Korea War – Round 2 part 2

800px-Warkorea_American_Soldiers "I don't think the NK forces are a piper tiger, but I believe they would have a very difficult time with a long, protracted fight. And they know it."


IMHO I think you hit on a truth that's been slowly percolating among the US Army Korea specialists for the last five years. Now I'd be the last person to underestimate the capabilities of KPA (It's not that we'd expect so much regarding their sophistication or competence in terms of rapid adjustments during combined arms operations, but the sheer fighting will of an individual soldier seemed pretty impressive to me at least in my experience. Every time there was a cordon operation due to infiltration it would usually end with the team getting away or committing group suicide.). However, two decades of famine no doubt must have impacted the underlying social infrastructure very deeply. As I had posted earlier, I was shocked by the sight of very short KPA personnel at the Joint Security Area. Now the detachments selected for posting here were usually 6 feet for South Koreans (which was rare in the 70s but they managed then. Nowadays it's not that di fficult) and 6'2" for the US personnel. I don't think there was one KPA guy over 5'5" among the ones I could closely observe. Obviously the children of the Rodong-dang nomenklatura probably had normal nutrition while growing up. However, they also wouldn't be the ones standing guard at the JSA either. As far as I could tell, they seemed well disciplined enough, but according to a friend who'd finished his last rotation in 2007 with UNC/CFC CJ3, the KPA's winter exercises were cut short. He'd guessed that their readiness is probably at its lowest level in twenty years of observing the peninsula.

Even back in the 1970s, the KPA generally understood that air interdiction would make daylight movement impossible for them in a general invasion. Now it was possible for them to adapt the People's Liberation Army's techniques in 1950 and move at night with mere items that they could carry on their backs. Of course with modern NVGs, that option isn't available anymore. It's very difficult to ascertain and update the KPA's doctrine and its operational and tactical implications. Simply we haven't seen them in a real fight (they did send advisors to other parts of the world but that means very little obviously) and while we have made enormous efforts to ascertain their training exercises, like most intel out of the North, there just hasn't been enough according to most I've talked to over the years. Obviously parts of the KPA officer corps have studied at Frunze/Malinovskii and the PLA NDU and we could infer some closeness to Soviet/Russ ian and PLA influence. However, it's still a matter of educated guess on what to expect at the tactical and operational level. IMHO I just don't think they've gotten that far away from what we had assumed to be their affinity for the usual run of the Soviet operational doctrine during the Cold War. (e.g., operational maneuver groups, heavy reliance on massed arty, special forces infiltration to disrupt our rearm and refuel capabilities as well as our general sustainment of forces, etc) They know that the CFC forces would achieve air dominance almost instantaneously barring a catastrophic strategic intelligence failure. In the next 10 years, the ROKA will complete the bulk of its modernization program (and it's no secret that the ROK MOD is betting heavily on advanced robotics yielding fruitful results in their own little "revolution in military affairs" over the long horizon. So at some point in the near future, the conventional invasion will no longer be an option for them.

Now I've read a lot of nonsense in the current MSM regarding the KPA's quantitative superiority in arty, tanks, MRBMs etc etc. I just don't think that matters much as long as the forward deployed ROKA units can buy enough time (assuming we have reasonable strategic warning) for reserves (I mean ROK V, VI, VII Corps and US 2ID) to be committed. If Kim decides to roll the dice at his deathbed and somehow the KPA were to come down, I seriously doubt they'd be able to achieve a breakthrough unless there is a major SNAFU (e.g., Shortly after Park Chunghee was assassinated, Chun Doo Hwan staged a military coup by asking Roh Tae Woo to bring down his 9th ROK Division which had literally left a gap in the ROK I Corps AO. And we didn't know what was going on until it after Chung Sung Hwa was arrested.). Even though some uninformed observers focus on the supposed "operational control" of ROK forces by the UNC/CFC/USFK commanding general, the reali ty is that we never had it in almost 50 years except in limited circumstances. Even during Paul Bunyan, Gen. Stilwell had to consult with Park personally on every decision including the selection of ROKA special forces people who were part of the TF Vierra. We would've had opcon IF the North came down, but during peacetime it's only accorded during field exercises like Team Spirit. And those were scripted by CFC and half of them were ROKA personnel. The South Korean left as usual blamed Gen. Wickham for the deployment of ROKA units during the Kwangju rebellion, but that's just a typical anti-American nonsense we've seen for almost sixty years. He wasn't even informed of the movement orders of the ROK special forces brigades (and predictably the Daegu generals selected units who were mostly from Kyongsang province. That would be akin to sending an Alabama National Guard unit to quell an uprising in Detroit). As I had posted earlier, the ROKA high co mmand will have a greater input on operational planning as now it's going to be almost all their people who will be forward deployed. Our concern for decades was the question of defense in depth in order for the 2ID and the ROKA to buy time for the reinforcements to arrive from Okinawa, Hawaii and CONUS.

I can't assess much beyond my own experience but let me just say that back in the 1970s when the North was much closer to us in qualitiatve terms (both in terms of hardware and trained personnel) I thought we could buy at least a week with very hard fights along phased defensive lines along the MSR 1. When the PLA had come down in 1950, the ROKA (esp. the 1st Division under Paik) held them for 3 days despite the North achieving complete strategic surprise as well as overwhelming superiority in firepower and mostly crucially in armor. Those young South Korean men tried to stop T-34s with Molotov cocktails and satchel charges as human Panzerfausts. If there's one thing we know from 1991 (73 Easting) and in 2003 (The 3ID's Thunder Run into Baghdad), it's that old Soviet hardware in the hands of hardened combat veterans (Tawalkana in 1991) isn't a match for a better trained US heavy force no matter the numerical imbalance at tactical level. The final qu estion though is how will a ROKA kid perform under fire. Among my Korean friends who have boys who are nearing military service age, some have openly questioned whether they are tough enough. I suspect that's just part of growing old as to old farts like us, the young people always seem inadequate. Provided the ROKA junior officers and field grades develop and maintain enough unit cohesion (it's a bit more tricky with conscription obviously), I think they'll do fine if fighting erupts. As George C. Scott put it so eloquently in _Patton_, "When you put your hand into a bunch of goo that a moment before was your best friend's face, you'll know what to do." The flip side question remains unanswered, but I suspect overwhelming casualty rates might break the will of the North Korean soldier a lot sooner now than I would have expected back in the 1970s. (IMHO if the PLA masses its armored units, they will die "by the bushel." If there 's one thing the Army and the USAF know how to do is to fight AirLand style battle.)

Neil Richardson

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36 Responses to Korea War – Round 2 part 2

  1. curious says:

    Ending the Korean war is fairly easy.
    1. Release Bush administration memo that snuff the “sunshine policy”.
    2. Release the name list of National Inteligence Service who manipulate domestic politics and media. (specially all operations with cia)
    That will pretty much create cascade of younger voters total rejection of status quo politics. (they already are sick of the game, and suspicious that there is somthing more sustaining the conflict than meets the eyes. And they are right.) The old guards will be voted out of office pronto. Probably jump off tall building or shot death in public square. Then new crew will turbo charged sunshine policy, kick US out of Korea, and unified Korea within a decade.
    Or we can wait until the 60’s generation drop dead. Japan re-establish its military force to counter China, the korean freaks out and grab their army back and we go bankrupt playing the pacific game. (my most probable scenario)
    ideally, there should be China-Russia-US conference to end the Korean peninsula conflict. Leave the two koreas alone to solve their own destiny peacefully. They are more than capable doing it when they want to. (Hey, they protest on the street more than enough.)
    But that’s too much common sense and straight forward, not with US-China(taiwan), US-Russia(the game), US-Japan(sad co-dependence), military gears being sold to all parties involved. Just another day in paradise.
    Next up, useless UN declaration, more military gear being parked around. shoot a couple of missiles, more headlines, spend $hundred of millions, …
    spread the misery around baby. Just another day in paradise.

  2. curious says:

    oh btw,
    corruption and money politics all around. (Where did the rev. Moon go anyway?)
    The KCIA is known to have raised funds through extortion and stock market manipulation, which were in turn used to bribe and cajole companies, individuals, and even foreign governments, as did happen during the Koreagate scandal on Capitol Hill in 1976. Domestically, the KCIA made itself the philanthropical arm of the government by being an avid supporter of the arts, promoter of tourism, and purveyor of national culture. Investigations by Congressman Donald M. Fraser found the KCIA to have funneled bribes and favors through Korean businessman Tongsun Park in an attempt to gain favor and influence in Washington, D.C.; some 115 Members of Congress were implicated in what became known as the Koreagate scandal.[1]

  3. par4 says:

    I’ve got a question. What’s the status of So.Korean and Chinese relations?

