Reviewing the Unthinkable


Yesterday I raised the question of the reality or lack of it of the present crisis in relations between North Korea and the US.   Since then various people have sought to convince me that the statements and actions of the two national leaders have little real meaning because they are both blowhards motivated by personal imperfections and domestic opinion.

There is also the belief in rationality argument in which it is said that Kim Chung Un must be a rational actor who knows that the US can simply turn the PDRK into a glassy place with grease deposits in spots.  I find this argument unconvincing having watched Mu'mar Qadhafi convince himself that the US was a paper tiger afraid of war and lacking the courage of the Libyan jamahiriyah  His belief proved unrealistic when bombs rained down on Benghazi and Libya (Operation El Dorado Canyon April -1986).

Delusions vary.  Saddam's pre-Gulf War nuclear weapons program was within a year or so of having a detonatable nuclear device when he invaded Kuwait.  I worked on both El Dorado Canyon and the problem of the behavior of Iraq before they invaded Kuwait.   It was generally accepted in US planning circles that if Saddam had waited until his first successful nuclear test, his position would have been greatly different in the extent of his vulnerability to US massive reactions to his invasion.  This would have been because in security dominated states like Libya and Iraq it is not possible to know WHAT ELSE you don't know about that these countries have in reserve that will affect the regional situation.

A further argument that is being made is that the armed forces of the US will not accept DJT's order to go to war.  I utterly reject that notion.  The president/CinC of the US has the constitutional and legal authority to order military action at any level that is needed to defend the US, its forces or its allies.  The notion that a silent coup has occurred in the Pentagon is simply absurd.

On these general bases I assert that war between the US/ROK and the PDRK is quite possible.  What would such a war be like?  I am quite sure that it would not be a war in which the US/ROK alliance sought to match the PDRK man for man, tank for tank, artillery piece for artillery piece.  In such a war the US/ROK side would be hopelessly outnumbered. 

Because of this obvious truth, think-tank discussions in recent months have been the scene for retired senior officer discussions of the feasibility and necessity of using tactical level yield nuclear weapons in a war with North Korea as assault breakers against North Korea as well as to badly damage their artillery and assault troops in the general area of the DMZ.  It was always expected that a NATO-Warsaw Pact war would produce a similar outcome.

Fall-0ut is the wind distributed debris and dust that a surface burst of a nuclear weapon excavates from the crater and throws up in the air to be distributed down wind from the target.  The dust is highly radioactive and has a very long half-life.  It poisons the ground wherever it falls making it uninhabitable in some cases for thousands of years. 

A high air burst in which the fireball does not touch the surface does not produce much in the way of fall-out.  Its effects are:

1 – Blast from the tremendous winds and overpressures produced,

2- Heat from the nuclear reaction.  This will burn anything on the ground beneath the fireball and for a considerable but varying distance.

3- Direct Radiation from the fireball.  This is enormously damaging to tissue but without prolonged contamination outside a small area. 

IMO the use of tactical nuclear weapons would be likely in such a war.

I in no way advocating such a war.  Analysis is not advocacy.

Some among you will say that the world no longer fear the US because we really ARE "paper tigers," hedonistically weak and without resolve.  If you think that you make the same mistake that the Japanese, Germans, Vietnamese, Libyans, North Koreans last time and Iraqis all made.  pl

This entry was posted in Korea. Bookmark the permalink.

64 Responses to Reviewing the Unthinkable

  1. b says:

    I do not see the purpose for such a war on either side.
    The DPRK is quite happy with the status quo and has no reason to change it. It can sit back, wait a few years and the sanctions will melt away. Why would/should Kim Yong Un attack? All the party programs are directed to build economic advantages by decreasing the reliance on conventional weapons and troops. I do not see any ambition to reunite Korea by force.
    The U.S. attacking the DPRK carries a lot of uncertainties and risks. Using nukes is currently a global tabu. Breaking that carries penalties which will have effects for decades. The non-proliferation treaty would blow apart. China would certainly intervene should its defensive barrier, aka North Korea, get smashed. That decided the issue the last time the U.S. tried. I also do not think that Trump is crazy. He is a bit of a loudmouth but he seems to known what he wants. War with North Korea is not on that list.

