The insane saber rattling echoing out of The Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea has all the news outlets peppering the airwaves with its usual doom and gloom predictions. People are pointedly concerned that the US is in danger of an imminent attack from N. Korea. Reports of N. Korea’s purported ability to launch a missile strike against the continental US or restarting an armed conflict on the Korean peninsula have dominated the current discussions regarding this rogue nation. While all of this attention is probably playing exactly into Kim Jung Un’s hand with his insatiable desire for attention, by and large, it has very little to do with the actual safety and security of the US. Much in the same vein as the debate on the necessity of invading Iraq over a decade ago, the truth of the matter is that N. Korea does not present a direct military threat to America territory (at least not yet).
10. Megalomaniac Kim Jung Un is not Insane
Kim Jung Un is generally characterized as a megalomaniac dictator. The interesting thing about this is that there is really very little verifiable information about this guy’s psychological disposition. In fact, there is even doubt to his actual birth date. What is known is that he is well educated (he has a physics degree) and that he has been successful in rising through the ranks of the N. Korean political/military apparatus despite not being the eldest son of his father Kin Jung Il. Besides this, most of his life is supposition with the caveat that there is nothing that would suggest that he’s insane. And as this list will point out, Kim would have to be insane to even contemplate an attack on the US or its allies in the region. Consider for a moment the position of a dictator. From Adolf Hitler to Saddam Hussein; dictators tend to take actions that at least seemingly are in their favor and will enhance their power base. Hitler invaded Russia because he thought the Russian army was weak. Hussein invaded Kuwait because he had a perceived indication that the US would look the other way. These turned out to be pretty stupid actions, but you can argue that there was a shred of rationale behind the decisions. There is no such out for Kim Jung Un. There is absolutely nothing to be gained from attacking the US or South Korea besides his own early demise. We know this, he knows this, and his generals know this. Admittedly, as tensions continue to build, I could be completely wrong about this one.
9. Antics are Blusters and Political Maneuverings
Since Kim must certainly realize that attacking the US or its allies in the region would be suicidal, what’s his game? Sure, he’s boasted about tearing up the armistice between the two Koreas and that his troops are ready to march. But that’s all he has done. According to most news reports from US military sources, the Korean military has not made one move that would indicate they are mobilizing for an armed conflict. Instead, the news media has been overreacting to the propaganda that has been spewing out from Kim. Naturally, the US military has taken limited precautions in the event the unexpected actually does happen. Part of this is understandable because it’s better to be prepared than not and the military always plans for ‘what if’ scenarios. However, it seems rather apparent that Kim is trying to accomplish a few things less benign than all out war. Kim wants N. Korea to be recognized as a major player on the world scene. He wants to bring the US to the negotiating table to end the economic sanctions and maybe even remove those annoying troops on the border. Essentially, Kim wants the normal type of stuff that a less than insane dictator wants. Ramping up the ‘we are about to attack fervor’ is akin to an adolescent throwing a temper tantrum. It’s annoying and meant to draw attention. An additional plus to all of this for Kim is that it will probably increase his own standing and political capital within N. Korea. This is probably an equal component of this play and will no doubt help solidify Kim’s stature as the country’s leader. It’s interesting to note that Kim, at 30 years old, is the youngest world leader in a country and society that values aged leaders.
8. N. Korea’s Allies are not Supportive
Any military venture that N. Korea would undertake would need the support from the suppliers of most of the country’s military hardware and its closest allies, namely Russia and China. Once again, there is no indication that either of these nations is interested in an armed conflict with the west. More to the point, N. Korea is one of China’s largest trading partners with billions of dollars flowing between the two nations. Considering China is fast becoming the new Japan in terms of economic prosperity (both in the region and globally), another Korean war would be very bad for business. Both China and Russia have historically opposed any tough economic sanctions against N. Korea and in turn, they expect the nation to keep its composure in order to maintain regional stability. Adding to the mix the Chinese and Russians don’t seem overly concerned about the rhetoric from the Supreme Leader would also seem to indicate that armed hostilities are not in the works. Nor have these nations ramped up their own anti-west rhetoric in a manner that would suggest some sort of cooperative effort aimed at provoking an armed confrontation.