  4. William R. Cumming says:

    Found the post informative but comments seem somewhat unrelated. According to friends with extensive Korean contacts, some with North, extensive Chinese presence in both Koreas with more so in S. Korea in significant numbers. These help tie S.Korea to needs economically of China and would like to see figures on exports to China and imports from China with respect to both Koreas and Japan. Personally I expect US treaty arrangements to be modified unilaterally by S.Korea and Japan when trade relationships outweigh military necessity. Neither Japan nor S. Korea seem particularly concerned over China but both seemed very concerned with probably good cause with N.Korean posture. Hey both Japan and S.Korea know more about N.Korea than we do so why do we see so little written as to their economic and political views as to the North. Maybe just me but US is being outthought by all four of these nation-states. WE have no real strategy or influence except as military ally to two of the nation-states. Is that connection still the factor that predominates the entirely of the 4 nation-state relations. Doubtful.

  5. curious says:

    I’ve got a question. What’s the status of So.Korean and Chinese relations?
    Posted by: par4 | 30 May 2009 at 05:21 PM
    Free Trade Agreement talk, $200B annual bilateral trade by 2012. Seems to stuck on slow train, Korea is antsy, China wants it bad. Korea-Asean FTA is signed. Korea-EU FTA is accelerated.
    Regional trading among China, Japan and South Korea accounts for about 55% of total trade of these three countries. Multi-lateral and bi-lateral mechanisms for economic cooperation are also increasing. Whether the three will reach a free trade agreement between them is drawing rapt attention from both business and academic circles.
    note on Korea unification. (boring analysis, but better than most.)
    A further factor in determining which alliance Seoul may pursue will be the attitude
    and perceptions of the unified Korean government and public toward China and the
    United States. Pan-Korean feelings continue to resurface and grow in South Korea. These
    feelings rekindle myths of national victimization against Korea,57 that “the North should
    no longer be seen as an enemy . . . but as a brother to be embraced and helped,”58 and are
    underlined by a pervasive anti-Japanese sentiment.59 As pan-Korean feelings intensify,
    so also does what has been termed anti-Great Powerism,60 primarily manifested as anti-
    Americanism. Increasingly, especially since the U.S. shift to the right post-September 11,
    2001 (9/11), South Koreans perceive the United States not as the guarantor of peace but
    rather as a greater threat to Korean security than the DPRK.61 This is especially the case
    with younger Koreans who, in the words of a former U.S. Ambassador to Seoul, “shared
    a lot of qualms . . . about alleged U.S. unilateralism in the world.”62 While support for
    America declines in South Korea, China’s stocks are on the rise, with the majority of Koreans seeing Beijing in a more favorable light than the United States.63 The reasons for
    this proclivity appear threefold: Chinese economic success, increased Chinese political
    influence, and China’s historical influence on the peninsula

  6. curious says:

    Game cat and mouse begin. The minute tear gas canister is out, that guy is a goner.
    South Korean police fought with anti-government protesters overnight to break up a rally for former President Roh Moo-hyun, whose suicide a week ago has triggered growing criticism of his successor.
    The turnout at the rally late on Saturday, a day after Roh’s funeral, was smaller than expected. It had been closely watched in case a massive outpouring of grief for Roh would translate into large street protests against President Lee Myung-bak.
    Roh killed himself after becoming embroiled in a corruption scandal. Many South Koreans blame Lee’s government for hounding the former leader with the graft probe.

  7. Neil Richardson says:

    Well like most things dealing with the peninsula, it’s complicated. After nordpolitik under Roh Tae-Woo, China is South Korea’s largest trading partner today. However in terms of security issues, South Korea still hosts 29000 American troops which affords the US power projection capabilities on the mainland at least theoretically. Since 1950 the bottom line is that the DPRK has been a buffer state for China. And for a mere pittance (perhaps about USD 4 or 5 billion per year), they are at least helping to prop up a regime that is still friendly despite its unpredictability. Until the 1990s, the Chinese political objectives and the South Korean objectives were opposed regarding a potential reunification. Simply speaking, the PRC didn’t want a unified peninsula that leaned heavily toward the US. Today, there seems to be a consensus in South Korea that a rapid reunification would be a national disaster. (They seemed to have accepted certain lessons of the German reunification. And the disparity between the DPRK and ROK economies is far greater than the one between the GDR and FRG in 1990.) However, if a unified Korea were to pursue a neutral course, I don’t necessarily believe the PRC leadership would be opposed to an eventual reunification (hopefully a peaceful one at that). However, the last thing anyone wants (and that includes the US, Japan, Russia and of course South Korea) is a sudden collapse of the North Korean state which probably would be a humanitarian disaster. That is why I just don’t think China (or Russia for that matter) would agree to severe sanctions. The time horizons differ for the US and the PRC IMHO. We obviously are concerned mostly with a potential sale of nuclear technology by the DPRK. The Chinese are more concerned about a gradual reforms within the North Korean state. They’ve openly said it would take anywhere from 20 to 100 years. They’ve rightfully pointed to their own reforms under Deng as an example, but obviously Kim isn’t buying it entirely. And finally there’s always the wildcard of Japan as there seems to be more troubling signs pointing toward an eventual remilitarization. That could alter the PRC’s strategic calculus very rapidly IMHO.
    Some years ago Gregory Henderson who was a very wise Korea hand aptly called the peninsula “the vortex of politics.” There is a Korean proverb that goes something like: “When whales fight, the shrimp’s back is broken.” To the misfortunes of the Korean people they occupy a very valuable piece of real estate where there are many whales. And they are the shrimps.

  8. Kieran says:

    Many thanks. It sounds like a major invasion bid by the North would be suicidal.
    However, what about the prospects for a Hezbollah 2006 type defensive campaign?

  9. curious says:

    However, the last thing anyone wants (and that includes the US, Japan, Russia and of course South Korea) is a sudden collapse of the North Korean state which probably would be a humanitarian disaster.
    Posted by: Neil Richardson | 31 May 2009 at 01:55 AM
    Where were you during Bush administration? His entire NK policy was “Let’s choke the NK harder to haste the collapse.” Rice even states that policy. (NK will collapse soon.) Dubya tried everything. Assassination attempt (that big train explosion) , numerous trade embargoes including pressuring China to stop oil/food supply, media campaign against NK, removing sunshine policy, regime change in south korea to rightwing friendly crew (that idiot myung-bak. 20% approval rating? Is he toast or what. ), etc.
    When the South Korean finally piece together the crap that we do, they will start rioting and bombing US army bases for real. And GNP party officials will be lined up in public square and shot dead for treason.
    My take: we’ve done enough damage to the two koreas. We pretend to know what we are doing, what’s the best for Korea, but in fact we are just dicking them around.
    If Israel is afraid Iran buying weapon from NK. Well, we have to ask how far we want to pay for this adventure to fuck people on their behalf. This one won’t last 2-3 years, but decades when people down there finally add things up.
    The north korean obviously will survive and adapt. In their own way, they do weapon trade, trying various form of low level market economy, engaging the sunshine policy, etc. The north korean understand the south korean politics better than anybody.
    The south korean demographic and political sophistication has reached a point where current US occupation political control will backlash in very bad way if maintained.
    China also sees that they don’t need to engage is military contest to maintain influence. Trade and economic brute force is enough to bend geopolitical gravity around them. (not to mention more profitable to them.) They also know US position in Asia is not sustainable. (energy cost, lack of cultural understanding, geographical distance, collapse of dollar value, and diminishing military lead.)
    Unless things change in 5-8 yrs. We will be seen as the villain in asia. At current economic growth rate, asia political dynamic will move in far faster pace than state department can digest. This is not peasants and villagers society as we encounter them in WW II. Korea is now ranked 16 largest economy in the world, China is second biggest in the world. Japan third. East asia economy in general will grow twice as fast as rest of the world in the foreseeable future.
    Being seen as the bad guy who mess things up isn’t the smartest move.
    Everybody there knows politics and soft power. Scheaming, dealing, manipulating, war/peace, etc. The empire game is very old in asia. We are only there because we won WWII. Nothing more. We won’t be able to keep up with the face pace and complicated asian geopolitical dynamic when the rivalry start moving in full speed.

  10. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I agree with your last comments – on the macro level.
    There is a lot of concern and frustration among many many people in South Korea that the current government is trying to bring back the dark days of dictatorship.
    There is also a lot of anger in South Korea against the ruling party due to Mr. Roh’s suicide.
    Watch for the student protests – that would be the harbinger of things to come.

