Sunday, April 23, 2017

Houston, We Have a Problem

The chance that the people of North Korea will spare the world the problem of a nuclear-armed North Korea is disappearing.

I don't think it is right to say that North Korea is a particularly difficult problem because while Iraq under Saddam was a prison, North Korea under the Kim dynasty is an "ant colony."

North Korea's prison camp system is so large because North Koreans do resist. Sadly, the smallest resistance is punishable by massive force. North Korea is a particularly harsh prison.

Although resistance in the face of even that exists.

Which is why I never complained about the Obama administration "strategic patience" with North Korea. I truly hoped that a policy of "talk, talk; die, die" could allow North Korea to implode before it could explode a nuclear warhead, while offering reasons for North Korea not to use their eroding conventional power to strike South Korea.

Heck, I was less concerned that Obama would try to cut a faux deal (as Clinton did in 1994) than I was worried Bush 43 would because Obama didn't face any public liberal outcry to use diplomacy the way the Bush administration was vulnerable to faux outrage on that issue. Perhaps we are lucky that the left had Iraq to focus their ire on.

Anyway, we may have lost that race as North Korea's tests of nuclear devices and long-range missiles continues. It is common to say that North Korea has 10-16 nuclear weapons, but I don't know if that is truly accurate. I'm not aware that the intelligence consensus has concluded that North Korea has perfected the nuclear devices they've tested down to rugged nuclear warheads small enough to mount on missiles. Perhaps I'm wrong, of course. And even if I'm right, North Korea is on the path to nuclear weapons sooner rather than later.

If' we've lost that race, another of my assumptions that we could deter a nuclear-armed North Korea is no longer true. I assumed that America would seek regime change in Iran both to protect freed Iraq and to remove the people in Iran who want nuclear weapons.

So one pillar of my patience that we could wait for North Korea's people--even if it was up to the army or a faction of the ruling elite to fight that battle for the beaten down people--was that North Korea would be unable to sell their nuclear weapons technology to Iran, because Iran without mullahs wouldn't want them.

Sadly, the Obama nuclear deal has saved the Iranian mullahcracy just as the Obama chemical deal with Syria saved Assad's dictatorship. I assume that the Iran deal will prevent Iran from having nukes just as poorly as the Syrian deal prevented Assad from having chemical weapons.

So North Korea's prime nuclear weapons customer, Iran--who I have doubts can be deterred--will be willing to pay for nukes (and because of the Iran deal will have the money).

Which means that we may not be able to risk a policy of deterrence with North Korea for the simple reason that it is no longer a case of deterring North Korea.

Perhaps China will deal with their problem child from Hell. It was all fun and games for Peking when their pet psycho just scared America, Japan, and South Korea. But now China has reason to be scared as potential targets of North Korea arm up to deal with the threat and who may decide that they need nuclear weapons. Krauthammer is right about that motivation.

Remember, South Korea and Japan could count on American pledges to use our nukes to defend them with confidence as long as North Korea could only threaten Japan and South Korea. What happens when North Korea can deter American nukes after nuking Japan or South Korea by threatening to nuke American cities?

What happens is that Japan and South Korea decide they need their own nukes. Having fun yet, China?

North Korea could yet collapse--because their people finally rise up in desperation--before Kim Jong-Un is a real nuclear threat if China seriously clamps down on North Korean trade and criminal enterprises.

Or maybe China takes direct action against North Korea, with America's blessing.

Or maybe because the multiple assumptions that allowed patience with North Korea have collapsed, America has to hammer North Korea in cooperation with Japan and South Korea to end the threat of North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons.

And have no doubt that South Korea is prepared to participate in the hammering:

Back in 2012 the South Korean military also called for over $2 billion to be spent on missiles during the next five years and this plan was largely approved. This was part of an effort to develop the capability to quickly weaken the North Korean artillery and missile forces in any future war. The South Korean plan included the purchase of over a thousand new ballistic and cruise missiles. These are aimed at specific North Korean missile launchers and artillery positions. In the event of a war, the South Korean missiles can be quickly launched and most North Korean missile and artillery weapons destroyed.

Since 2012, America agreed that South Korea could build and deploy longer-ranged missiles. South Korea is fielding them. (And yes, that's a good thing the Obama administration did.)

Although I remain doubtful that missiles and smart bombs alone can knock out the North Korean artillery threatening Seoul as easily as it appears we think. I think troops will have to stand on that ground to protect Seoul.

Have a super sparkly day.

UPDATE: I honestly think that Americans who voluntarily go to North Korea where at best they give hard currency to an odious regime; and at worst become hostages to restrain American policy, should be told that they are on their own if they go there and not to expect help from the American government.

UPDATE: Austin Bay also sees the need to supplement a strike on North Korea's nuclear and delivery assets with a ground operation to protect Seoul from North Korean artillery.

Which looks a lot like a war rather than a "simple" air and missile campaign to defang North Korea's nuclear ambitions.