Is The North Korean Threat Real?

I am going to put this rather bluntly. At the moment we have the greatest chance for a global cluster fuck of epic proportions. There has been nothing like it since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Please, understand that this is not some “doomsayer” post. This is based on a realistic assessment of available declassified information. Sources include news media, bloggers who monitor military communication and published papers on the lynchpin theory of a North Korea Crisis as well as information from the Army War College concerning North Korea, the Asian Theater of Operations, Potential Crisis and Resolutions and information from studying brinksmanship and game theory.  Other information comes from the Centers for Strategic Studies and online resources such as Jane’s and GlobalSecurity.org.

At this point, the question could be asked; “If this is so important, why don’t we hear more about it in the media and from politicians than we currently do?” A valid question to be sure. The answer is very simple. Since the Cuban Missile Crisis it has been part of our nuclear battle strategy to not inform the populace of dangers associated with a specific crisis. There is a very good reason for this. If the White House was to take on a crisis atmosphere this would pervade to the media who would disseminate that everyone. This would have an immediate adverse effect across the board from the markets to the mom whose son is currently stationed in South Korea. Given that we are in a fragile economic recovery a jolt such as that could cause negative effects to occur. Now… Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that we are now on or soon will be on a nuclear footing and that we should all be waiting patiently for the end of the world. Nothing as droll as that.

What I am saying is that we need to be paying close attention to what is going on in North Korea because at this point. One minor misstep could lead to a nuclear conflagration that would make Hiroshima look like a day at Disney Land. Currently what is being told to the media for mass consumption is that we as a country are taking precautions but that this is more of the typically rhetoric that we have seen in the past. Honestly, I am not so sure. To explain, lets first look at North Korea as a whole. North Korea is nicknamed the Hermit Kingdom for a reason. It is a very secretive and controlled society. Most people think it is a communist country but since the 1970s they have rejected communism and replaced it with a form of government based on the concept of self reliance as dictated by Kim II-Sung the “Eternal Ruler”.  This has created a situation where you have a personality cult not unlike that in which Hitler himself fostered during the 1930s.  With this, we can add one of the largest standing armies and a military first policy that puts the needs of the military ahead of the populace. In fact with over 1 million troops it and over 9 million reserve and active as well as militia personnel it makes it a force that can not be ignored.

So you have a closed, secretive society with a cult of personality and a large standing army. This creates a unique situation among nations. This army has to continually justify itself to maintain internal control over the state. Usually, the North Koreans resort to public declarations of war and threats but recently this has changed somewhat. The current theory is that all of this blustering is for internal consumption and perhaps it is but there has been some steps that one would wonder if indeed something else is afoot. There are a few things that stand out that, to me, make this unlike the rest of the rhetoric we have seen. 1. The movement of the Mushudan missile to the east coast. The media has been reporting that both South Korea and the United States are thinking it is a missile test. There is one problem with that. They have had these missiles for some years now and have never tested them once. These missiles are based on the Soviet SS-N-6 Serb missile found on Yankee class SSBNs. (For reference, its the same missile as the one in K-219. ) The North Korean version is a little bit longer.  What this means is that this particular missile is based on technology from the late 1970s and is about the same technological level as the current North Korean nuclear program.  So it is possible that they North Koreans could have fashioned a crude nuclear (atomic level) to fit on this delivery system. Since this missile uses external guidance and pre plotted targeting data it would be perfect for a antiquated designed warhead. While the SS-N-6 was capable of carrying a 1 MT (Megaton) yield warhead and the North Koreans have yet to produce any nuclear test with near that capability it is reasonable to assume that given the differences a properly produced 1 MT yield warhead would weight verses what a crude plutonium or uranium device would weigh, the Mushudan would make an excellent choice.  To sum all that up, it is possible that the North Koreans could have put a small atomic warhead on a missile that has a range between 3-4K.  Will not be able to nuke Los Angeles but would and could seriously inconvenience anyone on Guam.

2. The request by the North Korean Foreign Ministry for all the embassies to prepare for or evaluate the need to remove their staff. As far as I can tell this step has never been taken by the North Koreans before. So far everyone from the Swiss to the Chinese are playing this down. They admit they are monitoring the situation but what is peculiar is the fact that it is coming at this time but not when they shelled the South Korean island.  In any of the previous provocations there was no mention of the evacuation of embassy staffers from foreign embassy. Also part of the North Korean comment was that after April the 10th they could no longer be able to guarantee their safety. That date might seem arbitrary but not as much as you might think. You see, the missile I mentioned above is liquid fueled and requires a specific fueling procedure to accomplish. In a real sense it takes days to properly fuel, prepare and provide targeting data. Given when the announcement was made that they had been moved it would stand to reason that the earliest that the missile would be ready would be April the 10th. This is also what I believe the South Koreans and the United States are seeing when they make the claim that the North Koreans are preparing for a test. Although some reports are that the missiles have been hidden and are not at the normal testing launch pads.

3. They closed down the Kaesong factories. They have done this before but this time they are doing it differently. Normally they just close access for a few days and then it is back to same ole , same ole. This time they took the steps to first cut down the amount of South Korean managers who were allowed to cross into the factory zone. Then yesterday they either prevented, stopped or what have you North Korean workers from reporting to work. According to recent reports from the Unification Ministry the remaining South Korean managers should be or have already left the zone. Granted this closure is not a warning sign all by itself but when you add the other two and the meticulous way they shut it down this time. Something isn’t right.

4. They have taken the unusual step of today, issuing a warning to foreigners in South Korea. Again, this by itself is not panic worthy as if they were to launch a surprise attack they have a lousy way of going about it. However, it all points to the fact that currently the North Koreans for whatever reason are engaged in brinkmanship with both South Korea and the United States.  Of course these four are not all of the worrying signs. The fact that the Chinese have began military mobilization near the Yalu river border. The fact the Chinese Foreign Minister told the Secretary General of the UN, “China is opposed to any provocative words and actions from any party in the region and does not allow troublemaking at the doorsteps of China.” This is important because remember China also was engaged in the Korean War on the side of the North Koreans. To be specific, China does not want a united Korea on their borders who is allied with the United States.

All these steps point to a game of brinkmanship by the North Koreans. Yes, it could be for domestic consumption but the problem with brinkmanship is that it is very easy to escalate and much harder to deescalate the situation. We are not dealing with a rational Nikita Kruscheve in this case. We are dealing with a new, untested leader who is (might be) in control of a large military apparatus who has been rattling the sabers for years. Depending on the domestic situation it is possible that the leader of North Korea can not back down, if nothing else for saving face. Also as they escalate the rhetoric it forces us to play along and respond if not in word but in action. Such as sending the B-2 bombers on an exercise. The fact that both South Korea and Japan has moved defensive units into position could be a signal to the North Koreans that what they believe is true. The point is that usually in brinksmanship there is a winner and a loser but rarely does it deescalate without one party willing to take the public and political hit. If we were dealing with a rational country then we wouldn’t be in this situation but currently we are not.

What happens if this goes hot? To be honest there are so many variables that the outcome would be far from certain other than one point. North Korea, if they launch a nuclear attack against any target in South Korea or at a US possession will likely trigger a nuclear response. In which case the potential for a global nuclear war increases exponentially.  Does not mean would happen only that the chances are increased. Certainly, I wouldn’t want to own property in North Korea unless I wanted to glow in the dark. In any event this is a real situation and a real crisis and so it is something to take seriously.

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