The consensus finally seems to be that there are only three options with regard to dealing with North Korea. As explained in a number of analyses recently, all the options discussed are really only variants of (a) diplomacy and negotiations, (b) forcing the regime to change its behavior, or (c) forcing a change in the regime itself.
The first option is what has been tried for the last few decades. The second option is generally seen as a series of sanctions designed to bring the regime to its knees – to its sense, if one accepts what the current U.S. administration believes. The third option is pre-emptive military strikes designed to either cripple the country into submission or to decapitate its leadership.
NO PERFECT SOLUTION
There are drawbacks to all three. Diplomacy and negotiation have yielded nothing but broken accord after broken accord with no lasting results. After recriminations and blame, we have only mutual distrust. Sanctions could take years to show their full effect – and they will work only if China does not turn a blind eye to breaking the sanctions.
Thus many experts have little faith in sanctions having any notable success. Military strikes, no matter how well they are planned and how perfectly they are executed, will unavoidably cause Seoul and its surrounding environs to suffer dreadful barrages of rockets and missiles as Pyongyang retaliates. And any military action against North Korea could very well draw China into the fray.
Thus, despite a history of failure, experts are now touting a return to the negotiating table, knowing full well that the U.S. as the senior negotiating partner for the West never does well against its North Korean interlocutors. We simply do not recognize the political realities of a nuclear North Korea, and it is that lack of understanding which is the foundation of all past, present, and future diplomatic disasters.
Any military action against North Korea could very well draw China into the fray
So even though it will be good riddance to the “strategic patience” championed by the outgoing U.S. president, we still have a nuclear weapons endowed North Korea that will soon have the means to deliver their bombs nearly anywhere in the world they want.
A NEW BEGINNING?
On Jan. 21 of next year, the new U.S. president, with a trail of campaign bluster behind him, will have to deal with a belligerent North Korean leader – and neither understands the other very well. Trump appealed to some American voters by taking an isolationist stance, saying that allies were not paying their fair share.
Diplomacy and negotiation have yielded nothing but broken accord after broken accord with no lasting results
This brings to the fore a fourth option – that of Washington abandoning, at least to some degree, South Korea, in effect telling Seoul that it is on its own in defending itself against whatever Pyongyang might throw at it. Not surprisingly, this issue is on the minds of many South Koreans as well as Northeast Asian analysts in the U.S.
The conventional wisdom is that the presence of “trip-wire” U.S. troops and American weapons systems on the Korean Peninsula is what keeps Pyongyang from attacking Seoul. Often cited in support of this belief is the numerical supremacy of the North’s military over the South’s.SUPREMACY IS MORE THAN JUST NUMBERS
For example, according to a 2015 analysis by the Guardian, Pyongyang has a standing army of at least one million soldiers versus Seoul’s just over half a million; approximately 3,500 tanks to the South’s 2,400; more than 21,000 artillery pieces to the South’s roughly 11,000; and 72 submarines while the South has only 23.
Add to that the element of surprise, which would undoubtedly work to Pyongyang’s advantage.
But is an attack by the North really likely? Consider that the conventional wisdom was Trump could never be elected. So much for conventional wisdom – which is what got us into this fix with North Korea in the first place.
Any perceived supremacy is only in quantity. The North’s combat aircraft number about the same as the South’s at 563 to 571. However, the North Korean air force is no match for the South’s more modern machines and its better-trained pilots. It is hours in the air that make an able aviator. Pyongyang’s pilots often don’t have enough fuel to engage in routine aerial training activities – and what the North does have are decidedly inferior, older Soviet-era airframes with outdated avionics.
But is an attack by the North really likely? Consider that the conventional wisdom was Trump could never be elected
So stepping outside the proverbial box for a moment, what if – despite recent indications to the contrary – a President Trump adhered to his campaign promise to let Korean go it alone regarding North Korea? One might be tempted to bring back the argument about the Kim regime making enough trouble that events spiral out of control and end up in a nuclear catastrophe of some sort.
CONSEQUENCES OF THE FOURTH OPTION
But let’s evaluate that. Kim Jong Un knows better than to precipitate any incident that would lead to war, for he knows the ultimate consequences. It would be the end of his regime along with his luxurious and pleasure-seeking lifestyle.
As for Pyongyang’s army, many of its soldiers are no better than the equivalent of the U.S. Civilian Conservation Corp during the Great Depression. Troops are often pulled away from military duties to function as laborers for agricultural duties and construction projects.
A number of the Korean People’s Army officer corps seem focused on making their way by means of bribes and currying favor, more like Don Corleone’s mafia family than leaders of any fearsome fighting force.
There are no military greats in North Korea, certainly no one at the level of a Vo Nguyen Giap. That is not to say that any North-South confrontation would be a turkey shoot with the South easily winning, but only that the North would eventually fail to survive – and that is something Kim Jong Un most assuredly wants to avoid. The result: status quo, only with more of the same pokings and provocations from the North.
Correction: A previous version of this article cited a recent article by the Korea Herald and stated that “only 0.46% of South Korea’s GNP goes to pay for the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in that country – less than half of the total cost of stationing American forces there”. The Korea Herald made an error: what the ROK pays for U.S. forces (920 billion won in 2014) comes to roughly 0.062% of ROK GDP. The relevant passage has been removed.
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Featured Image: The bigger picture: US, ROK forces show off air power [Image 3 of 4] by DVIDSHUB on 2012-03-07 09:57:55