  11. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    Purely anecdotal, as I once was close to marrying a Korean business woman who had moved to the States. But culturally, Koreans seem to have an affinity towards the Chinese. The reasons are obvious.
    Michael Breen wrote a book titled The Koreans — a work that Kirkus reviews described as a “splendid work of explication and analysis”. Highly recommended.
    Regardless and just my opinion, Koreans are very tough and hardworking people and in many ways, mysterious to a Westerner such as myself. But I am glad they are part of the American experience. To make the point: the Korean business woman and I once came across a group of Korean immigrants hiking along a stream in the mountains of North Georgia. We ended up sharing lunch with them on top a large rock next to the river. I later found out that they were part of a club that they called in Korean, “Love of North Georgia mountains”. So suddenly, I looked around and I had the same experience. In other words, they opened my eyes a bit and made me more American, as they appreciate what we take for granted. They can out American, Americans.
    Also, while we are at it, no one seems to remember that Korean Americans were innocent victims during the LA riots. Totally unjustified and totally ignored. Didn’t the US Attorney General just state that when it comes to race relations, we are a nation of cowards? Good place to start, perhaps.
    And again, speaking empirically, I found some Koreans as fiery as the Irish. To each his or her own, but if I were headed into a fight, I sure would like the Koreans next to me.

  12. curious says:

    Case and point.
    Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner arrived in Beijing with a pledge that the Obama administration will control its borrowing as he sought to reassure China its holdings of U.S. government debt are safe.
    “No one is going to be more concerned about future deficits than we are,” Geithner told reporters on the way to two days of meetings that start today in China’s capital.
    Geithner will meet with Premier Wen Jiabao, who in March called for the U.S. to “guarantee the safety of China’s assets.” China is the largest foreign holder of U.S. government debt, which so far this year has handed investors the worst loss since at least 1977 on forecasts for ballooning federal budget deficits.
    and wanna bet china will have the final say on north Korea conflict at the UN and global bond market? It’s amazing what an utter boneheaded the foreign policy makers are. It’s as if everybody is still partying like it’s 1960.
    It’s mind boggling.

  13. Neil Richardson says:

    “Many thanks. It sounds like a major invasion bid by the North would be suicidal.
    However, what about the prospects for a Hezbollah 2006 type defensive campaign?
    Posted by: Kieran | 31 May 2009 at 08:39 AM”
    Well, I tried to think aloud some thooughts on just one option namely the conventional invasion. Obviously the CFC has been continuously updating OPLAN 5027 (and Rumsfeld did initiate some additional planning on other contingencies, e.g., OPLAN 5029 etc), but I question whether this is the most relevant among many possible (if you will) scenarios. *IF* Kim Jong-Il or his successor (let’s say Kim Jong-Un for this consideration) wanted a Goetterdaemmerung, there’s just not much we can do other than killing perhaps millions of Koreans north and south of the DMZ. One aspect of this whole mess on the peninsula is whether the KPA would initiate the use fo chemical weapons. The old Soviet doctrine was to use them against vulnerable rear installations and airfields where they could disrupt the logistical optempo. If I were to look at the operational problem facing the KPA, it would have be considered very strongly. I realize the KPA hasn’t fought a signficant war in decades, but surely their professional officer corps must’ve seen the pictures of Highway 80 in Kuwait. Or at least remembered what their surviving predecessors must’ve told them about the UN tactical air interdiction in the summer of 1950.
    IMHO there are two ways (assuming they are able to achieve some measure of strategic surprise) they could try to at least mitigate the problem. First possibility is to use MRBMs to strike Osan. Second is the deployment of their considerable special operations capabilities. Depending on assessments, they possess anywhere between 90000 to 120000 in special operations forces. If their past record is any indication, they will be formidable opponents would could significantly disrupt our rear area operations *if* they can achieve some degree of strategic surprise. (Early air operations below Suwon, logistical trains from Busan, Pohang, Kunsan, etc etc) In the past we’d relied on ROK Second Field Army (SROKA) to first harden rear installations and then neutralize whatever remained of the KPA special operations units in the South. This is a significant unanswered question IMHO because if a general war erupts, I strongly suspect whatever regular ROKA units that would have been assigned to Second Operations Command probably will be ordered north to fill likely gaps along the eastern part of the DMZ (Here there are very few high speed avenues of approach, but as it’s evident in the area topography, light infantry units can infiltrate provided their logistical requirements aren’t too onerous. That probably means casualty rates among US civilians and even US Army support personnel could be significantly higher than what most American public have come to expect in recent decades IMHO. The ROKA homeland defense divisions probably are of very uneven quality and I wonder if they would be competent enough against sizable KPA special operations units all over the South operating simultaneously. In the past it took enormous efforts to cordon and cut off (often these attempts were unsuccessful) infiltration teams. And ROKA units had suffered disproportionate casualty rates in such cordon operations. If the KPA special ops units deploy in company size or perhaps even bigger, it would probably require first line ROKA divisions with combined arms support to neutralize them IMHO.
    The biggest mystery (at least to me if not the current US/ROK professionals) is the North’s tunnels. I would assume they have constructed a significant number of them at various points along the DMZ. Now when they were first discovered way back in the 1970s, the South Korean media was overpublicizing how the KPA could push through mechanized and infantry divisions. IIRC they found someone projecting one division every two or three hours thereby suggesting that the KPA could achieve a breakthrough. This is nonsense as anyone who’d ever seen a tank or an APC operate could tell you. Tunnels tend to collapse if you push through 44 ton MBTs for hours. Without logistical trains, Soviet-style tank divisions tend to die after a few days. However, I strongly believe these tunnels would be utilized to deploy their special operations brigades in significantly larger scale than what we’d seen in the past. I believe that highly trained and disciplined crack light infantry units (the KPA’s special operations brigades) could pass through every two hours. The North has sizable helicopter inventory, but they probably assume as we do that density of tactical AAA on both sides would make operations a lot more costly than it’s assumed during peacetime (Due to its topography most of the peninsula would require infantry units to try for vertical envelopment. Or at least both sides would try to occupy commanding terrain, e.g., numerous hilltops that would allow the other side to observe and adjust arty fire). North could try to deploy its special forces units via seaborne infiltration or even the old Antonov AN-2s (IIRC they still fly those kites). However, these options probably wouldn’t be sufficient enough to tie up and slow down US/ROK rear operations enough. That is why I strongly suspect they would use the tunnels.
    As I mentioned before two decades of famine must’ve had some impact on the underlying social structure of the DPRK. However, I have to assume that those selected for special operations brigades are tough, reliable and most important disciplined enough. The reason why I bring this up is that when you’ve been starving as long as you’ve been alive (I’d include that for the majority of the NK population), how would a KPA kid react when he walks through a South Korean supermarket? Now every army loots (even ours), but the measure of discipline allows it to function sufficiently enough to operate with effectiveness. Armies have lived off the land for a thousand years including the Grand Army of Napoleon, but I seriously wonder if summary executions by political commissars would be enough to enforce some measure of discipline among line units of the KPA. That is why I am more likely to expect their heavy reliance on special operations capabilities rather than bet on conventional forces.
    As for a 2006 Hezbullah styled defensive campaign, yes I believe it is a strong possibility *if* the ROKA and US forces have absorbed the initial blow and the ROK/US political leadership decide to counterattack north of DMZ (haven’t we seen this play in 1950?). I realize I could be insulting scores of US Marines but I honestly don’t think the US would risk potentially heavy casualties in an amphib operation on either coasts. The North Koreans might be stubborn and tenacious but nobody ever called them stupid and I have to assume they would harden suitable landing sites. It’s one thing to expect ROKA draftees to fight hard in defensive operations but quite another IMHO to expect them to be as proficient at combined arms operations going north (I suppose they could be decent at local counterattacks but I strongly doubt a two year draftee would be good enough to be efficient at continuous mounted and dismounted engagements required in a sustained offensive operations. Now combat is a harsh selector of those who tend to be proficient – or at least lucky – but I think it would be too much for the ROKA to mount a sustainable offensive operations in a rapidly changing environment. As those who had ever traveled to Panmunjom could attest, we have hardened defensive strongpoints all along various high speed avenues of approach (I’m sure someone could pull up a picture of concrete antitank obstacles that would be lowered via small explosives). We no longer deploy as much minefields as we used to but I have to expect that the North would have no restraint whatsoever if they expect a counteroffensive. As others here could attest, minefields can’t stop a sustained offensive (assuming the combat engineers in the US Army maintain their usual proficiency) but against a ROKA division that hasn’t had any combat experience (remember the vast majority of combat arms personnel in the USA and USMC are seasoned combat veterans now), it’s very possible that minefields would be used to channel advancing columns into fire sacks, etc. Besides, it’s one thing to expect a KPA kid to falter while on the offensive after a significant mauling. However, given decades of racist anti-American propaganda, I expect him to fight a lot harder if he’s defending his mother and sisters. The Wehrmacht infantrymen weren’t too efficient or bold when they were on the offensive during the Battle of the Bulge. Yet they fought extremely hard against the Red Army while refusing to give an inch. I firmly believe it requires seasoned veterans to maintain sufficient momentum on offensive operations. Maybe I’m just optimistic but I think the Army and USMC unit are capable of offensive action. I’m not so certain about the ROKA counterparts because it’s been so long since we’ve seen them taking part in significant FTXs. It’s one thing to throw reserves to plug holes (heck the French army used taxis in 1914) piecemeal. It’s quite another challenge to plan, coordinate and rapidly adjust to changing situations in an offensive op.
    I’ll defer to those who’d served with ROK contingent in Vietnam, but my understanding is that while they were good soldiers their staff tended to be very cautious and overplanned out everything in advance. In my experience dating back some decades, I found their way of doing business to be similar to this description. Are the current junior and field grade officer corps in the ROKA capable of adjusting and adapting rapidly? I have no idea. I hate stereotyping ethnic groups as it’s dangerous, but at least based on my anecdotal evidence, I find Korean individuals to be practical and less bound by convention than say others among East Asian countries. However, the ROKA tradition is still one that dates back to the Imperial Japanese Army unfortunately IMHO. Discipline is obviously very important, but I wonder how the institutional army would adapt to the requirements of an offensive operations. The US Army preaches initiave and directive control in our doctrine, but even we have had problems of inflexible planning in spurts. If North Korea decides to play possum and “invites” the ROK and US forces to “invade”, I’d just stop (and it’s likely anyway as I assume both China and Russia would furiously try to negotiate a cease-fire) and refuse to advance north of DMZ. It’s just not worth the cost in blood IMHO.

