Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Grey Zone

China has staked out positions on the North Korea crisis at opposite ends of the spectrum with the middle undefined.


"China should also make clear that if North Korea launches missiles that threaten U.S. soil first and the U.S. retaliates, China will stay neutral," the Global Times, which is widely read but does not represent government policy, said in an editorial.

"If the U.S. and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so," it said.

If North Korea attacks American soil, North Korea is on their own. But if America leads a regime change attack on North Korea or moves the border north (?), China will intervene.

There is a lot of room between those extremes.

What if North Korea tests missiles by firing them at Guam? Is that enough to fall under China's stand-down condition, green-lighting an American military response short of regime change?

And what of attack options?

Normally I'd say that a strike on North Korean nuclear facilities would require a campaign to destroy North Korea's air defenses. But would stealth planes, stand-off air-launched weapons, and land- and sea-based missiles be enough to do the job without suppressing air defenses?

Would South Korea insist on strikes against North Korean artillery and chemical weapons depots to protect Seoul? Would that then require air defense suppression missions, too?

Might the South Koreans want to carve out a no-launch zone north of the DMZ with ground troops to really protect Seoul?

Would we strike North Korea's submarines in port and any at sea?

Would we strike command and control facilities and people to scramble North Korea's ability to effectively escalate?

Would America begin to ship ground reinforcements to South Korea in case North Korea tries to escalate?

All of those expansions of war aims fall short of regime change but could support a shift to regime change. How does China interpret any of those actions? As well short of their condition for intervention or being on the path to crossing their red line?

Whatever we do along with our Japanese and South Korean allies (with likely help from Australia and Britain and perhaps France), we need to keep open lines of communication with China to inform them of the limits of our objectives.

Hopefully that gets transmitted to North Korea so they don't expand the fighting in ways that would draw in China.

And China has to be careful that North Korea doesn't take steps to deliberately bring in China to save North Korea.

I'd rather contain North Korea. Missile defenses and a nuclear South Korea and Japan would do that.

But this isn't a bilateral issue. I worry that North Korea will sell the technology or actual weapons to Iran if North Korea goes nuclear. I don't trust Iran to not use them (or to prevent sub-groups within Iran from taking control and using them even if the government is more rational than that).

I'd really rather China take action to change the North Korean regime to one more friendly to China and less hostile to us (and willing to abandon nuclear weapons capabilities and technology).

Have a super sparkly day.

UPDATE: Related information on our full-court press across the spectrum of power to pressure North Korea (and their China sponsor) to rein in North Korea.

I suspect we are building to strike North Korea's nuclear infrastructure in 2018 before North Korea is judged to have functioning nuclear-tipped ICBMs.

If North Korea with Chinese guarantees back off from nukes (or if China is more forceful against an unwilling Kim regime), the strike campaign will be cancelled.

If not, a lot of little booms, at least, will go off across North Korea.