  2. AEL says:

    Don’t forget, if America or South Korea “goes first”, China is obligated by treaty to come to North Korea’s defense. That, in itself, should be a solid deterrent to preemptive action. I am sure that China is thrilled to bits about having signed that treaty right now.

  3. Not In Istanbul says:

    The difference is, none of those countries were on the doorstep of a militarily (regionally speaking) strong/confident Russia and China. The last thing American hegemony should do is scare Russia and China into working even more closely together. A monopoly on silicon was what allowed the US and its allies to extend the technological lead sufficiently to dominate as much as they had. That monopoly is gone, along with a vigorous, broad, and self reliant American industrial base.

  4. Jack says:

    Is it possible for a decapitation strike where the retaliation by DPRK will be limited? Or is the probability high that any strike no matter how extensive will cause a retaliation of significant magnitude?
    Since China has a 1,000 mile border they probably have a huge interest in what happens. How do you believe they will react if there is an attack?
    Finally, in your opinion would it be politically feasible to use tactical nukes in our current climate of world opinion?

  5. Allen Thomson says:

    As a point of detail, we’re probably talking about air-delivered B61-3 and B61-4 bombs with selectable yields in the 0.3 to 60-ish kiloton range, the -3 having an additional 170 kt option. Most US warplanes – F-16, F-15, F-22, F/A-18, B-2, B-52 – are capable of delivering these. In addition there are B61-11 earth penetrators that would be used against deeply buried targets (and produce as much fallout as surface bursts of equivalent yield).
    FWIW, an instructive nuclear effects mapping tool is at

  6. JohnsonR says:

    Being rational does not mean being infallible, nor does it mean that one must always back down to an overwhelmingly powerful enemy. Nothing the NKs have done so far gives any indication of being irrational. In the context of their formative experience with the US, and the US’s recent actions around the world, a point blank refusal to appease and a determination to obtain an effective nuclear deterrent are absolutely rational policies. They might lead to disaster, but so, imo and seemingly in theirs as well, would trying to appease the US (as Gaddafi found out).
    The possibility that the US might use nukes is certainly plausible, and the thinking will presumably be as you set it out – that if the job has to be done that’s the most effective way of getting it done with the least overall destruction. The problem for the US is that it’s highly unlikely much of the rest of the world will see it that way. So few will agree that the job really has to be done, and the nuclear taboo is so strong anyway, that there will be a general outrage that will make the US’s reputational damage after Iraq look like a minor embarrassment. The only alternative would be if the world can be convinced that it was a response to an imminent Pearl Harbor or 9/11 type attack by NK. How easy will it be to convince the world of that after Iraq? Unless there’s an actual NK attack on that kind of scale, of course, but is that a realistic scenario, real or faked?
    I think the scenario you paint could be the final nail in the coffin for the US’s waning “soft power” (see the recent Pew survey confirming that more people think the US is a threat than think either China or Russia is, and note that the question was not asked in China, North Korea, Syria, Iraq or Iran, for starters), and it will not do as much as the US regime probably thinks towards intimidating people with hard power instead.

  7. Norbert M Salamon says:

    I do not believe that there will be an NK\USA war in the near future. If there is one it is most likely will lead to end of mankind due to other powers taking exception to that war of choice.
    It is true that the US could destroy North Korea with one or more atomic bombs.
    It is certain that there will be no UN mandate for such attack NK.
    It is most likely that two major WMD powers would look at such effort on their border with great displeasure, most likely force them to attack, in their judgement, an insane nation.
    with due respect your list of US war achievement is somewhat questionable, for Germany was destroyed by the USSR, in Vietnam you lost, in North Korea you had to contend with a poorly equipped Chinese army, and came to draw [armistice, not an end of war] and non of the other minor powers had atomic bombs, and long range missiles hidden in mountain caves.

  8. FB Ali says:

    Nuclear weapons have not been used since 1946. Partly because of a taboo against being the first to open this Pandora’s Box. Because no one was quite sure what the effects, both short-term and long-term, would be.
    In my view, it would be a great mistake for the US to initiate the use of nuclear weapons in the Korean peninsula. Because, firstly, there is no guarantee that such use could be confined to only tactical weapons with limited effects.
    Secondly, and more importantly, once the taboo against the use of nuclear weapons was broken, we would be living in a different world altogether. Every country that could, would try to develop such weapons. Those that had them would find it much easier to use them. How long humanity could survive under such conditions would be an open question.
    Overall, the USA would come out a big loser. Would some short-term gain in Korea be worth all this?

