The U.S. and North Korea are on a collision course. The irresistible force is about to meet the immovable object. Tensions are rising, there are no talks taking place and none are scheduled. The last we heard from the Trump administration was from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who said, “All options are on the table” and not a soul knows what that means other than, “We’ll use nukes if we have to.” What’s going on? Why the silence from Washington? Let’s hope there are things happening behind the scenes that will withdraw us from the brink.
Before I go on, a quick reminder of the history of the area and then a look at what faces us in KoreaMost of my readers are too young to remember the Korean war of the early 1950s.North and South Korea are separated by the 38th parallel. When the north attacked over that line on June 25, 1950, they took the U.S. and South Korea entirely by surprise and pushed our forces all the way to the sea in the south. Only an end-around run by General Douglas MacArthur saved us. The United Nations then joined the battle and U.S. and U.N. Forces pushed the North Koreans all the way to the Yalu River on the Chinese border. That’s when the Chinese sent thousands of men into the fight and slowly forced the allies all the way back to the 38th parallel, the original border and that’s where hostilities ended on July 27, 1953 when the two sides agreed to a cease-fire. A state of war has existed ever since. No peace treaty was ever signed.
The Korean war was relatively brief as wars go but it was terribly bloody. 33,686 American
military personnel died in that conflict but throughout the war zone, it is estimated some five million Koreans lost their lives.
In the 64 years since the Korean war ended the North Korean regime has become stronger and more unstable. Lest readers think we should not worry about this little country of some 25 million people you should know that they have one of the largest military organizations in the world. While North Korea does not yet have the capability of striking the U.S. mainland it may be able to reach Hawaii and Alaska and most certainly can reach South Korea and Japan with short range missiles.We have no intelligence that the North has been able to fit a nuclear warhead to a missile but it’s possible.
The Capital of South Korea, Seoul, is Just south of the 38th parallel. Seoul is a metropolis of 12 million people and within easy reach of the world’s largest artillery force. The north has some 13,000 pieces of artillery along with a good size rocket force and a million man army. A concentrated artillery and rocket attack would likely precede any invasion and Seoul would likely be devastated before the half-million-man South Korean Army and the 30,000 U.S. forces could react to stop them. Unlike 1950 we are ready for such an attack, but the attacking force almost always has an advantage and Seoul would suffer major damage creating a huge humanitarian crisis even without the use of nuclear weapons. There would be thousands if not millions of refugees.
As of 2016, the north had 5,889,000 military personnel who are drafted to serve for ten years. This number represents 25% of the population. It has more than 1.2 million active soldiers, and a further 7.7 million in reserve, making North Korea’s ground force one of the largest in the world. Its troops are bolstered by 200,000 highly-trained paramilitary soldiers, so in terms of pure numbers, North Korea has an immediate advantage.The North also has 70 submarines, an estimated 5,000 tons of chemical/bacteriological material and some 850 airplanes (most of which are thought to be obsolete). Most importantly North Korea is believed to have between 7 and 20 nuclear warheads, but to this point do not have the ability to mount those warheads on a missile, at least that’s what experts believe. At some point, they will have that ability.
South Korea has an army that is half the size of the North’s but they are far better trained and equipped. They have fewer but better tanks and submarines so alone, they could offer a respectable defense of their country but unlike the north, they have neither nuclear weapons nor a missile force of their own. Their advantage and what has served as a formidable deterrent is the commitment to the south from the United States that we will come to their defense in the event of an attack from the north.
North Korea has made it quite clear that their real enemy is the United States. They used their fear of a U.S. invasion as an excuse to develop and build and stockpile nuclear weapons. So if they attack the south it would be because they believe it would be a preemptive strike and they likely would go after our bases in the area and even elsewhere if they have the capability.
The U.S. has 23 military bases in Japan about a quarter of which are on the island of Okinawa. Should conditions deteriorate between the U.S. and North Korea which seems inevitable in light of the statement by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that “The Policy of Strategic Waiting is over and all options are on the table,”those bases would be in jeopardy. We aren’t hearing much from the White House so, what’s going on? What are our plans? We can’t know what the North Koreans are thinking but actions speak loudly. So far Kim Jong Un’s military has increased missile testing and is said to be considering another nuclear test because of what they see as belligerence on the part of the Trump Administration.
Tillerson’s statement doesn’t tell us much. “All options are on the table,” is broad and open to all kinds of interpretation, but it does sound like a far tougher stance than we have taken in the past. It would be helpful if he could tell us what those options are. There is one that has never been tried even though it has been suggested and that is a one on one meeting between the North and the U.S. All previous U.S. administrations have refused to do that, preferring instead to have talks with the north that include several nations. But if it is a choice between war and peace, between immeasurable loss of life and no lives lost then what have we got to lose by trying it?
Diplomacy must be tried and no one in the Trump administration is even suggesting talks of any kind and “All the options are on the table,” tells us that nuclear weapons is one of them but nothing else. One has to wonder about the Trump administration commitment to peace when his budget slashes State Department funding by 28% and an increase of 54% for the Defense Department. One cannot help but draw the conclusion that we are preparing for war.
The only public statement of any option from the Trump Administration is Both Tillerson and Trump’s suggestion that China should play a larger role and exert more Pressure on North Korea. China accounts for some 90% of North Korean foreign trade. China, says they have exerted more pressure to no avail. In the meantime, the winds of war seem to be picking up speed.
Should war break out between North Korea, South Korea, and the U.S. the North will inevitably lose but in the process millions, perhaps billions of people could die. You can be sure that when North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un finds himself retreating he will not hesitate to use weapons of mass destruction. If that happens and we respond in kind, we could then be faced with China entering the war and they do have missiles that can reach the United States with a large stockpile of nuclear weapons.
I won’t go into detail, but once there is an exchange of nuclear weapons, other nations could join the fray. The outlook is not a good one. We must find a way to get the North Koreans to the table for talks. Perhaps sanctions which deprive North Koreans of the staples they need to live should be replaced with a program of incentives to help the North grow and survive in return for nuclear disarmament and a peace treaty. Those may seem like outlandish proposals but everything else has failed. This puts President Trump in a very difficult situation and we can only hope that common sense prevails on both sides.
Kim Jong Un, the North Korean Dictator is unpredictable and very dangerous. Donald Trump is also unpredictable and therefore dangerous. Remember it was Trump who recently said, “it’s time we started to win some wars.” That sounds like a threat. The only way he can prove that he means what he says is to have a war with someone. I don’t think anyone really wants that to happen.
The bottom line is that you the reader, should get in touch with your congressional delegation and the White House and urge them to begin to advocate talks with the North Koreans. People much smarter than I am can figure out the kind of talks, who is included and what we intend to propose, but we must have a try at talking. Waiting doesn’t work, threats don’t work, sanctions have had no effect so talking is what we have left and we have nothing to lose by trying. We have to find a way to diffuse the tension and engaging in talks is preferable to war.
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From where I sit, that’s the truth