*** Author’s note. This is not a thumbnail summary of the Korean Crisis. It is a thoughtful and thoroughly researched 9 page report that should help you understand and discuss the issue with some authority and credibility. It is an objective look at an issue that is quickly reaching a boiling point, a confrontation between two nuclear powers. Several other members of that same fission/fusion club are on the sidelines waiting to see if there is a threat to their national security.
U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are currently engaged in a war of words but both have the power to order their forces into action immediately. This report should help readers better understand the news reports and more accurately explain the issue to others.
If you want to see more of this type of reporting please “like” it and if you have time add a comment as well. Your input is important and helps to guide me as I determine the direction of future blogs and special reports.
The dispute with North Korea is likely the most dangerous situation we’ve faced since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
If you are one of those people who view the U.S./North Korea confrontation as one that makes no sense you are likely in the majority. Why would a tiny Asian dictatorship decide to threaten the world’s only superpower with war? It is quite obvious that they not only cannot win, they won’t even last very long on the battlefield. From a western perspective it makes no sense. Perhaps, though, this overview will offer you some insight.
It is not unusual for North Korea to broadcast and print outrageous rants against U.S. Imperialism and how they will make the Yankees suffer for their arrogance. Lately, though, the decibel level of the rhetoric has increased with threats of nuclear annihilation against us and our allies. President Trump responded with his own “Fire and Fury” warning which generated a North Korean threat against Guam, a U.S. Territory. As of this writing tensions between the two nations are greater than ever. The potential for a major humanitarian catastrophe has not been this high since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis when we were within hours, maybe minutes, of an nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union.
Many people, unaware of the history of North Korea, watch the news and wonder why they are so belligerent. Well, the answer is pretty simple. Since the end of the Korean War in 1953 the North Koreans have seen the U.S. as a threat to their sovereignty. To protect themselves they decided to develop nuclear weapons which pose; a formidable deterrent. As a result, The United States sees the North as a threat to its national security and has worked for years to persuade the North Koreans to become non-nuclear. They have made it clear they will not even discuss the issue and have reacted with belligerence and threats. .
Every administration since the end of the Korean War has tried to negotiate with the Communist regime and while there were some talks, there was little in the way of progress.
The Korean War ended in 1953 with a cease fire not a peace treaty so a state of war has existed ever since. That cease fire has been an uneasy and unstable situation for 65 plus years. In the meantime, South Korea has grown into a thriving economic giant while its northern neighbor has become ever more reclusive and militaristic. It has become known as the “Hermit Nation” and other than China and Russia has few trading partners.
The U.S. has long feared that North Korea could develop a nuclear strike force capable of hitting the United States and they have had nuclear weapons for several years but the threat wasn’t imminent because the country had no way to deliver them. Now the country’s 33 year old Dictator Kim Jong Un says his scientists and technology experts not only have ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) they have miniaturized nuclear weapons for them to deliver. That is exactly what every President has feared and because of their failures Donald J. Trump has inherited the responsibility of dealing with this rogue state that now has the power to kill millions of people.
Given the tensions and the temperaments of Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump and the real threat North Korea poses to the U.S. it is more likely than not that sometime within the next year, probably a lot sooner, we will be engaged in some type of armed conflict with North Korea. Why? Because the ability to deliver weapons of mass destruction to the U.S. mainland represents an unacceptable threat to our security. Now Kim Jong Un’s weapons can not only reach South Korea, Japan, Guam and Hawaii, they might also be able to reach Seattle and Los Angeles and at the present rate of progress other major cities as well.
President Trump like all of his predecessors has made it clear that he will not allow such a threat to continue. The problem is that the U.S. has a limited number of options available to deal with the threat, most of them are military and none of them are good. We’ll cover that issue in detail later. President Trump now has his first major crisis and it’s a dandy.
Most Americans haven’t given the prospect of another Korean war much thought. If coffee shop, neighborhood and social media chatter are an indication of what the public is thinking then it is clear that many if not most Americans believe that while there might be such a conflict it will be short, we will win, most of the casualties will be elsewhere and we’ll be able to go along our merry way with little effect on our everyday lives. The facts belie that pipedream. Any conflict with the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) will likely cause millions of deaths and severe economic damage to the entire world. Here’s a closer look at North Korea, its leader and its people.
Kim Jong Un
No one knows much about the Swiss educated North Korean dictator, but what we see is not pleasant. His intransigence and brutality surpass even the excesses of his father and grandfather. The two earlier Kim rulers while ruthless and brutal seemed to have boundaries, beyond which they would not venture. If Jong Un has boundaries, he has not yet revealed them but he certainly appears to be a man devoid of compassion and without a conscience..