  9. turcopolier says:

    Norbert K Solomon
    “It is true that the US could destroy North Korea with one or more atomic bombs” You really don’t understand any of this, do you? pl

  10. zk says:

    I can almost imagine the euphoria that would ensue inside the US if the use of tactical nukes proved successful.
    It would open a Pandora’s box the likes of which this world has never seen (to paraphrase DJT).

  11. FB Ali says:

    I fully agree with your comment.

  12. Fellow Traveler says:

    NK has, rationally IMO, learned from those other examples. But they probably didn’t factor in an irrational actor on the other side.
    The problem here is that Trump doesn’t drink. Kissinger and Haig managed to derail a couple of SIOP binder excursions by a drunken Nixon by shuffling him of to bed to sober up. One of those was after NK shot down an EC-121.
    Poor Al never got any respect.

  13. Generals and Admirals are always fighting the last war…………
    The DPRK has repeatedly demonstrated that in their view the enemy is the USA – CONUS.
    All actions of the DPRK show their intent to have the ability to wreak havoc within CONUS.
    The crap negating this via claims their targeting is shit, don’t wash….. because……. the pundits miss the obvious targets…….
    The Nuclear waste dumps within CONUS!!!
    Hanford……… Muscle Shoals……… Spent nuclear fuel pools at Nuc Plants……….
    What need the DPRK do to fatally cripple the warfighting ability of the US??
    1. Detonate a 10Kton ground burst at Hanford, WA……. it’s a big place….
    full of Plutonium, Cesium, and other long lived radio-nuclides, mostly stored in Nitric Acid solution in above ground tanks. Objective……. put that stuff into the atmosphere, and let the winds contaminate 1/3 of the US sufficiently to make it uninhabitable
    2. Detonate a 5 Ktn ground/air burst at any of Rancho Seco, Diablo Canyon or San Onofre…… to make S Cal uninhabitable………
    3. Detonate a 5Ktn ground/air burst at Watts Ferry to make the US US uninhabitable
    4. Detonate a 5 ktn ground/air burst at Point Beach, or Braidwood to make the corn belt uninhabitable
    5. Detonate a 5ktn ground / air burst at Susquehana, Three Mile Island or indian point to make new england uninhabitable.
    Why?? Wny not!!

  14. BillWade says:

    If we use tactical nukes we will be successful and would also be keeping the casualties down as low as possible. To say that we would be euphoric here is truly an insult, we would be grieving terribly for our losses of our frontline personnel.

  15. JohnsonR says:

    A lot of people, myself included, have raised the global taboo against any use of nuclear weapons whatsoever. It’s worth bearing in mind that there are people around who would actually see breaking that taboo, and thereby enabling the general use of mostly small nuclear weapons as a viable tool of policy for the US (and perhaps other countries with the capability to do so, such as Israel), as in itself a desirable goal.
    If that seems absurdly short-sighted and/or brutal, consider the fact that it might be the only remaining realistic way to comprehensively defeat Iran. Short-sighted and brutal is a good description of many of the people pushing for an attack on Iran.

  16. Greco says:

    We should stress the two most important considerations, as obvious as they may be. One, as bad as the war option may be now, the cost of a possible war at a later time will be even worse if North Korea reaches its goal of a nuclear deterrent. Two, a failure to act effectively will signal other countries that it is possible to harbor nuclear ambitions and achieve success (as may now or soon be true of the North Koreans).
    As far as the heightened rhetoric goes, there’s another way of looking at it. It’s as much a warning to China as it is to North Korea. And given the current escalation between China and India over their recent border dispute, I think there’s a very big, coordinated move being made here. Like walrus had posted in the earlier thread, this is happening now as North Korea approaches harvesting season. This is timely and very likely planned out.
    It’s clear Trump has felt that China was sandbagging their efforts to get the North Koreans to play along. Could the heightened rhetoric finally force China to snap into action? Could this explain why the situation is being made to appear more dire than it really is?

  17. Greco says:

    Well put.

  18. J says:

    Where did the ‘silent coup inside the Pentagon’ come from?? Blink, blink?

