December 3, 2017
There has been a lot of hot rhetoric in Washington, D.C.and Seoul about how Trump and a pumped up U.S. -Korea alliance are going to “take care of” Pyongyang. But I fear that the thinking is fuzzy, if not delusional. North Korea, with extensive underground facilities built over the last fifty years, cannot be stopped by either a precision attack, or an all-out assault. Even if a suicidal Donald Trump dropped 50 atomic bombs on North Korea, he might permanently destroy the climate of Northeast Asia, he might be removed from office through a coup d’etat, but he will do nothing to even scratch the nuclear weapons North Korea is storing deep beneath the surface of the Earth.
But what might happen if Trump were to launch a limited attack on North Korea, perhaps on a military base, or even a city? The pressure on Trump to do something is mounting back in Washington, D.C. He has been talking tough about North Korea and has more enemies inside the beltway than a cat has fleas. Some in the military were impressed by Trump’s tough words, but he is looking less and less impressive as his dramatic threats seem to peter out without any action.
Would Pyongyang be begging for mercy and open itself up for intrusive weapons inspections such as those that Iraq underwent before it was overthrown? The odds are not good.
But have you thought about this? What if a high explosive goes off in Seoul’s luxurious Apkujeong District, killing hundreds of shoppers at Christmas and creating a mood of desperation and fear unprecedented in recent history? Do you really think that missiles are the only way for North Korea to kill people in South Korea?
After all, such massive terrorist attacks, often ambiguous in nature, are becoming more and more common in countries like Turkey, Russia, Iraq, France, and the United States.
The assumption that North Korea is only going to respond to attacks from the United States in a conventional manner using weapons that Korea has prepared to respond to is naive and suggests that military planners need to reread Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Conflict will be about the unpredictable and will not follow the patterns that military contractors have made a fortune preparing for.
It would be wise to step back and think seriously about what North Korea’s options are and if we do so with an open mind, it will be clear quite quickly that we really have no other option but negotiations.