ground capabilities makes sense is if South Korea, in cooperation with America, wants to occupy and secure North Korean critical terrain and assets in case of a North Korean collapse.
There is no way that a single brigade hits drives north for leadership targets while a small division goes after nuclear facilities under an umbrella of air power in the face of a functioning--if weakened--North Korean miliary.
But if North Korea collapses, South Korea (and Japan and America) need the ability to attack North Korean command and control, missile, and nuclear assets to minimize the nuclear strikes that might be launched to a low enough number and rate to be defeated by still too thin anti-missile defenses.
And that air and anti-missile capability can only buy time while ground forces in large numbers create a no-launch zone north of Seoul and defend the rest of the border along the DMZ; while other specialized units seek out nuclear and political targets to end the (hopefully at worse) trickle of long-range missile launches.
There is a problem, of course, if China opposes Western forces moving closer to their border. China may move south in a race for territory.
Which makes it important to have units trained to march north fast to stake out territory and secure WMD sites.
As an aside, our invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a good practice for this sort of rapid advance into a relative vacuum under an air umbrella.
Of course, perhaps the mood in China is changing to make a South Korean-led move north less of an issue:
This growing bad behavior and ingratitude from North Korea turned Chinese public opinion against North Korea, which had long been seen as an ally against the evil West and their South Korean and Japanese puppets. Until the latest North Korean nuclear and missile tests China was directing more anger at South Korean refusals to halt the expansion of their anti-missile defenses. China is still angry about that but is now more concerned with the North Korean threat. North Korea has remained defiant, continuing to test ballistic missiles that can reach all of China.
Not that China would accept an American or South Korean force on the Yalu River bordering China.
But the Chinese government may--because of growing popular annoyance at North Korea--feel more free to negotiate some type of division of North Korea if North Korea collapses into chaos that threatens both nuclear or chemical weapon spasms and mass flows of refugees north or south.
UPDATE: Krauthammer writes that North Korea is a difficult problem. True enough, but when he writes that North Korea has "conventional superiority and proximity: a vast army poised at the Demilitarized Zone only 30 miles from Seoul" I have to scratch my head.
North Korea has proximity alone. Which is why I write that their threat is bombardment of Seoul from ground they already stand on.
But North Korea has a superiority in number only, which is why South Korea could carve a no-launch zone north of the DMZ by pushing back the North Koreans.
My preference has long been to smile and say calming things while we squeeze North Korea until they collapse.
Mind you, I had hoped the collapse would take place before North Korea gets nuclear weapons. It seems like a toss up as to what will come first as signs of collapse and of advancing nuclear missile capabilities grow stronger each day.
I see North Korea as a state that we could deter even if they get nukes. There are few "Kimunists" abroad that Kim jung-Un can mobilize to support him, the way fanatical Islamist powers can mobilize misguided and murderous Moslems from the Islamic world. In a post about my worries about deterring Iran which has that ability and religious fervor, I wrote:
Deterrence in theory is fine. Heck, I think the correct response to North Korea's nuclear programs is containment, deterrence, and the gradual squeezing of that thug-regime until it collapses. I would not advocate a preemptive strike on North Korea's nuclear programs.
But North Korea is not as prone to crazy religious fervor as Iran is. Their elite is all about survival and prospering with Western luxuries no matter how much North Koreans suffer.
Even if North Korea is alien, it operates on a sense of rationality that prizes survival of the regime and I think that deterrence can stay their hand. Which it did back when North Korea had conventional superiority and proximity over the South Korean army. Our conventional and nuclear power kept North Korea at bay for many decades.
And since we hadn't planned to invade North Korea--until they looked like a collapse problem--North Korean nukes deter an invasion we don't want to carry out.
Good Lord, people, North Korea's poverty is the deterrent to wanting to invade them.
And if North Korean nukes keep a war conventional? Okay. We'd win that kind of war. We no longer need to threaten to escalate to nuclear war to defeat the North Korean army.
Honestly, my biggest worry about North Korea's nuclear program is that they plan to sell nukes to Iran--which conveniently was enriched by the Obama-Kerry faux nuclear non-treaty sort-of-a-hand shake deal with Iran.
Have a super sparkly day.