Saturday, November 27, 2010

Train the Way You Fight

South Korean and American naval forces have begun exercises in the Yellow Sea.

China's complaints about the proximity of our carrier to China could, I fear, be interpreted by North Korea as support for North Korean action. We shall see if North Korea wants to risk escalation.

I assume we are going in like it is a combat mission, with weapons locked and loaded.

I also assume that South Korean forces and American forces in and around South Korea are on alert and ready to reinforce the units on station in the Yellow Sea.

UPDATE: North Korea, if this report is correct, is moving up missiles capable of hitting the ships in the Yellow Sea and anti-aircraft missiles to defend against air attacks on the artillery positions near the coast:

North Korea has placed surface-to-surface missiles on launch pads in the Yellow Sea, Yonhap news agency reported on Sunday, as the United States and South Korea began joint military exercises that have upset neighbor China.

The agency also said North Korea had moved surface-to-air missiles to frontline areas, days after it shelled a tiny South Korean island killing four people. The North's official KCNA news agency warned of retaliatory action if its territory is violated.

If the North Koreans shoot at any of the ships, U.S. and South Korean air power will retaliate. North Korea will come out on the losing end of any battle in the Yellow Sea or in the air.

And if North Korea escalates to general war, they will also get hammered. North Korea's military is big but elderly and poorly trained for large-scale conventional operations. Their only hope of winning is counting on the South Koreans being completely demoralized and disorganized. If their cruddy army can lurch forward and steamroller ineffective defenders, they could capture Seoul. But the only way that can happen is if North Korea makes massive use of chemical weapons. That would surely trigger an American nuclear retaliation.

So if North Korea escalates at sea and loses, further escalation to general war makes no sense--if they believe the same facts we do. North Korea could escalate to bombarding Seoul. If North Korea bombards for an hour and then halts, what would South Korea do? Would we respond in kind across the border in an effort to knock out artillery positions? That seems unlikely since it would just invite further attacks on civilians in Seoul.

South Korea's options are then to retreat before an even higher level of attack when they could have done that at the level of the island bombardment--at the risk of perhaps severely harming military and national morale; or advancing into North Korea to carve out a no-launch zone by occupying the land north of the DMZ within range of Seoul. I don't know how long it would take to mobilize forces for that action.

Once we get to this point, who knows what might happen next? Large forces in close contact could rapidly escalate to general war. But if North Korea continues to get away with murder, might southern morale erode enough to give North Korea's army that chance to plow through a demoralized and ineffective South Korean army at some point in the future?

This is a dangerous crisis. But don't forget that it is North Korea that is at fault and that China bears great responsibility for refusing to hold their pet pit bull in check.

Or the naval exercises could conclude with no further incident. And at some point next year, there will be another North Korean murder spree somewhere else on their common border or even elsewhere in the world.