  14. dilbert dogbert says:

    Just and idle thought: A reunified Korea would have nukes. How would that affect the relations between all the players? When will Japan think it needs nukes? That might be an interesting topic for a blog.
    Thanks again.

  15. curious says:

    the north korean statement. Gotta hand it to them, they know how to insult. This is almost as good as the Onion news.
    The world will soon find out how the army and people of the DPRK will stand up against the high-handed and get-it-alone approach of the UNSC in defending its dignity and sovereignty.
    The U.S. is keen on using a catchphrase “Carrot and stick.”
    It would be better for the “Donkey” of the U.S. Democratic Party to lick the carrot.

  16. Cold War Zoomie says:

    “Besides, it’s one thing to expect a KPA kid to falter while on the offensive after a significant mauling. However, given decades of racist anti-American propaganda, I expect him to fight a lot harder if he’s defending his mother and sisters.”
    Absolutely. I used the Russian Army collapse of 1917 as an example of a force losing the will to fight due to problems at home. But we all know what happened when Hitler invaded Soviet Russia a few decades later.
    Of course, a more modern example of an army collapsing even while it’s defending the homeland is Iraq. Every situation is a little different.
    I agree, though – we should not invade NK unless it’s *absolutely necessary.* Determining when that criterion is met, however, is the tricky part.

  17. Kieran says:

    Thanks again!
    Just to draw out the HA 2006 parallels.
    What HA accomplished, first of all, was effectively to force Israel to go in on the ground. As long as they could keep up rocket fire deep into Israel, they paralyzed the homefront. Israel would much rather have stood off and stuck to aerial bombardment, but their inability to suppress rocket fire from the air generated heavy pressure for a ground advance.
    One major question is whether it is much easier to suppress the fire of long-range rockets (with ranges of hundreds of km) than short range katyushas and the like (due to size, difficulty of concealment, complexity of launching). The Israelis certainly claim so (asserting, somewhat dubiously in my book, to have basically wiped out HA’s long-range arsenal in the opening minutes of the conflict.)
    So I am wondering whether the best scenario for NK would be to forget about going on the offensive, create pressure with rocket, artillery, and missile fire, then (like HA) go hedgehog and leave the decision to the enemy whether to fold or attempt a bloody ground push.

  18. curious says:

    Posted by: Neil Richardson | 31 May 2009 at 04:56 PM
    Maybe somebody should update that OPLAN again, since it simply doesn’t consider the most obvious bit.
    small tunnel, one guy pushing a nuke and detonate it right under big base.
    small midget submarine, detonate it in PUSAN, 20-30 Megaton, ought to be enough.
    float a small nuke down the river, detonate it. create mass panic.
    …etc. If the Korean can make the nuke small enough to be carried in a small truck, then they can simply unload it on the beach and car bomb any spot on south Korea.
    If they can have short range missile nuke, then they can load it in various non conventional aircraft to start bombing the south.

  19. Neil Richardson says:

    “One major question is whether it is much easier to suppress the fire of long-range rockets (with ranges of hundreds of km) than short range katyushas and the like (due to size, difficulty of concealment, complexity of launching). The Israelis certainly claim so (asserting, somewhat dubiously in my book, to have basically wiped out HA’s long-range arsenal in the opening minutes of the conflict.)
    So I am wondering whether the best scenario for NK would be to forget about going on the offensive, create pressure with rocket, artillery, and missile fire, then (like HA) go hedgehog and leave the decision to the enemy whether to fold or attempt a bloody ground push.”
    Let me put a caveat on my assessments as my last direct knowledge regarding the KPA capabilities is 20 years old. My current “knowledge” is based on contacts with those who had stayed in the service and have rotated in ROK since as well as open source information. Since the KPA hasn’t been able to modernize quickly enough due to their economic shortcomings, I am assuming they are trying to make do with their legacy hardware. First of all, they have a very sizable inventory of self propelled artillery . And their towed pieces are dug in on the reverse slope (hardened tunnels dug into sides. Back in 1976, we grabbed an NK agent who was doing landscape work at Camp Casey. A very observant NCO noticed that he was walking to and from one spot to another on a direct line. We handed him over to the ROK DSC and he supposedly was marking distances to potential targets probably in order to preregister artillery (I’d assumed that they probably also would have someone who’d be able to make corrections if they could get through the jamming in the early minutes).
    I’ve been told that the KPA has improved their fire coordination since the mid 1990s. That makes sense as they probably have improved commo and some integration with GPS (I am assuming the USFK can neutralize this in short order). Now there is a question that has persisted ever since the KPA increased their artillery inventory drastically (and that includes their Artillery Guidance Bureau) in the late 1980s. When it was assumed that the North did have the ability conduct a general invasion back then (when they had presumably greater resources in terms of fuel for example) we had assumed that their target priorities would be installations (e.g., TDC, Uijongbu). We expected them to try to punch through the Munsan corridor very rapidly before the 2ID and ROK I Corps could react cohesively. Now if we assume that a conventional invasion isn’t their first option, then our ability to neutralize them is limited to how good our RSTA capabilities are. I’ll defer to those who had more recent service experience but it appears to me that General Casey might have a little concern regarding readiness to coordinate counterbattery missions and shortening the kill chain of the USAF. This is what he said last week:
    Casey declined to say how fast the Army could mobilize to meet a threat from North Korea, but he stressed the Army is “combat seasoned” and can move quickly.
    “The mechanical skills of artillery gunnery and tank gunnery come back very, very quickly,” he said. “The harder part is the integration — that really brigade level and above of massing fires and effects in a very constricted period of time as opposed to what you do in a counterinsurgency over a much longer extended period of time.”
    Obviously when he’s talking about brigade and up, he’s talking about counterbattery capabilities. I have all the confidence in our arty people, but it’s probably much harder to kill the KPA arty if they are firing at much lower rate in order to shoot and scoot much faster. If they had to focus on fire support for advancing units they’d take on added risk of exposure (therefore they’d be much easier to neutralize as our counterbattery capabilities used to be quite good). However if our RSTA capabilities are good enough (or let’s say we have enough strategic warning to get our forces ready as Gen. Casey wondered aloud), time is on our side IF we wanted to eliminate their long range arty as well as MRBMs.
    However, what is lost in the current discussion though is the most basic implication of a potential crisis. We are thinking mostly in conventional terms (although I’m certain the question of CWs is paramount in the US planners’ mind). The bottom line is that this is still a potential nuclear crisis. That means this could be a very limited conflict of signalling by each side. Even if the KPA drops a barrage down on Uijongbu, we might have to limit our responses (Knock out a corps HQ in Kaesong for example). And this is especially true if we decide to start boarding NK ships because they will respond and escalate but might not initiate a general invasion. And looking from the North’s point of view, remember the Cold War nuclear doctrines? Well, our targeting sets were crudely divided into “countervalue” (cities) and “counterforce” (ICBMs, C3I, political leadership – although we thought this was countervalue against the Soviets). If the KPA throws a massive salvo at Seoul, they are going after countervalue targets and all bets are off in terms of US/ROK response (we probably would bomb Pyongyang back to the stone age). That’s why I suspect a barrage against Seoul is one of the last options before a nuclear use. The problem that emerges from this is the same dilemma facing the US in a potential nuclear exchange against the Soviet Union if we took the counterforce options. *If* we start taking out their long range artillery sequentially (I assume unless we’re lucky this will take a little time), then the NK leadership faces a “use-em-or-lose-em” dilemma unless their nuclear capability is far more substantial than is generally assumed.
    Of course from the ROK/USFK point of view, I’m sure there will be pressure to take these out early. It’s the same pressure to preempt against Soviet ICBMs and bombers that was present during the Cold War regarding a potential nuclear war. (e.g.. LeMay and SAC)
    As for a comparison to the 2006 campaign, I’m not as familiar with it as Col.Lang and others here are. However, I would suspect that the KPA would be much more proficient at positional defense than HA. The terrain north of Kaesong poses a problem for a heavy force. (I am not 100% certain, but I wouldn’t be surprised if their roadnets could pose a challenge for M1A2s – very high psi – given their poor infrastructure.) Now as I understand it (someone correct me if I’m wrong), the IDF’s poor performance according to Stephen Biddle was due to terrible combined arms integration as well as breakdown in logistics. I do remember reading that Barak (after he took over the defense portfolio under Olmert) openly lamented the fact that reserve tank crews had fired two rounds over one year. (I guess they were hardly Force Zvika) Again my question would be how will first line ROKA divisions perform in terms of combined arms techniques. When Dave Perkins led the Spartan Brigade into the heart of Baghdad for the second day in a row back in 2003, they timed bursts on top of highway overhangs 30 seconds prior to the passage of lead platoons (in case the Iraqis would fire from these positions). And the dismounts performed magnificently as they defended several junctions against repeated counterattacks during a rearm and refuel. Obviously the ROKA and the US forces would enjoy overwhelming CAS but that’s not enough against heavily defended strongpoints that will have some indirect fire support. I have confidence in US forces but IMHO the jury is still out on the ROKA counterparts.

