Fwd: North Korea -- Is There a Military Solution?
- --- "Strategic Forecasting, Inc."
> Date: Mon, 9 Oct 2006 08:42:04 -0500Red Alert: North Korea -- Is There a Military
> To: gregcannon1@...
> From: "Strategic Forecasting, Inc."
> Subject: Stratfor Red Alert - Breaking Intelligence
Whatever the political realities may seem to dictate
after a North Korean nuclear test, an overt military
strike -- even one limited to cruise missiles -- is
not in the cards. The consequences of even the most
restrained attack could be devastating.
The reported detonation of a nuclear device by North
Korea on Oct. 9 raises the question of potential
military action against North Korea. The rationale for
such a strike would be simple. North Korea, given its
rhetoric, cannot be allowed to have nuclear weapons.
Therefore, an attack to deny them the facilities with
which to convert their device into a weapon and deploy
it is essential. If such an attack were to take place,
it is assumed, the United States would play the
dominant or even sole role.
This scenario assumes that North Korea is as
aggressive as its rhetoric.
But what about North Korea's well-armed neighbors --
Russia, China, South Korea, Japan? Would they not be
willing to assume the major burden of an attack
against North Korea? Is the United States really
willing to go it alone, even while engaged in combat
in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Leaving these obvious political questions aside for
the moment, let's reverse the issue by posing it in
military terms: What would a U.S. strike against North
Korea look like?
The USS Kitty Hawk is currently sitting in port at
Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. The USS Enterprise is
operating in the Arabian Sea, while the Nimitz and the
Stennis are conducting exercises off the coast of
California. All are an ocean away, and none is less
than a week's transit from the region. Nevertheless,
naval cruise missiles are readily available, as are
long-range strikes by B-2A Spirit stealth bombers and
B-52H Stratofortresses and B-1B Lancers currently
supporting NATO operations in Afghanistan out of Diego
Garcia. A more robust strike package would take longer
When U.S. military planners have nightmares, they have
nightmares about war with North Korea. Even the idea
of limited strikes against the isolated nation is
fraught with potential escalations. The problem is the
mission. A limited attack against nuclear facilities
might destabilize North Korea or lead North Korea to
the conclusion that the United States would intend
Regime preservation is the entire point of its nuclear
capability. Therefore, it is quite conceivable that
Kim Jong-Il and his advisors -- or other factions
--might construe even the most limited military
strikes against targets directly related to missile
development or a nuclear program as an act threatening
the regime, and therefore one that necessitates a
fierce response. Regime survival could very easily
entail a full, unlimited reprisal by the Korean
People's Army (KPA) to any military strike whatsoever
on North Korean soil.
North Korea has some 10,000 fortified artillery pieces
trained on Seoul. It is essential to understand that
South Korea's capital city, a major population center
and the industrial heartland of South Korea, is within
range of conventional artillery. The United States has
been moving its forces out of range of these guns, but
the South Koreans cannot move their capital.
Add to this the fact that North Korea has more than
100 No-Dong missiles that can reach deep into South
Korea, as well as to Japan, and we can see that the
possibility for retaliation is very real. Although the
No-Dong has not always been the most reliable weapon,
just the possibility of dozens of strikes against U.S.
forces in Korea and other cities in Korea and Japan
presents a daunting scenario.
North Korea has cultivated a reputation for
unpredictability. Although it has been fairly
conservative in its actions compared to its rhetoric,
the fact is that no one can predict North Korea's
response to strikes against its nuclear facilities.
And with Seoul at risk -- a city of 20 million people
-- the ability to take risks is limited.
The United States must assume, for the sake of
planning, that U.S. airstrikes would be followed by
massed artillery fire on Seoul. Now, massed artillery
is itself not immune to countermeasures. But North
Korea's artillery lies deep inside caves and
fortifications all along the western section of the
demilitarized zone (DMZ). An air campaign against
these guns would take a long time, during which
enormous damage would be done to Seoul and the South
Korean economy -- perhaps on the order of several
hundred thousand high-explosive rounds per hour. Even
using tactical nuclear weapons against this artillery
would pose serious threats to Seoul. The radiation
from even low-yield weapons could force the evacuation
of the city.