  19. Norbert M Salamon says:

    With great respect, Colonel, I fully understand your point, for you are a US patriot with deep knowledge of military affairs.
    Perhaps you did not consider Russia’s possible reaction, for she is surrounded by US troops – Nato is not anything but US vassal,[US’s latest move is in Georgia, with US Seals building some naval control centre in Ukraine]. Perhaps you did not consider that China is a co-signer of the Korean Armistice, so technically there is still a war in Korean Peninsula, USA vs. China/NK.

  20. Clueless Joe says:

    Never consider as a paper tiger a nuclear power, specially one with as many nukes as the US – or Russia for that matter, but the Borg isn’t as cautious as you are, Colonel.
    That said, I hope some people in the administration, Tillerson, Mattis, McMaster to begin with, understand that if the US hits first and then has to rely on first use of nukes, even tactical nukes, before N. Korea uses any of its own nuclear warheads, then the world status of the US changes at once, and no vaguely independant country will support it anymore – not just with Korea, but globally.
    Such a scenario should be a no-go not only because it opens Pandora’s box and you can expect China and Russia to use nukes as well – not necessarily during that N. Korean war -, but also because the US would lose any influence left when it comes to soft power. It would look close to the Evil Galactic Empire from Star Wars, that has to rely on fear of US nukes to keep all the other countries in line.
    It might not look this way to some people in DC, or in the Trump administration (probably Trump included), but to the rest of the world, this would be like casting down the mantle of Defender of the free world to become a tyrant and a mad dog.
    I don’t rule out that Trump and some his crew really are ready to attack or even nuke North Korea, but like B. I prefer to put greater odds on Trump being bombastic so as to put pressure on Kim – probably a vain attempt, and what Trump will do when he’ll understand his threats aren’t effective is a worrying prospect.

  21. Hood Canal Gardner says:

    Pat, push the Paper Tiger Little/Man effects just a bit further:
    If I read the “immediate” sense of your posit, the nuclear fallout will be pretty much limited to NK, ie US international relations: trade, US economy, EU, NATO alliances, Chinese and Russian fallout/s. That is, The World will settle back after a bit..remain pretty much as is undisturbed.
    Just perhaps the “other” immediate Little Man fallouts dwarfs by a couple of magnitudes a NK toasting. We’ll have to wait for a poet’s epilog

  22. PirateLaddie says:

    Subject: Shall we play a game?
    What with President the Donald threatening to totally destroy North Korea, and the NoKos probably not able to deliver a significant number of ballistic missiles against CONUS as a counter measure, it seems logical to me that their best hope is to have a number of “the best they can do” nukes, probably containerized, “dirtied up” and stacked at various entry points to CONUS. Recent reports of “miniaturized” nukes — maybe even the much ballyhooed “backpack nuke” that you hear about from infantry guys, should be keeping some folks from a good night’s sleep
    Given the flood of containers that arrive at U.S. ports daily, either from China and South Korea (and lets not forget, say, Japan & other countries with skin in the game), how does the following sound as the parameters of the game:
    What might induce the NoKos to preemptively trigger at least two of their devices “in place”? (This following the same logic we used when we nuked the Japs in ’45.) What do you believe would be the richest targets for these demonstrations? What might be the best targets if the NoKos hope to avoid a “sudden death” retaliation?
    Presume they’ve got half of dozen (more or less) already in their designated kill zones. Where would you put them? Would their strategy be one of post-detonation deterrence or an attempt to do mortal damage to the US, keeping in mind that a mortally wounded US could still do a lot of damage, even to countries not in the game.
    How might they try to game us in a way to discourage a scorched earth policy for North Korea? (Would it be possible to turn off or divert the US war machine after the NoKo demonstrations?)
    Are we living in a world where the inmates are indeed in charge of the asylum?

  23. Bill, No offense, but your assertion that we would “keep casualties down” with the use of tactical nukes is batshit crazy territory. How can you assert such a thing? Did you even take time to read Pat’s analysis above? Use of tactical nukes opens a Pandora’s box of terror and death.