  20. Charles I says:

    Neil, I repeat because it made such a strong impression on me though I can’t recall the text but I do recall the very detailed and worrisome picture it painted of the DPRK’s arty potential on Seoul. And, of course, before the tactical withdrawal from the border, on US forces. Thousands upon thousands of big tubes, well dug in, degrees of hardening, bunkered ammo, spare tubes.
    The kicker was the amount of HE that could be fired at Seoul in the first thirty minutes, best case ROK/US response time, no matter what ultimate anti-arty success. A leveling amount, as you note, likely all of it perfectly pre-registered, relatively accurate.
    I mean, all the little ripostes and back and forths of various escalating degrees would be moot if a city leveling salvo is the tripwire response to ground war. Whatever the state of the RKA, a measured response would not be likely. Might be more leeway for some nail-biting naval confrontations/provocations
    However, I found an interview with Chines Political scientist Sun Zhe of the Institute for International Studies at Beijing’s Tsinghua University at Spiegel online of interest, at
    It paints the matter as a calculated chess move in the DPRK’s physcological/political legitamcy. It needs attention amidst a host of other international crises.
    It notes the difficult position China is in because “If it goes along with international sanctions, it gives the impression that it is serving as the handmaid to American foreign policy. It won’t let that happen under any circumstance.” Zhe states “More than anything, Beijing wants to prevent Japan from using the situation in North Korea as an excuse for becoming a nuclear power itself.”
    He counsels more vigorous Sino/US diplomacy aimed at restoring the 6 party track, including increased pressure from China on DPRK, with the no-handmaid caveat at work.
    It doesn’t sound as though Prof. Zhe foresees a war, nor that China could allow one to occur if at all avoidable, in fear of Japanese proliferation.
    What kind of anti-arty response could one reasonably anticipate within thirty minutes of an all out barrage on Seoul is the question I’m left with. How many tubes of what size and battle survival rate would it take to raze Seoul in half an hour? Any guesses?
    I agree with the Professor, though, its all about attention, legitimacy and security. Interesting to see what happens with sanctions at sea, lots of potential sparks there.

  21. curious says:

    gah.. The situation in Korea has changed. The uranium nuke test is only a warning of things to come. that, we better seek long term solution because current arrangment is highly unstable. Things aren’t what they used to.
    It used to be that. We are the good guy, over the DMZ line are the bad guys. Shoot them all. yayy…woo hoo. USA USA. yeah baby.
    But now:
    1. we are about to enter tactical nuclear phase. It is a complete nonsense that anybody can predict how a relatively portable device will be used. (People like to have this fantasy, that it will be missile only. and missile defense will solve everything.) But North and South korea are at spitting distance with very similar culture and history of people traveling in and out. plus NK will sooner or later develop small plutonium device. All those operation plan is for conventional invasion. While the actual game has moved to nuke confidence game. (I really think NK strategy to take over the south changes over time. from direct military invasion to creating situation that is advantagous to them)
    2. Global economic climate and money movement is different now. Any stupid knee jerk stuff that we used to be able to pull will cause serious permanent damage.
    On top of long term US debt and stability of dollar, the east asia is major global trade hotspot. Any damage to trade rout (naval battle in Pusan/north china sea) WILL have major market effect on Korea’s economy. (rank 16th in the world)
    And then there is foreign exchange reserve and national interest of China ($1T), Japan ($.9T), Korea ($.2T). That means we simply cannot ignore any of these player wish without them truly fscks the dollar and crash the economy. (Yes folks, THEY HAVE the big economic gun, they own our credit cards.)
    So, the complex historical dynamic of China-Korea-Japan enters the picture. The tug of war between China and Japan matter. They flush $200B of bond, we are dead. We will gasp for air. Korean pension fund flushing $40B of treasury will matter. It will move the exchange value by few points. Iran, Syria, Israel entering the picture will drive oil price up several notches.
    3. Current Korea’s president is unpopular rightwing idiot with low number. He won’t be able to hold things together when things are hairy. (eg. long hostage situation, major street riot, currency stability, convincing people to swallow difficult international bargain, going along with difficult US policy, moving troops, etc.) READ korean history and their president. (Their secret police, political dynamics, etc.)
    4. NK is part of neocon target. They really want to snuff NK, because they supply weapons to Syria and Iran. They will cook up a scheme one way or another to crush NK. On top of that Israel needs a major distraction to take away US focus from 2 states solution. War in korean peninsula would be a nice distraction. Making sure NK detain a ship isn’t terribly complicated, because the complicated and vague protocol of NK-US command vs. intel.
    One small highly manufacturable event that can cascade to global economic breakdown. We are not the guarantor of peace anymore. We are part of the cabaret of idiots.
    There is no military solution against tactical nuke in korean peninsula short of blanketing the entire territory with sensors and turning it into a giant state security regime. Current arrangement will lead to massive global instability, the only way out is to start talk permanent peaceful solution.
    While both factors, a shift to riskier assets and worries about a tsunami-like incoming tide of Treasuries, bizarrely, are in play, from what I can tell, the second, the fear of the growing Treasury calendar, is the big driver. Look, the Chinese have done everything but put up a billboard in Time Square to let the US know that it is not happy about US fiscal deficits (really, it ought to be, they need the economy to be something other than prostrate) and has moved aggressively to the short end of the yield curve.
    So we have two possibilities. Either the Fed is as completely clueless as this story suggests it is, or it is coming to realize that it cannot, like the Wizard of Oz, manage all the variables it is trying to control and tune things as it would like. Doug Noland offers a similar line of thought (hat tip Andrew U):
    The notion that there is a system price level easily manipulated by our monetary authorities to produce a desired response is an urban myth. During the 2000-2004 reflation, I would often note that “liquidity loves inflation.” The salient point was that the Fed could indeed create/inflate system liquidity. It was, however, quite another story when it came to directing stimulus to a particular liquidity-challenged sector. Almost inherently it would flow instead to where liquidity – and resulting inflationary biases – were already prevalent.

  22. Eric Dönges says:

    since no country is safe against small nuclear weapons smuggled onto their territory, such an act would unite the entire world against the perpetrator. Forget about trying to shift the blame – if a nuclear device explodes on South Korean territory, there is really only going to be one suspect – North Korea, which would soon cease to exist.