7. Missiles Cannot Reach US
Up to this point, we have just looked at the lack of rationale (yeah, I know this may be an oxymoron when talking about N. Korea these days) behind an attack. There is also the lack of capability that has to be considered as well. One of the most talked about scenarios has N. Korea launching a nuclear tipped or more likely, conventional, missile at the US. Well, they just can’t quite do this yet. The N. Koreans do not have the ability to launch a missile that is capable of reaching the continental US or Hawaii. In fact, they don’t have a missile that can reach Guam (a US territory and home of a major airbase). The N. Koreans field two medium/long range missiles: the Musudan and KN-08. According to the most reliable information available, the Musudan has an operational range of about 3,000 km which falls short of any American territory (including Guam). As for the KN-08, the N. Koreans claim that it has a range of 6,000 km – still short of the continental US but within range of Alaska. The thing is, however, that this missile has never been test fired and is questionable; not only if it’s operational, but even if it really exists. Of course, their missiles do have the range to hit any part of the Korean peninsula and parts of Japan, so they are a regional threat to American and allied forces. It is for this reason that the US has parked a couple of destroyers in waters outside of N. Korea that can shoot missiles down and taken other anti-missile defense measures.
6. Negligible Naval/Air Force Capability
Any N. Korean non-missile attack on US territory would require a naval and/or air capability. Unfortunately for N. Korea, they don’t have anything close to the needed military assets to accomplish this. The N. Korean navy is a brow-water force. This is to say that the capability of its naval forces does not extend much further beyond its coastal waters. To this end, most of the country’s ships are patrol types. Toss in a lot of older submarine models and a few frigates and you have a force that is not much more potent than the US Coast Guard. The Korean People’s Army Air Force has a bit more bite, but is limited to roles in and around the Korean Peninsula. With an assortment of about 1,600 or so Chinese and Russian made aircraft, primarily fighters, the KPAF has respectable enough strike capability within its airspace – and that is about it. Without modern long range bombers, N. Korea cannot project airpower further than the airbases that support the planes and all of those are in N. Korean territory. As such, while these assets can certainly cause trouble, they are limited to the Korean Peninsula and present a direct threat to American forces only in the immediate vicinity.
5. The Pacific Ocean
One ocean or another has been America’s first line of defense against aggressors since its inception as a nation. Yes, the British in their heyday were able to traverse the Atlantic to cause a bit of trouble and the Japanese made a scene in the modern era but these are exceptions to the rule. Even so, these efforts were not accomplished easily or without long term consequences. The same thing that is true for US territories in the Pacific is exponentially true for the mainland as well; namely, that there is an entire ocean separating the US from N. Korea. There is simply no feasible way for the N. Koreans to launch any kind of attack on the US across such a vast distance (it’s about 4500 miles between N. Korea and Hawaii). Unless, of course, you invoke an utterly ridiculous Hollywood scenario like the one portrayed in the latest remake of the movie Red Dawn where the western portion of the US is invaded by N. Koreans. Beyond that, we have a better chance of being attacked by aliens than forces of Kim Jung Un. Looked at another way, the US would have a difficult time mustering the sea lift needed to invade N. Korea with US forces. Remember, it took months for the US to get all the forces it needed in place during both of the wars fought with Iraq and that with a massive sealift capability all ready in place. If we can’t do it easily, you can bet that anyone else will fall significantly short of the same task. And this is assuming that the US Navy wouldn’t be doing anything while all of this was going on. Let’s review the score card: N. Korean Navy – confined to coastal waters; N. Korean Air Force – cannot operate beyond Peninsula; N. Korean missile forces – limited range that falls short of US territory. That’s 3 strikes, with the Pacific Ocean pitching a no-hitter.
