Friday, February 10, 2017

As If We Don't Have Enough Problems

Secretary of Defense Mattis reassured Japan and South Korea that American retaliation against North Korea if they use nukes would be both overwhelming and effective. What to do to stop that initial North Korean nuclear strike is the problem.

Well, yeah:

Former U.S. officials and other experts have said the United States essentially has two options when it comes to trying to curb North Korea's fast-expanding nuclear and missile programs - negotiate or take military action.

Neither path offers certain success and the military option is fraught with huge dangers, especially for Japan and South Korea, U.S. allies in close proximity to North Korea.

A military strike by America invites North Korea to retaliate against targets in range--our allies South Korea (especially) and Japan. So they can be expected to argue against this course of action unless they really believe a North Korean strike is imminent. Which is a tough standard.

And talks have been shown to be just a ruse by North Korea to get the goodies flowing while breaking any agreement to halt their pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Which is why I never complained about Obama administration policy toward North Korea and on occasion worried that Bush 43 might be tempted to score a deal while we were heavily engaged in fighting jihadis in Iraq.

I've always been in favor of a policy of smiling nicely at the North Koreans--across a table if necessary--while refusing to send goodies to save the regime and just wait for the whole crumbling facade to come down around the Pillsbury Nuke Boy.

The problem is that the collapse hasn't occurred. The signs may be proliferating as North Korea gets worse and worse, but I no longer even try to claim that regime or state collapse is imminent.

Bush 43 and Obama managed to get through their terms of office without having to confront the problem of North Korea actually getting deliverable nuclear weapons.

It is quite likely that Trump will have to face the dilemma of running out of time for North Korea to collapse before they get nukes.

And then we will have the problem of talking that has failure baked into the deal or launching a strike on North Korea's nuclear infrastructure that will put South Korea and/or Japan at risk from retaliation; and risk a wider war as South Korea in particular tries to protect their vulnerable capital, Seoul.

And South Korea is improving their long-range precision strike capabilities that could help with this.

But it gets worse than that. We can't really know if the North Koreans will decide that they see regime or state collapse imminent and decide to roll the dice for war even if they are highly likely to lose the war. 

A small chance of surviving a war and rallying support for the regime at the end of the defeat (and killing off threatening soldiers in the process) will seem superior to a sure thing of collapse.

Have a super sparkly day.

UPDATE: I'm not about to predict collapse, based on experience; but predicting North Korea won't collapse because it hasn't yet seems equally foolish.

Certainly, I don't know if the murder of Kim Jong-Un's half-brother abroad is a sign of regime weakness or a sign that the regime will deal with any threat no matter how remote.

What I do know is that North Korean advances in nukes mean that the odds of North Korea collapsing before the regime gets nuclear weapons are far lower than I'm comfortable with.

Continue to have a super sparkly day.

UPDATE: An arrest was made:

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Malaysian police said a female suspect was arrested at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2) at 8.20am in connection with the investigation into Mr Kim's death.

Do read it all. Interesting rumors abound.