The option of moving north into the North Korean
defensive belt is an option, but an enormously costly
one. North Korea has a huge army and, on the
defensive, it can be formidable. Fifty years of
concerted military fortification would make
Hezbollah's preparations in southern Lebanon look like
child's play. Moving U.S. and South Korean armor into
this defensive belt could break it, but only with
substantial casualties and without the certainty of
success. A massive stalemate along the DMZ, if it
developed, would work in favor of the larger,
Moreover, the North Koreans would have the option of
moving south. Now, in U.S. thinking, this is the ideal
scenario. The North Korean force on the move, outside
of its fortifications, would be vulnerable to U.S. and
South Korean airstrikes and superior ground maneuver
and fire capabilities. In most war games, the defeat
of North Korea requires the KPA to move south,
exposing itself to counterstrikes.
However, the same war-gaming has also supposed at
least 30 days for the activation and mobilization of
U.S. forces for a counterattack. U.S. and South Korean
forces would maintain an elastic defense against the
North; as in the first war, forces would be rushed
into the region, stabilizing the front, and then a
counterattack would develop, breaking the North Korean
army and allowing a move north.
There are three problems with this strategy. The first
is that the elastic strategy would inevitably lead to
the fall of Seoul and, if the 1950 model were a guide,
a much deeper withdrawal along the Korean Peninsula.
Second, the ability of the U.S. Army to deploy
substantial forces to Korea within a 30-day window is
highly dubious. Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom both
required much longer periods of time.
Finally, the U.S. Army is already fighting two major
ground wars and is stretched to the breaking point.
The rotation schedule is now so tight that units are
already spending more time in Iraq than they are home
between rotations. The idea that the U.S. Army has a
multidivisional force available for deployment in
South Korea would require a national mobilization not
seen since the last Korean War.
It comes down to this: If the United States strikes at
North Korea's nuclear capabilities, it does so placing
a bet. And that bet is that North Korea will not
respond. That might be true, but if it is not true, it
poses a battlefield problem to which neither South
Korea nor the United States will be able to respond.
In one scenario, the North Koreans bombard Seoul and
the United States makes a doomed attempt at shutting
down the massive artillery barrage. By the time the
guns are silenced -- even in the best-case scenarios
-- Seoul will be a mess. In another scenario, the
North Korean army executes an offensive of even
minimal competence, which costs South Korea its
capital and industrial heartland. The third is a
guerrilla onslaught from the elite of the North Korean
Army, deployed by mini-subs and tunnels under the DMZ.
The guerrillas pour into the south and wreak havoc on
U.S. military installations.
That is how a U.S. strike -- and its outcome -- might
look. Now, what about the Chinese and Russians? They
are, of course, not likely to support such a U.S.
attack (and could even supply North Korea in an
extended war). Add in the fact that South Korea would
not be willing to risk destroying Seoul and you arrive
at a situation where even a U.S. nuclear strike
against nuclear and non-nuclear targets would pose an
unacceptable threat to South Korea.
There are two advantages the United States has. The
first is time. There is a huge difference between a
nuclear device and a deployable nuclear weapon. The
latter has to be shaped into a small, rugged package
able to be launched on a missile or dropped from a
plane. Causing atomic fission is not the same as
having a weapon.
The second advantage is distance. The United States is
safe and far away from North Korea. Four other powers
-- Russia, China, South Korea and Japan -- have much
more to fear from North Korea than the United States
does. The United States will always act unilaterally
if it feels that it has no other way to protect its
national interest. As it is, however, U.S. national
interest is not at stake.
South Korea faces nothing less than national
destruction in an all-out war. South Korea knows this
and it will vigorously oppose any overt military
action. Nor does China profit from a destabilized
North Korea and a heavy-handed U.S. military move in
its backyard. Nevertheless, if North Korea is a
threat, it is first a threat to its immediate
neighbors, one or more of whom can deal with North
In the end, North Korea wants regime survival. In the
end, allowing the North Koran regime to survive is
something that has been acceptable for over half a
century. When you play out the options, the
acquisition of a nuclear device -- especially one
neither robust nor deployable -- does not, by itself,
compel the United States to act, nor does it give the
United States a militarily satisfactory option. The
most important issue is the transfer of North Korean
nuclear technology to other countries and groups. That
is something the six-party talk participants have an
equal interest in and might have the leverage to
Every situation does not have a satisfactory military
solution. This seems to be one of them.
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