  24. Bill Herschel says:

    1) Every syllable of the post is correct.
    2) The context of the post, developed by the Chinese and Russians themselves, is the intelligence they used to make their votes for sanctions in the Security Council.
    3) It is a trap for the U.S. First of all, if neither China nor Russia come to NK’s defense in such a war and given that they have voted in favor of sanctioning NK, where is the justification for what the crazies in the U.S. really want: war against either Russia or China. What does that leave us with?
    A war featuring the surprise first use of nuclear weapons by the U.S. that at best destroys a sovereign state, killing many thousands if not millions of people and leaving in its wake a humanitarian catastrophe. Does the U.S. possess the resources to rebuild NK? To give the kind of mass medical care and food aid needed to get NK through its next winter? Does South Korea? And what will the U.S.’ reputation and place in the world be after this mass murder? Will anyone say that we should have negotiated instead?
    But that is at best. At worst, a war in which thousands of American soldiers die, Seoul is nearly destroyed and there is no clear victor.
    This is a trap, and Mr. Fire and Fury is just the man to step into it.

  25. Imagine says:

    -NK is quite rational. It just has to deal with a different reality.
    -US hides/doesn’t realize the amount of threatening it does to foreign nations. It is like Dr. Jekyll wondering why all these crazy people around him are so stirred up by this mythical “Mr. Hyde”, whom he never sees.
    -NK very well understands that the US can make large areas of its small land uninhabitable. This has already been well demonstrated, in the living memories of the older generals, and in the racial memory of their Boomers. Why do you speak of paper tigers? Why does Trump say, They don’t respect us because our military looks weak? America flies fake-execution nuke-bombing missions from Guam, oh ha ha we didn’t pull the trigger THIS time, you think that they don’t know this? Then why are people talking Oh, we need to threaten them more, then maybe they’ll understand us better?
    It’s like this. Imagine you live in Watts, in the bad part, and this guy built like Hollywood Hulk Hogan brings two Uzis and a backup gang into your yard EVERY MONTH, starts yelling “I’m gonna kill you, M-F! I’m gonna kill you, your wife, and your kids!”, and unloading clips into the air above your house. The police are gone. You say, “Please, sir, get off my lawn and stop bothering me and my family.” He doesn’t listen. You crank it up and yell, “Hey, M-F, get off my lawn now or there’s going to be big trouble!”. He doesn’t listen.
    So, you go out and buy a shotgun. The next time Hollywood and his New World Order show up, you hold up the shotgun. “Do you see this? You get off my lawn NOW. I don’t care if you’re built like the Hulk, I don’t care if you and your gang can rip my head off. You can’t treat me and my family that way.”
    In the South Central riots of 1992, the white storekeepers were wringing their hands, got their windows beat in and goods looted. The Korean shopkeepers, old, middle-aged guys, got rifles and got up on the roofs of their stores. The Koreans are serious about this stuff. In a way people who have never been invaded have much difficulty getting. Colonel, you and your people have been to war, so I think you’ll understand. But others simply don’t get it.
    Just think, just for 5 seconds, what it would be like to really have your country be invaded.

  26. walrus says:

    Use tactical nukes and you can kiss NATO good bye.

  27. Mark Logan says:

    A little off topic, but I noticed something about Kim. The existence of one daughter has been semi-revealed but the existence or non existence of any other children is a carefully guarded secret, and there has been time for several more. I speculate he views the existence of a male hire as reducing the complications associated with being assassinated by his own generals, in the same way the existence of his slacker brother once did.
    Highly insecure, by many accounts drinks heavily, and the Chinese have tightened the screws never before. Magic 8 ball says “Might do anything”.

  28. Babak Makkinejad says:

    The United States has weapons eith near or equal lethality to nuclear weapons that are non-Nuclear themselves; a species of thermobaric weapons.

  29. Allen Thomson says:

    Reviewing such matters, a picture showing an F-15 carrying five B61s showed up. The provenance of the picture is unclear, but it appears genuine in light of other information. Though in the age of PhotoShop you can never be totally sure.

  30. Augustin L says:

    Donald Chump is a WWE wrestler with low testosterone… He’s playing the american electorate to pump (and later dump) is plummeting approval ratings.

  31. Stu Wood says:

    Interesting piece. I had never heard of “Saddam’s pre-Gulf War nuclear weapons program was within a year or so of having a detonatable nuclear device when he invaded Kuwait.” I thought the Israelis had taken care of his nuclear ambitions when they bombed his nuclear reactor in ? when ever it was.
    Does anyone think that we can reach a stalemate with North Korea via the “MAD” doctrine although the NK’s do not have anywhere the capability of the previous Soviet Union.