  23. Neil Richardson says:

    “What kind of anti-arty response could one reasonably anticipate within thirty minutes of an all out barrage on Seoul is the question I’m left with. How many tubes of what size and battle survival rate would it take to raze Seoul in half an hour? Any guesses?”
    It really depends. I realize this is not going to be a satisfactory answer but I’ll try to see if I can at least point out some possibilities that I’m aware of given limited knowledge. Still my caveat applies as there could be some technical “solutions” that I do not know firsthand.
    First, there’s a wide range of numbers regarding the KPA artillery inventory (I’m only going to focus on tube and MRLs because I expect them to hold back MRBMs). The common number in the thrown around in the mainstream media is 13000-14000 but that includes medium towed and SP pieces (122mm). I’ve read 10000 as capable of reaching Seoul but that’s way too high. Their 130mm systems don’t have that sort of range or even 152mm systems for that matter unless they can push back the ROKA lines by at least 15miles. And if they move they are going to be neutralized very quickly. My guess (and IIRC Joe Bermudez suspects the same) is that Koksans (their 170mm SP) and their 240mm MRLs are the only ones that could reach Seoul from forward deployed positions as well as hardened artillery sites (HARTS). The KPA possesses anywhere between 1000 to around 1100 of these according open source information. As it was the case in 1976-1980 as well as 1988-1990, the biggest operational problem the Eight Army and the ROKA had faced was that the North problaby could bring to bear about 8000 pieces all along the DMZ and achieve rates of fire at about 300,000 to 400,000 rounds per hour at the outset against our forward positions(remember this assumes no counterbattery responses). No matter which way we had cut it in those years, *IF* the North were somehow able to achieve a strategic surprise and initiated an invasion, it was going to be a very bad week. Obviously we have a series of prepared defensive lines and we would need a little lead time (in order to do the mundane but very necessary things like placing supply dumps along various points because the ammo consumption would be extraordinarily high as it would be a very target rich environment). Now as I understand it, the 7th Air Force figured then they’d need to keep up at about 3000 sorties per day to go after the KPA artillery. And obviously both the US and ROK counterbattery missions would be given very high priority after tactical fire support. I don’t know what the current assessment is but the assumption then was that if we had some lead time in warning and at least be able to muster without significant loss out of places like Casey, we were expecting around 10% loss prior to direct engagement.
    Now with their 1000-1100 long range arty pieces, I suppose theoretically they could try to maximize damage by trying to TOT a massive fire mission (I assume most Seoul residents would try to leave the city early). I’m just skeptical that this would happen early though. First, the KPA general staff would want to preserve some of these for counterbattery missions unless they don’t mind our long range systems like MLRS to just unload continuously with impunity. Second, as I stated above once they decide to go after “countervalue” targets (i.e., population center), then the conflict spirals out real fast. As a long time peninsula observer, I have some problems with mainstream perception of the North Korean leadership. There’s no doubt in my mind that Kims are monsters like Stalin or Hitler. Yet by attributing irrationality (let’s face it, they’ve been bizarre at times), we are assuming that they’ll just suddenly commit suicide just to spite South Korea, the US, Japan, etc. I just don’t think that’s the case. To me this is a bit like a person standing on the Golden Gate Bridge screaming to tourists that he’s going to jump. Chances are he’s not going to do it. If somehow there’s an order to strike Seoul with long range arty (or chemical strike), it might happen due to some “normal accident” during hostilities. However, unless we can credibly threaten Kim’s regime physically (and how are we going to do that short of a sustained counteroffensive accompanied by something like an extensive air campaign to achieve what John Warden called “strategic paralysis”?), he won’t expend one of his three options against countervalue targeting (the others are chemical weapons and obviously nuclear option) that early out of the blue.
    As far as the rates of fire for these long range pieces, if they fire all at once (doubtful as I’m sure they are going to keep some in reserve), they could unload 5000 rounds for the first minute (MRLs would fire its salvo of 12 or 22 and would have to reload. Koksan’s could fire one round per 5minutes but they would have to scoot or die) assuming all goes according to plan. After the first minute, they are subject to counterbattery and air strikes. I don’t know the current status of Theater Precision Strike Operation, but it was rumored that its capabilities were substantial. But I’ll defer to those with direct knowledge on this.
    Finally, as far as the 6 party talks are concerned, well there’s a quick way to solve this if the United States were to give the North a guarantee that we would not seek a regime change (something similar to JFK’s guarantee on Cuba after the Missile Crisis). However we’d want a guarantee that the DPRK wouldn’t sell nuclear and CBW technology to terrorist groups. In order to enforce such an agreement, we would need to establish the credibility that it would be a casus belli. I just don’t see how we could do that given their nuclear option. Finally, from the DPRK’s point of view, it’s common knowledge that the US shared nuclear technology with Britain, France. The Soviets shared it with the PRC. The French did the same with Israel and so on. This presents a problem at least in negotiations. While the North might agree to a transfer regime that excludes non-governmental actors, they might balk at selling to states aspiring to proliferate.

  24. curious says:

    No country as small and psychotic as north korea ever has nuclear weapon. This is new.
    Out of 9 nuclear power. 5 of them are big countries (russia, china, et al). 2 of them are major allies (UK, France). (as intersting note: Half of them (4) are non NPT. India, Pakistan, Israel, NK. NPT is a joke)
    We know how everybody thinks. (UK, France, Russia, china, france, india, pakistan, Israel) Admitedly, We have difficulty understanding Israel and they create major geopolitical headache (occupation, Syria/Iran/Iraq, neocon).
    But we completely don’t understand North Korea.
    MAD only work when both side are afraid to be blown off to bits and both can show capability to do it.
    North Korea is much more complicated than that. The conflict involves South Korea. They don’t have nuke, nor have a say about US nuclear launch. (do we even have nuclear umbrella agreement with SK?)
    We don’t live there, we can’t feel how the Korean regard about all these. We just assume we know. In away, we are as psychotic as the North Korean. (but at least the North korean has a skin on this game. We are not terribly worry about NK nuke yet except the front line troops. This in comparison to Soviet Nuke in the 60’s)
    Second. North Korean social structure is pure stalinist. Highly secretive and unpredictable. We can’t read them. And they think they are way clever. So, it is not unimaginable for them to come up with novel use of tactical nuke. (eg. Why don’t we blow up 60% of South Korea, and 100% of government structure. And take over everything with whatever we have left after nuclear war. Expect US nuke retaliation, hold the pain, and try to control the ensuing chaos afterward.)
    Even US nuclear power cannot pin-point/destroy every sing one of Kim-Jong Il hide out and bunker. So what if we turn 60-70% of north Korea into radioactive ash? Mathematically, he will have nearly 80%+ survival rate while all of what makes south korea are gone. The assumption that NK will behave rationally and afraid to lose their country is not very valid. Because we really don’t understand what is it that they are afraid to lose except the survival of regime leadership.
    And this is a scheme for a dozen or so uranium bombs. If NK has 200+ plutonium warhead like Israel. He can bring down anybody. The strategic option is even wider.
    So in a sense, this nuclear conflict is between 2 irrational players. MAD assumptions don’t work. US doesn’t really have skin to loose in this game (not yet at least). While NK might not really afraid to lose their head.
    Conventional force is a stalemate.

  25. Neil Richardson says:

    “since no country is safe against small nuclear weapons smuggled onto their territory, such an act would unite the entire world against the perpetrator. Forget about trying to shift the blame – if a nuclear device explodes on South Korean territory, there is really only going to be one suspect – North Korea, which would soon cease to exist.”
    Exactly. Contrary to popular opinion, the NK leadership hasn’t gone berserker every time someone remotely threatened them. Now I’m as far removed from the neoconoservatives’ position (namely Bolton) on pushing for a regime change via strangulation leading to a collapse as any sane person could be. However, for those who aren’t familiar with the peninsula politics and history (including some here who might consider a James Bond movie as a reliable source of information), look at how the crisis resolved after Operation Paul Bunyan. And look at the chronology of events surround the 1993-94 crisis. The Clinton WH had ordered preparations for an Osirak-like strike against Yongbyon. Now depending on whom you believe we didn’t tell the South Koreans that we were contemplating a preemptive strike. In fact even if the NK was as shocked as the ROK leadership (remember this leaked shortly before the Carter mission), they should’ve figured out that we were upping the ante as Clinton had prepped the evacuation of civilians. The North has considerable humint capabilities in the South and if an American employer suddenly packs up, certainly the RDEI would see that as one of strategic warning indicators.
    I was young during Paul Bunyan and I expected the North to come down given what I knew then of the North Korean adversary’s behavior not only during the war, but also the DMZ skirmishes in the 1960s as well as USS Pueblo. Well, luckily for us, the North restrained when we were at DEFCON 2. (And I mean this certainly surprised them because we caught them flat-footed) And that was the first and the only time the North actually apologized officially for anything it had done. Same goes for 1993-94. Whether it was that the North had underestimated the US resolve early or not, none can say for sure. However, they sought a way out when it seemed we were prepping for a military option. IMHO all these Samson options aren’t that high in probability. When they had decided strategic advantage (1967-73) they chose not to do something stupid and invade. In 1976 the same applied because I’ll be honest with you. In those years I wasn’t as confident of our conventional capabilities as I am today as the Army was hollow.