Logistics play a vital part for any sustained military operation. If N. Korea were to launch an attack of some kind it would more than likely involve a goal oriented scenario. Since a single suicide attack makes absolutely no sense and would accomplish nothing whatsoever, such an incursion would have to be part of a sustained and prolonged expedition. It is believed that N. Korea war plans for invading the south, for example, call for a quick 30 day campaign to completely retake the peninsula. Why? Partly because sustained military operations are very costly and difficult to maintain. This is especially true in this hyper technological age where a battlefield contains equipment that cost millions of dollars apiece and can be quickly destroyed. Most analyst, for example, during the Cold War era predicted that a conventional armed engagement between the US and the then Soviet Union would not last more than a few months before the conflict used up all the available equipment. So, while N. Korea has a lot of soldiers (over a million active), its ability to sustain a protracted engagement is highly questionable with its aged equipment. This is especially true considering the rather dismal economic situation the country is in, as it takes money to fuel a military venture. Without outside support from allies such as China and Russia, the N. Koreans lack the capability to adequately sustain expeditionary forces materially beyond an initial engagement and would certainly mean the death kneel to its already depressed economy. So, if you can’t accomplish your goals, you don’t attack. This goes back to point numbers 9 and 10.
3. Sizable American Military regional capability
Let’s be honest. It’s common knowledge that America maintains sizable military capability in S. Korea, the Sea of Japan and the region in general. There are: 30,000 + ground and support troops stationed on or in close proximity to the DMZ, directly supported by hundreds of strike and air superiority air craft and the might of the US Seventh Fleet with attached Marine Expeditionary Units. This does not include another 35,000 + troops that are stationed in Japan and bomber support that can be drawn from Guam and bases in the US. And this does not include the forces that can rapidly be moved into the region if the possibility of hostilities was imminent. Going up against such might would be akin to a high school wrestler stepping into the octagon against UFC champion Anderson “The Spider” Silva. Even if insanity prevailed and Kim decided to engage in a military action, it is difficult to imagine the strength of the available forces could not effectively defeat any aggression directed towards it. It’s not even close to a fair fight. And, it should be noted that US forces would not be fighting alone if hostilities did break out.
2. South Korean Military
Any military action on the Korean peninsula will not just involve the N. Korean and American forces. The Republic of Korea is more than prepared to defend itself in the event of an incursion from the north. And one should not be mistaken that the state of the S. Korean military is anything less than a professional military organization. Prepping for the possibility of hostilities since the end of the Korean War, it can be argued that S. Korean military forces are amongst the most well trained in the world. It certainly maintains one of the largest standing military formations with over 600,000 active troops and 300,000 paramilitary personnel. Both the S. Korean army and air forces are well equipped with American designed hardware and conduct regular joint exercises with their American allies. The 25,000 ROK Marines are especially lethal as well. Having to fight an enemy that can properly defend itself is certain to give Kim pause unless he believes he has an advantage of some kind. Perhaps he believes his own propaganda. Nevertheless, in a heads up fight N. Korea’s larger numbers are not necessarily enough by itself to overcome S. Korean military forces in a prepared defensive position.
1. Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) Scenario
The MAD doctrine is one of the aspects of the cold war that prevented America and the Soviet Union from dropping nuclear weapons on one another. The idea, simply enough is that since both parties have the capability of completely destroying each other, weapons of mass destruction are never used. N. Korea possesses nuclear weapons. They are considered to be archaic by the standards of the major nuclear powers in the world, but they have them none the less. At this point, they cannot reach or be used against the US. But even if they could, does anyone really believe that the US would not respond with an overwhelming retaliation that would leave N. Korea (and more importantly Kim himself) a radioactive cinder? Kim, by all accounts, is not a religious believer that is willing to die for his deity of choice. Hell, he doesn’t even have a cause worth dying for. Judging from the pictures of the guy, he’s living extremely well and is very comfortable. Besides Kim; how many fat N. Korean’s have you ever seen? An unprovoked attack against America or its allies using a weapon of mass destruction is a sure remedy to end all of that. Unless, of course, he really is insane.