We are less than two months into the solar New Year – barely two weeks into the Lunar New Year – and already it has been a busy period on the Korean Peninsula. First there was North Korea’s putative hydrogen bomb detonation (its fourth nuclear test) on January 6, and second, there was its February 7 launch of a so-called earth satellite, a not-so-cleverly disguised test of an ICBM.
Knowing that some meaningful response would be required, the South Korean government (reportedly under intense pressure from the United States) shut down the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the last utilitarian link between the two Koreas, on February 11. China is verbally supportive of expected United Nations sanctions to some degree, and of course, the Japanese have contributed by adding their own secondary sanctions.
Not to be outdone, the U.S. wants its advanced THAAD missile system in South Korea, has flown nuclear capable B-52 bombers and F-22 stealth fighters over the South Korean landmass in a show of force, intends to bring a host of advanced naval warships to the region, and is doubling its participation in the forthcoming joint military exercises with South Korea. Long a source of concern for the North, these combined trainings are seen as rehearsals for an impending invasion.
… this year the joint activities will include a computer simulated end-game of a conflict in which the North Korean regime is toppled
South Korean and American officials counter by saying that, in view of the fact that it was the North that invaded the South in 1950, such maneuvers are merely defensive preparations. All that plausible deniability went out the window when it was announced that this year the joint activities will include a computer simulated end-game of a conflict in which the North Korean regime is toppled and Western forces scramble to control all of the North, well above Pyongyang all the way to the border with China.
The value in strategic geopolitical thinking – as well as in war planning – is the faculty to anticipate the enemy’s response in any given situation. It helps to be able to see events and potentialities through the eyes of the opponent. An oft-cited excuse when things go wrong is the “fog of war” and that is certainly true once contact is made with the enemy during combat. However that is irrelevant here because such a “fog” doesn’t exist at the planning stage, when goals are stated and objectives defined, when contingencies are identified, probabilities calculated, and preparations made. It ought not be a shocker to realize that poor planning promises poor performance.
EXERCISE IN FUTILITY
So, how do diplomatic and military planners think China is going to react to the upcoming exercise? China needs North Korea to serve as a buffer between it and the pro-West South as well as a blocking point to prevent other nations (notably Japan and the U.S.) from using the Korean peninsula as a bridge to the Chinese mainland. Further, what does this do to any efforts by the West to convince China that, even should the Kim Jong Un regime fail, there is nothing to fear from the West regarding encroachment on Chinese territory? With game plans that have Western forces operating just across the Yalu and Tumen Rivers from its own backyard – even if no U.S. troops are involved that far north – China will still have to respond in an impactful way.
The West’s actions will no doubt greatly contribute to Kim Jong Un’s unease and that will lead to some sort of provocation
More importantly, how do those planners think North Korea is going to react to the upcoming exercise? The West’s actions will no doubt greatly contribute to Kim Jong Un’s unease and that will lead to some sort of provocation. To be sure, the West – including South Korea and Japan – had to do something in response to the North’s nuclear test and missile launch or risk looking like impotent windbags. However, the actions they have taken will serve only to heighten tensions on the peninsula. This is a huge development that is likely to spiral out of control.
With realistic combined forces drills and computer simulations of overrunning the North, there should be no surprise when the North feels even more hemmed in and threatened. Given the long history of behavior by the North and the years of failed diplomacy by the West, how then do South Korean and U.S. officials expect North Korea to react? It is a dangerous move that corners a desperate rat.
There will likely be some serious provocation – perhaps terrorist attacks in the South or invasions of South Korean islands just off the southwest coast of North Korea – to get domestic opinion back behind Kim Jong Un before the Workers’ Party of Korea Congress in May. Is the West truly ready for the fallout of the latest South Korean and U.S. actions?
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Featured Image: 141119-N-IP531-869 by SurfaceWarriors on 2014-11-19 09:20:28