  26. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    Somewhat as a successsful and heroic Korean lady (mentioned above, if interested) use to say to me from time to time, “You think you so smart American. You got double digit IQ. You think you know Korean feeling. You know nothing. Take look at this.”
    And she’s right, as I was later to discover. Also, evidence is overwhelming (speaking empirically and certainly corroborated via Michael Breen’s extraordinary work) that the concept of Kibun would play a crucial role in decision making, including going nuclear.
    Not sure I would apply traditional Western thinking to determine Korean intentions, but to each his or her own.

  27. Neil Richardson says:

    “Somewhat as a successsful and heroic Korean lady (mentioned above, if interested) use to say to me from time to time, “You think you so smart American. You got double digit IQ. You think you know Korean feeling. You know nothing. Take look at this.”
    And she’s right, as I was later to discover. Also, evidence is overwhelming (speaking empirically and certainly corroborated via Michael Breen’s extraordinary work) that the concept of Kibun would play a crucial role in decision making, including going nuclear.
    Not sure I would apply traditional Western thinking to determine Korean intentions, but to each his or her own.
    Posted by: Sidney O. Smith III | 03 June 2009 at 01:58 PM”
    Well “han” isn’t necessarily a cultural sentiment unique to the Koreans though. And I’m well aware of its avowed significance as I have kept up with their popular literature going back to 1972. Note that I say avowed because I’ve never seen it affect their decisionmaking when it comes to non-security matters such as FDI, trade negotiations, etc etc (And I’ve also heard plenty of Koreans say “Kibun i napado halsu up suh.”) And I would refrain from generalizing too much on nuclear matters, because we used to infer possible Soviet willingness to risk a nuclear war in the 1950s. Khrushchev was constantly threatening then while their ideologues were putting together favorable trends in their correlation of forces (thank goodness we had Ike who refused to take them seriously even when his own generals were urging a much harsher response). Well, we saw the limits of Soviet (nuclear) warfighting doctrine during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The thinking in the 1950s and early 60s was that Massive Retaliation was flawed and the US needed a more flexible nuclear warfighting doctrine (cf. the works of Kissinger, Wohlstetters, and to a lesser degree Thomas Schelling). That later led to PD-59 under Carter and a general move toward counterforce doctrine during the Reagan era because we were hedging on the possibility that the Soviets didn’t value its own people but its political leadership, C3I, state control apparatus, nuclear arsenal, etc. Well in the end that probably was a lot of wasted resources.
    As Robert Jervis would say nuclear deterrence is relatively simple because the potential cost is extraordinarily high. A lot of these theoretical mumbo jumbo that some at RAND and elsewhere came up with overlook the most primal aspect of a potential nuclear exchange with limited options. No one can ever be sure how it would all end. THAT is what makes nuclear deterrence relatively simple to achieve provided one can guarantee the survivability of a retaliatory force. I don’t agree with Kenneth Waltz and John Mearsheimer that nuclear proliferation is a stabilizing development for international politics, because I worry about “normal accident” possibilities as well the usual problems associated with securing command and control (cf. Scott Sagan etc). However, from the NK leadership’s point of view, initiating a nuclear exchange against a vastly superior enemy that would guarantee its obliteration doesn’t serve its purpose. Managing to survive on meager means while staving off starvation of its people is a lot more attractive than certain annihilation. To borrow a popular Reagan era term, we hold the “escalation dominance” in any crisis. However, we are self-deterred because the cost isn’t worth the trouble. How about Mao in the 1950s and early 1960s? Khruschev himself told us that Mao was crazy as he’d constantly criticize the Soviets for “playing by the rules” of the West and refusing to use nuclear weapons. If the Koreans have their “han”, the Chinese certainly had their shame from two centuries of humiliation at the hands of the Western colonial powers and Japan. Was their behavior after proliferation any worse than that of the US/USSR? When Kissinger conveniently relayed the Soviet inquiry on our reaction to a potential Soviet nuclear preemption, Mao’s China reacted the way any threatened state would. It aligned with the enemy of its enemy and Nixon went to China.
    There’s another very popular Korean expression (“Jip uh bo jah.”) that roughly translates to “Let’s pinch him”. I’d translate it as “Let’s probe a little” in order to get a reaction. IMHO that is what the NK regime is doing with its recent set of provocative behavior. I think the administration’s response has been the right one as we ought to ignore them just as the previous one did.

  28. Neil Richardson says:

    “Not sure I would apply traditional Western thinking to determine Korean intentions, but to each his or her own.”
    To Sidney Smith:
    Let me add just two quick points about “kibun” and “han”. First, unless one subscribes to a point of view that North Koreans and South Koreans are very different perhaps even to the core, we would have to assume that such cultural factors affect the Korean people similiarly. If anyone had suffered plenty and possessed even more than the usual share of “han” among Koreans, it would have been Park Chunghee. He was commissioned in the IJA (and as you know the Koreans were second class imperial subjects who were forced to change their names as well as to speak Japanese) and was seen as fiercely anti-Japanese by the Kennedy administration (that’s one of the reasons why the US refused to support him). Yet this didn’t stop him from improving Korean-Japanese relations and launching the indebted industrialization that in many ways paralleled the Japanese economic development. If anyone had terrible kibun in the latter part of his life, it would be hard to top Park as the North Koreans tried to assault the Blue House in 1968. And in 1974 an NK agent narrowly missed him but killed his beloved wife in an assassination attempt. Yet he showed remarkable restraint because he had to. How about the Rangoon bombing? Chun Do Hwan who was ruthless bit the bullet even though there were plenty among his KMA Class 11 (the ruling elite) who were urging him to retaliate.
    As I had pointed out, the North Korean responses to potential escalations had been limited at crucial times. Finally after Hwang Jang-Yop defected (and I cannot emphasize how big an event this had been at the time because it had domestic reverberation in NK), an angry Kim Jong-Il ordered a hit on a minor defector Ri Han-Yong. Their responses tend to be measured as I pointed out. The outlandish North Korean rhetoric (esp. KCNA statements) is similar to Nixon’s “Mad Man Theory” IMHO.

  29. curious says:

    However, from the NK leadership’s point of view, initiating a nuclear exchange against a vastly superior enemy that would guarantee its obliteration doesn’t serve its purpose. Managing to survive on meager means while staving off starvation of its people is a lot more attractive than certain annihilation. To borrow a popular Reagan era term, we hold the “escalation dominance” in any crisis.
    Posted by: Neil Richardson | 03 June 2009 at 06:03 PM
    ok. well my last post was censored. I think I said something off the chart.
    But basically what I said, (with links)
    1. There are a lot of case where large “shock”, can radically change popular opinion. The techniques is used in practice till very recently. (search wikileaks.org — death squad/counterintelligence)
    2. The size of tactical nuclear makes it rather difficult in korean situation to predict how it will be used.
    3. We tend to think we have a handle on things when it comes to escalating confrontation. But all previous confrontation was with large countries (large population where it has resources to analyse with more balance international relationship and outlook.) But North Korea is a small isolated country. decision making doesn’t have a lot of redundancy without help of China and Russia.
    On top of that we don’t take NK issue seriously. (50 years of freak show, complete with tourists and tour guide?) We don’t develop situation that cultivate stability. Instead we feed NK perception that we are tormenting NK. (from their point of view, a lot of things we seek to stop are vital to their regime. Instead of de-escalation, we increase their paranoia and anger.)
    Consider yourself a small group of NK military planner. And you seek to a) regime survival b)open up your country economy. What the last 4-5 administration did to NK clearly were serious threat.
    Suppose we start threatening them with military action, nuclear attack, etc. All of which they have addressed in the last meeting. But Bush just jerk them around.
    North Korea is a very small issue to us, we put almost no analytical resource compared to potential magnitude of the problem. Policy maker and politicians just act like NK is some crazy sub-saharan country to be disciplined like 5 yrs old.
    If the north Korean assume, shit, they gonna blow us up using cruise missile again. We need to hedge a bet so that it will never happen again.
    The method and strategy are rational. BUT the result are psychotic.
    Not only the north Korean, but we too. It is about the dynamic between the two sides.
    We both agree that nuclear conflict is with NK unpredictable. And by corollary, MAD equilibrium is hard to achieve and sustain.
    The only way out is to actually start the long peace process. The south Korean realizes that and they start the long and painful process. Guess which player decide that fragile and complex process weren’t a good idea. Not South korea. But Both US and North Korea cummulative action over period of time.
    Overall we are talking about building trust after 50yrs of conflict. where total casualty was in 500K to 1M range. it is a complete nonsense that it can be done with one document. Nobody trust anybody.
    The negotiating positions taken by North Korea can be summarized as follows:
    —North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons in return for normalization of diplomatic
    relations with the United States and economic aid from the United States. Normalization of
    relations must come before denuclearization as a step toward denuclearization.27 North Korean
    officials rejected Selig Harrison’s proposal that North Korea turn over its plutonium stockpile to
    the International Atomic Energy Agency in return for U.S. diplomatic recognition and U.S.
    economic aid and trade credits. They asserted to Harrison that North Korea wanted U.S.
    recognition of its status as a nuclear weapons state.28
    —North Korea no longer has a plutonium stockpile of 31 kilograms that it declared in June 2008
    because North Korea has “weaponized” all of its plutonium. This implies a North Korea position
    that future negotiations on final denuclearization must deal only with North Korea’s plutonium
    atomic weapons.29
    —Denuclearization must include the entire Korean peninsula and must include the elimination of
    the “U.S. nuclear threat” to North Korea.30 Pyongyang’s apparent position that a final
    denuclearization negotiation must deal only with its atomic weapons appears to aim at giving
    North Korea more negotiating leverage to press its demand that the United States must agree to
    measures to eliminate the U.S. “nuclear threat.” North Korea repeatedly has defined the “U.S.
    nuclear threat” to include the composition and major operations of U.S. military forces in South
    Korea and around the Korean peninsula and the U.S. “nuclear umbrella” over South Korea
    embodied in the U.S.-South Korean Mutual Defense Treaty. North Korean strategy seems aimed
    at proposing that a final denuclearization agreement with the United States constitute the
    document that regulates the future U.S. military presence in and around the Korean peninsula,
    thus superseding the U.S.-South Korean Mutual Defense Treaty.
    —Any system of verification and inspections must include inspections inside South Korea,
    including U.S. bases in South Korea. If North Korea holds to that position, negotiating an
    agreement on verification that would include sampling would pose additional difficulties and
    likely delays.
    These negotiating positions, plus earlier positions laid out by Pyongyang, suggest that North
    Korea might assert that the next round of nuclear negotiations should focus on only an agreement
    for the complete dismantlement of the Yongbyon installations.31 Pyongyang likely will assert that
    negotiations over its nuclear weapons should be postponed until a later phase of the six party talks
    or that the issue be negotiated in separate U.S.-North Korean bilateral negotiations. Pyongyang
    also may take the position that verification procedures, especially inspections and sampling, must
    be dealt with in this later, denuclearization phase of negotiations.