The Kim family has ruled North Korea in the most barbaric and callous manner possible for nearly three quarters of a century. The result is that life in the North does not even remotely resemble conditions just over the border in South Korea. The people who live under Kim are commonly denied freedoms, food and faith. They are among the most repressed people on earth, many of them sick and hungry.
The 38th parallel separates North and South Korea, it is the point at which the 1950 to 1953 Korean War started and stopped. On one side you have a thriving democracy and on the other is what can only be termed a prison camp. Kim Jong Un seems stuck in that period right after the war ended. He is obsessed with the idea that the U.S. will invade at any moment. Everything he does is aimed at preventing that invasion and resuming the war with the U.S. It is not just a passion, it is national policy, too.
Gordon Chang one of the world’s foremost experts on the Kim family and the author of Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World, said of Kim, “The end game of the North Korean regime has always been the maintenance of the Kim family rule.” That simple sentence probably says it all. Kim likes being a dictator and isn’t about to give it up without a fight no matter who has to die in the process. His family’s paranoia was extreme before the U.S. deposed the leaders of Iraq and Libya but went over the edge after. By the time Jong Un came to power he was thoroughly convinced that his country was next on the U.S list of governments to be toppled. So, while his reactions may be extreme they are to some degree understandable. Kim Jong Un wants to stay in power as long as possible. He knows that if he loses control of his country, he will pay a heavy price for the brutal manner in which he has governed. Fear is a great motivator.
Kim maintains his dictatorial powers through intimidation, imprisonment, assassination and execution. He insists on being called “Dear Leader,” and upon taking office issued an order that anyone else in North Korea who shared his name must change it. While many of the nation’s 25 million people are starving and live in the worst kind of poverty, that’s not true of the Dear Leader. He eats the finest foods, wears the best clothing and is surrounded by luxury. One report indicated that in 2013 his personal expenditures included bottles of high-end alcohol costing the state $30 million, electronic goods costing $37 million and luxury watches costing a further $8.2 million. Only someone who likes to party and give expensive gifts could spend that amount of money on those items.
Kim terrorizes everyone around him. No one is safe, not even his closest advisors and generals, many of whom have been killed for “having the wrong attitude”. To Kim Nuclear weapons are his armor. Without them he is just another dictator but with them he can intimidate even a superpower like the United States. If you pause for a second and think like he does you can understand why he will never allow his nuclear weapons to be bargained away in the name of peace. Quite simply said, he doesn’t care about peace because he is motivated by fear and losing his nuclear capacity makes him extremely vulnerable.
Life in North Korea
Life is not just hard in North Korea, it is sometimes impossible. That’s no accident, it is a national policy that mandates public poverty in order to be able to afford the huge military presence. The country produces little of value and only has two real trading partners, China and Russia so what little revenue is collected is budgeted for defense. That policy is called Songun which means “military first”. It has been the policy of the DPRK since 1960. Songun ensures that the military will always get what it needs even if the people they are sworn to protect have to die of starvation to provide it.
While the North Korean people may be starving, cold and sick, Songun ensures that the domestic defense industry, which is mostly buried underground and scattered throughout the country, along with the State Academy of Sciences gets priority over all other needs.
What’s it like to live under Kim’s thumb? Here’s what Human Rights Watch says about life in North Korea.
“Under the rule of Kim Jong-Un, North Korea remains among the world’s most repressive countries. All basic freedoms have been severely restricted under the Kim family’s political dynasty. A 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry found that abuses in North Korea were without parallel in the contemporary world. They include extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions, and other sexual violence. North Korea operates secretive prison camps where perceived opponents of the government are sent to face torture and abuse, starvation rations, and forced labor. Fear of collective punishment is used to silence dissent. There is no independent media, functioning civil society, or religious freedom.”
The summary above may give you an idea of how difficult it is for the citizens of North Korea but let us get beyond adjectives and offer real examples.
Hunger and Health
This list could be endless but here are a few examples from a U.N. report.
- Two in five North Koreans are undernourished and more than 70% of the population relies on food aid, the United Nations says.
- In a new report, it said most North Koreans also lacked access to basic healthcare or sanitation.
- Diarrhea and pneumonia are the two main causes of death for children under five, the report said.
- Humanitarian needs had been exacerbated by “recurrent natural hazards”, such as frequent floodsand drought.
- “Amidst political tensions, an estimated 18 million people across DPRK continue to suffer from food insecurity and undernutrition, as well as a lack of access to basic services,” the UN report said.
A recent report claims North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has ordered 340 people to be executed since he came to power in 2011. The Institute for National Security Strategy report “The misgoverning of Kim Jong Un’s five years in power” details how the North Korean leader uses executions to tighten his hold on power. 140 of the executed were senior officers in the country’s government, military and ruling Korean Worker’s Party.
- Earlier this year, North Korea’s top education official Kim Yong Jinwas executed by firing squad for exercising a “bad attitude” at the country’s Supreme People’s Assembly in June.
