Saturday, March 30, 2013

By Request: What To Do With A Problem Like North Korea!

What Can They Hit?
North Korea has been making some very, very belligerent moves recently--threatening to launch missiles as US targets (and others), potentially cyber-attacking South Korea, and over-all behaving like a, well, a rogue nation. The Omnivore was asked his opinion on North Korea--what Obama might do--and what Republicans might do. What can anyone do?

The Facts
This is what's going on with North Korea: Their leadership is not (or, at least, has not to this point) been insane. They are not innately warmongers. They do not want to die. What they want--what their society (such as it is) is set up to need--is a steady flow of luxury goods, money, as well as food and other aid to the top generals (and Dear Leader). In order to get this they have offered a M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction) deal with the west: Pay us and we won't bomb you.

This has a caveat that, if their society fails either due to non-payment or internal pressures they might bomb us anyway. In short, if we don't pay, their society will collapse and they might as well be dead.

They have pledged to take Seoul and whatever else they can with them.

The North Korean DMZ houses the largest collection of conventional artillery in the world. It is within striking distance of Seoul. If they were to order an attack it would be devastating--even without nukes or missiles that could hit Japan.

Even worse, on their side are millions of North Koreans who have, effectively, been traumatized by growing up in a totalizing authoritarian regime. When people do escape to South Korea? They don't do well in general (even with extensive programs to re-educate and integrate them). In the case of a war--even a war that South Korea and its allies won handily--the massive flood of refugees would be a social disaster.

What Will Happen?
The smart money says: nothing. We have just had an new leader in North Korea and that means he has to establish his power. He is young (allegedly 29) and is trying to get the generals to take him seriously. If he can prove he is a strong man--like his father--then all will be well: he will continue the propaganda with the west and game theory will continue to say it is better to lose a little and pay up than lose a lot and gamble with South Korea being bombed or even nuked.

There are a few things that could go wrong with this scenario:
  • Miscalculation. One of the things that China believes about the US is that our government "plans" everything. That our congress people are scheming all the time to get things done. The fact is that a lot of our actions are random, reactionary, or just plain flying by the seat of their pants (I'm talking about individual actors like congressmen--not military maneuvers or large scale foreign policy). If North Korea believes that--for real--their leader bullies the west into submission (rather than the situation simply being one where it is way, way better to just pay up) then either (a) Kim Jung Un might over-promise because he thinks he can be SUPER SCARY--and get more! or (b) They might, for example, believe that they have to blow something up for this 29 year old new-guy to get respect. Both would be fallacies--but they are the kinds of mistakes that another culture might make about ours.
  • Itchy Trigger Finger. Military maneuvers done for intimidation have a problem: you know you aren't really going to launch. They know they aren't really going to attack. Neither of you can be sure about the other guy though. So the closer you play to the net the bigger the chance for a fuck up. North Korea's rhetoric is enough to have us on high alert. A mistake would be throwing a lit road-flare into gasoline soaked kindling. Our flying a B2 Spirit Stealth Bomber (not to mention massive B-52s) over South Korea make a point (that we can attack with overwhelming nuclear force--and with no warning)--but they also raise tensions which can increase the chance of a fatal mistake.
So there is potential for things to go ... wrong.
Every Hour is Earth Hour In North Korea
What Can Obama Do?
The short answer is "nothing." Every American administration that has faced North Korea has come to the same conclusion: wait for them to start collapsing internally and then hope China can be convinced to provide aid and take some of the survivors. The hope is to peacefully unravel the situation without a shot being fired.

It turns out that a regime like North Korea can go a long, long, long time without collapsing. In the spirit of things, let's look at a few less likely scenarios:
  1. The Google Revolution: There was a meeting not too long ago where Google execs went to North Korea to talk with them. One of the big problems for the modern age in North Korea was small radios and TVs which could get signal from South Korea. Seeing what the outside world was really like had destabilizing effects on them. If there was a way to expose North Korea to the Internet it could be even worse. The problem with this scenario is that if the society does unwind a very likely event is either mass slaughter of their people (in which case we would have to interviene ... or watch it unfold in horror) ... or if they were going down, they'd attack us.
  2. The Assassination Game: What if we were to kill some of North Korea's leaders in a special-forces style stealth attack? It turns out that North Korea has been doing this/trying to do this to South Korea for quite some time. North Korea boasts around 5000 highly trained special operators and they have sent teams into South Korea to try to kidnap or kill people they don't like. It hasn't accomplished much. The reverse, of course, would destabilize the government--just because they don't really think we're trying to kill them right now doesn't mean that if they realized we were they wouldn't attack us. It's, at this point, the only card they have to play.
All roads lead to Seoul being bombarded, essentially.

In this case, Obama can do what he is doing: a show of force ... and pay up.

What About Republicans?
They've been notably silent on this front and with good reason. They don't have any better ideas than Obama does--than anyone does. It's tough to be the "hawk party" when Obama is really about as hawkish as anyone can stand and the public is weary of war. I think the Republican top brass realizes that so long as no one "blows it" this is as good as it gets.

Edited To Add
North Korea re-starting its reactor is probably a bad sign (although it'll take a while so it will give them ample chance to back down). The reason this is bad is that one of the few things Korea could do to get itself attacked without launching a first strike is to become an assembly line for nuclear weapons with the fear that it would sell one to, say, Iran (or whoever).

No comments:

Post a Comment