  30. curious says:

    btw. remember that “cooling tower being blown up”? And we were so surprised the NK actually did it? Then Bush jerk them around about putting them off the terror list for months?
    To the North Korean, it was a test case. The were wondering, to go with the big US demand. (1 to 1 exchange. nuclear vs. the whole nuke program). But they are afraid that they will be bamboozled, that US will never normalize relationship and keep finding excuse about they are not giving up nuke. (for good reason. because nobody trust anybody)
    So they do a small test case. cooling tower for off the terror list. Guess what? We fail that trust test.
    And nevermind Hillary Clinton, The north Korean don’t trust her because of Clinton era policy. The russian and chinese don’t trust Zbig. And Obama is an unknown quantity.
    so… that is another 4-5 years. or about half a dozen plutonium bomb. And another reactor.
    No doubt we will muddle around and maybe try to make south Korean do the bombing. Which reinforce distrust and make the game even more complicated.
    Conventional is stalemate (within the context of SK economy and NK nuke). Nuke is unstable.
    Probably, south Korean should lead. But we have a wacko in charge. so that’s another 4-5 yrs of nowhere.

  31. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    Mr. Neil Richardson
    Thank you for the extraordinary and one-of-a kind insights into Korean culture, particularly as it relates to nuclear proliferation.
    Best I can do is try to study and absorb all that you have described so well and try to relate some of your observations to my own experience, which is vastly more limited. That said, I may have somewhat of an understanding of what you mean by the concept of “Jip uh bo Jah” (on a strictly personal level).
    One quick anecdote that may or may not capture part of the collective Korean character. The grandfather of the woman I mentioned, apparently, was an extremely successful businessman in the North but, for obvious reasons, had to move South, losing everything.
    When she described this event, she said something to effect, “We like snowman toy you push over and it always bounce back straight. Can’t keep down.”
    In any event, I am glad to know that they are people who have served in the goverment who have as deep an understanding of Korean culture as you.
    Again, many thanks and I look forward to reading your subsequent posts.

  32. Neil Richardson says:

    “One quick anecdote that may or may not capture part of the collective Korean character. The grandfather of the woman I mentioned, apparently, was an extremely successful businessman in the North but, for obvious reasons, had to move South, losing everything.
    When she described this event, she said something to effect, “We like snowman toy you push over and it always bounce back straight. Can’t keep down.”
    Posted by: Sidney O. Smith III | 04 June 2009 at 12:52 PM
    I would certainly agree that her grandfather’s story is very representative of the Korean experience in the 20th century and earlier. You know the Eighth Army is in the process of leaving Yongsan after all these years. Of course before the US Army settled in, it was a major garrison for the Imperial Japanese Army. And for many years following the Imjin War (Imjin Waeran) the Chinese forces were garrisoned on the same location after they helped to drive out Hideyoshi Toyotomi’s invasion forces. Had the Russians won the Russo-Japanese War, who knows how the 20th century would have unfolded on the peninsula. When the New York Philharmonic performed in Pyongyang last year, I was watching the reactions of the Rodongdang elites in the audience. As usual I saw the expressionless faces, but when the orchestra played “Arirang,” it certainly struck a collective nerve. They became visibly emotional and it hearkened back the memories of those heart-rending scenes back in 1974-1975 when many families were reunited for a few hours.
    The second and third verses are:
    “Just as there are many stars in the clear sky,
    There are also many dreams in our heart.
    There, over there that mountain is Baekdu Mountain,
    Where, even in the middle of winter days, flowers bloom.”
    This popular version refers to so many Koreans who left their country following the Japanese annexation as they marched to Manchuria and the Russian Far East. Some fought the Japanese as guerrillas and many others merely sought to survive. More than any other song, Arirang seems to elicit the same reaction whether they’re Korean Chinese or Korean Russians. Since we’re on the eve of the 65th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. Let me refer you to this vignette about the resiliency of the Korean people. Unfortunately I cannot guarantee its veracity as Stephen Ambrose was a bit sloppy in his scholarship toward the latter part of his life. However, I’d like to believe it to be true.

  33. curious says:

    small simple submersible. not that hard loading it up with nuke. and sail up river.
    MEXICO CITY — When anti-narcotics agents first heard that drug cartels were building an armada of submarines to transport cocaine, they thought it was a joke.
    Now U.S. law enforcement officials say that more than a third of the cocaine smuggled into the United States from Colombia travels in submersibles.
    An experimental oddity just two years ago, these strange semi-submarines are the cutting edge of drug trafficking today. They ferry hundreds of tons of cocaine for powerful Mexican cartels that are taking over the Pacific Ocean route for most northbound shipments, according to the Colombian navy.
    The sub-builders are even trying to develop a remote-controlled model, officials say.

  34. curious says:

    Count down to Korean peninsula escalation, then full blown war.
    It’s who blinks first game phase.
    Clinton says U.S. mulls putting North Korea back on terror list
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is looking into putting North Korea back on a list of state sponsors of terrorism in response to its nuclear test last month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in an interview on Sunday.
    “We’re going to look at it. There’s a process for it. Obviously we would want to see recent evidence of their support for international terrorism,” she said on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”
    Asked whether she had evidence of the North’s support for international terrorism, Clinton said: “We’re just beginning to look at it. I don’t have an answer for you right now.”

  35. Neil Richardson says:

    Count down to Korean peninsula escalation, then full blown war.
    It’s who blinks first game phase.
    Clinton says U.S. mulls putting North Korea back on terror list
    Posted by: curious | 07 June 2009 at 10:52 AM
    Well, I guess it’s time for you to make a fortune by shorting KOSPI products.
    Best of luck

  36. Among my Korean friends who have boys who are nearing military service age, some have openly questioned whether they are tough enough. I suspect that’s just part of growing old as to old farts like us, the young people always seem inadequate. Provided the ROKA junior officers and field grades develop and maintain enough unit cohesion (it’s a bit more tricky with conscription obviously), I think they’ll do fine if fighting erupts.
    I have long been of the opinion that we are not in South Korea to “deter” the North; we are there to keep the South from attacking the North and reaching some form of closure.
    This is not grandpa’s ROK army. They are tough as nails and live an austere, rough life in barracks no Western soldier would put up with for more than a day. Let the North come South; by the time they exhaust themselves and reach blown tunnels and intricate fields of fire that can’t be breached, the real business of rounding up a malnourished army of midget soldiers will begin.

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