- In May 2015, Kim had his Defense Minister Hyon Yong Cholshot with an anti-aircraft gun at a military school in Pyongyang, in front of an audience. This is a gruesome execution and Kim forced the man’s family to witness it..
- In 2013, Kim Jong Un’s had his uncle executed for what state media said was “trying to overthrow the government.” He was described as a traitor.
- And, there is ample evidence to suggest that Kim even had his own half-brother hilled at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Kim Jong Nam was apparently accosted by two women. Malaysian investigators said the women attacked him with a deadly VX nerve agent. They were caught on video smearing a substance on Kim’s face. He died 20 minutes later on his way to a hospital. The women have been tied to the Dear Leader’s government.
North Koreans Live in an Information Blackout
North Koreans only know what the state propaganda machine tells them. They are not allowed to receive information from any other source. Here are some examples of just how real censorship works.
North Korea’s economic hardships or famines are not reported to the domestic audience, which is instead informed of technological advances as a result of the Leader’s revolutionary thinking
- Korean Central Television is the state-run TV channel seen by North Koreans. The network carries news, documentaries and other programs praising Kim Jong-il and his father Kim Il-sung. It also reports on authoritative statements from the North Korean government, party and military. In addition, it carries revolutionary dramas, operas and other entertainment but all with a bent toward praising Kim and his government.
- Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, also operates a number of national and local radio networks, including a station intended for servicemen stationed on the contentious border with the South. All newspapers are owned by the state.
- Radio and TV sets in North Korea are supplied pre-tuned to government stations and radios must be checked and registered with the police.
- Internet access in North Korea is restricted to a small section of the elite who have received state approval, and to foreigners living in Pyongyang. The only option, in the absence of a broadband network, is through satellite internet coverage, which is available in some tourist hotels.
- Mobile phone use was banned in 2004. Only a select few have them and they offer little in functionality other than to make and receive calls.
The North Korean Threat
First, North Korea’s military. North Korea is not a banana republic or some small island nation. It has a formidable military machine and while not anywhere near the sophisticated levels of U.S. technology, it won’t roll over and play dead in the presence of a couple of aircraft carriers. Be aware that even with advanced U.S. weaponry North Korea could cause immeasurable damage and human suffering before we could subdue them. Here’s what their military looks like: http://tinyurl.com/yc3gmcka
- All North Koreans (male and female) are drafted at age 17
- 19 million service members and another 7.7 million reservists.
- 3,500 battle tanks
- 400 patrol boats
- No major naval ships
- 72 submarines
- 302 helicopters
- 563 combat aircraft
- 21,100 artillery pieces
- 1,800 underground defense industry plants scattered throughout the country
The above listing does not include the DPRK nuclear arsenal. It is known that they have at least a half dozen nuclear bombs and that they possess thousands of tons of chemical weapons, including nerve, blister, blood, and vomiting agents, as well as some biological weapons, including anthrax, smallpox, and cholera.
North Korea’s conventional forces are significant but dated. Their weapons, for the most part, are old and in some cases, obsolete particularly the air force. Even so, they are significant enough to cause destruction and death on a scale never before seen on this planet.
Military analysts have no doubt that in any conflict with the United States North Korea would lose in relatively short order. Even so such a war could take many months and in that time the DPRK could cause the death of millions of South Koreans and Japanese as well as the thousands of U.S. and allied forces in the area. Additionally, if their missile and nuclear weapons claims are real the death toll could easily become millions, some on the U.S. mainland. The very same experts who predict a short war and a U.S. victory also predict that North Korea would use every weapon at its disposal before capitulating and yes, that means nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
North Korea can be deadly even if they don’t use nuclear weapons. First there are about 8,000 rockets and artillery pieces just over the border from South Korea’s capital city of Seoul the home to about half the population of South Korea. Its metropolitan area includes some 20 million people. Seoul is a modern, looking Metropolis that is larger than New York City and which houses the economic engine of South Korea and much of the region. As an example, Seoul is home to the Lotte World Tower, a 123-floor, skyscraper which is he 5th tallest building in the world.
The DPRK also has hidden mobile launch sites that could target and hit Japan, Okinawa, all of South Korea along with nearby naval forces and other regional targets with either conventional, chemical or biological weapons. There are some 50,000 American troops stationed in the region and thousands of other Americans who live and work there. Before we could route DPRK forces they could cause millions of deaths and that estimate doesn’t take into account the possibility of weapons launched at the U.S. mainland. If the war escalated to a nuclear confrontation, which is quite likely, the human and economic effects become a long term nightmare of inestimable proportions.
This is an extremely dangerous situation, one that cannot and should not be taken lightly. It could even involve the mass destruction of one or more major U.S. cities. The President of the United States has few options open to him that do not include military action.
When you list options for action in a situation such as this one, negotiations always top the list. Unfortunately, North Korea has made it quite clear that they are not interested. The U.S. wants to negotiate a plan that would leave Kim without nuclear weapons and Kim isn’t interested. He feels that without the nukes he would be defenseless against U.S. aggression but what he fears most is losing his leadership position.
Let’s look at the options available to President Trump. If there are more I have not seen them.
1. Negotiations. We aren’t aware of just how much emphasis Trump is placing on this option but he can’t ignore it. We must continue to pressure China and Russia to use their influence on Kim to come to the negotiating table. 90 percent of North Korea trade is done with China so they are of considerable importance. Russia borders North Korea and is one of its few supporters so they, too, might be able to exercise some influence. You can be sure that Japan and South Korea are also encouraging those two countries to get more involved. Those two, after all, will likely suffer most if there is a war. While nuclear war would be massively devastating, even a conventional conflict could easily result in millions of deaths. Additionally, there are thousands of Americans in the region. We have between 50,000 and 80,000 troops in Korea, Japan, Guam and at sea in the area and another 150,000 Americans living on Guam. All of them are in jeopardy. Seoul, South Korea’s capital with some 25 million people would be the immediate target of North Korea’s eight to ten thousand artillary pieces and rockets just over the border about 30 miles away. Those simple facts must have some effect on the Trump administration’s planning process. Successful negotiations could not only save an untold number of lives, but might win Trump a Nobel Peace Prize. This option should get the greatest possible emphasis.
2. Assassination or decapitation. In order for this option to work, we would have to know exactly where Kim is and what the military will do if he is killed. There is no guarantee that killing Kim and his advisors will keep the North from launching an attack. Because North Korea is such a closed society we have little in the way of accurate, up to the minute intelligence. You can be assured, too, that Kim is well protected and may even live much of his life underground in bomb-proof bunkers. If we make an attempt that fails, then all-out war is assured.
3. Preemptive strike.This option suggests we hit them first, fast and hard. We must assume that such a strike would be with conventional weapons. To start with nukes could cause China and/or Russia to respond because the fallout and destruction from our bombs would extend to their territory. Furthermore we would risk world-wide condemnation and turn Kim and his government into martyrs.
Even if we used conventional weaponry in such an attack we would likely generate one of the worst mass killings in human history. Such an attack would have to be executed so swiftly and decisively and with such complete surprise that North Korea would not have time to respond. That’s about as likely as Kim Jong Un being given the Humanitarian of the Year award.
In order to be effective a preemptive strike would require the most massive U.S. military mobilization and attack since World War ll, a commitment of troops and resources that would be impossible to hide and extremely costly in both dollars and American lives. .
If we adopted this approach with the use of conventional weapons it would involve weeks of preparation that would be difficult if not impossible to hide.
This kind of strike cannot be hit and run because the North Koreans have buried many of their weapons underground and in hillsides, making it necessary for ground troops to hunt them down and destroy them. Air power, no matter how massive, cannot win such an effort alone. Furthermore we don’t know exactly where the nuclear weapons are because the North Koreans move them on rail cars and by other means so again, we’d have to have boots on the ground, turning over the countryside to find them and much of the North Korean countryside is not very hospitable.
4. Acceptance. While not an attractive option, it is an option. We could just throw our hands in the air and allow Kim to keep the nukes he has, develop new ones and the systems to deliver them and pass the problem on to the next President. Obviously that is not acceptable for a host of reasons.
5. Nuclear first strike. I’m including it here because it is option. It is the worst of all of them and should only be considered if we know rockets with nuclear warheads are on their way toward an American city. Even in that circumstance we should wait to see if our efforts to shoot the missiles out of the sky are successful before initiating our own nuclear launch codes.
The July/August edition of The Atlantic Magazine has an excellent story about the Korean crisis that I highly recommend. http://tinyurl.com/y9aad3jv
Americans must realize that this crisis is real, the threat to our homeland and our homes and families is real and the decisions made by the two leaders could affect the entire planet. While North Korea is no match for the military might of the United States that doesn’t mean we cannot be seriously injured before the enemy is subdued. We can only hope that cooler heads prevail and that somehow the North Koreans will be persuaded to work toward a negotiated settlement. The responsibility, though, does not rest on Kim Jong Un alone. President Trump must also exercise restraint in both his words and actions. Wars are easy to start and almost never end in the manner and time we prefer.
If we somehow stumble into a nuclear conflict cities will disappear millions will die and the world will forever be changed. No President in our history has had a more awesome responsibility placed on his shoulders than that now carried by Donald Trump. Everyone, regardless of political affiliation should hope and pray that he has it within him to make decisions that will not only save lives but allow everyone to step back from the brink with their honor, integrity and safety intact.