  32. VietnamVet says:

    FB Ali
    This analysis is as close to the reality as we can get. The fall of the Soviet Union led to a period where the consequences of a nuclear war were forgotten except possibly in South Asia where nuclear powers have had episodes of shooting at each other. Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) still works. It fails when the first tactical nuclear weapons are ignited. Retaliation is a given. A first strike that does not eliminate all nuclear delivery systems destroys the world.
    The argument is that the USA cannot tolerate North Korea having the ability to vaporize Honolulu. However, MAD effectively constrained Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, John F Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev. MAD will deter Kin Jong-un.
    The wild card today is that the American Empire is collapsing. A flailing hegemon is dangerous. A renewed Korean War becomes thinkable no matter the consequences if it ends the ongoing globalist coup against the nationalist Trump Administration.

  33. eakens says:

    Treaties are contracts. And last time I checked if you have to whip one out to see what it days you’re already screwed. And oh yeah they’re meant to be broken.

  34. turcopolier says:

    Stu Wood
    The Israelis with their usual flair for self-promoting BS bombed one little building in the outskirts of Baghdad in about ’81. The Iraqis subsequently got busy on a really big scale. pl

  35. turcopolier says:

    Yes, but you would want to be sure and there probably are not enough of them. After all, you would have to exterminate troops along a couple hundred kilometers of deployment. pl

  36. turcopolier says:

    I doubt that. Even hypocrites respect power. In any event, good riddance!. pl

  37. turcopolier says:

    I am visualizing a counterforce targeting lay down not a countervalue lay down. pl

  38. turcopolier says:

    I know it wounds the left to think the worst might be avoided but in the kind of use that I envisioned there would not be a lot offal out anywhere. The big fallout nuclear winter fantasies were always based on a full thermonuclear exchange with multi mega ton weapons. This is not that, necessarily. pl

  39. turcopolier says:

    Clueless Joe
    “this would be like casting down the mantle of Defender of the free world to become a tyrant and a mad dog.” You mean like Rome? I am always amused by the R2P/State Department belief that among states affection is real. pl

  40. turcopolier says:

    IMO Russia and China would do nothing if this war is forced on the US/ROK alliance. They would not have voted the way they did in the UN if they were inclined to do anything. pl

  41. BillWade says:

    I would be expecting tactical nukes all along the north side of the DMZ to preclude a massive artillery shelling of Seoul and resultant massive civilian casualties. As for escalation by other powers, who knows – but I think they’d let the initial dust settle first leaving some time for negotiations.

  42. AEL says:

    Are you willing to bet your life on China breaking their word and abrogating the treaty? Because that is exactly what you are betting if you advocate that America “go first” militarily against North Korea.

  43. FB Ali says:

    Paul Robinson, on his website, asks a good question: what happened to the US’s National Missile Defence system? After all, George Bush Jr opted out of the ABM Treaty in order to be able to construct this shield to also counter the “danger from ‘rogue states’ armed with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles”.
    The US has spent $195+ billion on this shield since 1985, he says. What is there to show for it? His conclusion:
    The military industrial complex is a system of scandalous profligacy and inefficiency, the primary effect of which is not to make the USA (or other countries with similar MICs) any safer but rather to redistribute wealth out of the pockets of the general taxpayer and into the pockets of select constituencies (military personnel, defence contractors, and the like). It is also largely beyond democratic control.

  44. Fellow Traveler says:

    We did something like 100 above ground nuclear tests in Nevada (and a few in Utah?) back in the day. And ~900 underground..
    Somehow, Vegas survived.

  45. Dabbler says:

    The commenter needs to slow down a little. Other than cesium, the Hanford wastes listed are stored in underground tanks; The tanks are organized in farms that are disbursed over quite a few square miles. Rancho Seco is roughly 400 miles north of Los Angeles, and the winds at Rancho Seco dont ordinarily blow to the south. Point Beach is located north and east of the corn belt, with prevailing winds normally moving toward the upper part of Michigan’s lower peninsula, etc.
    More fundamentally, Russia has demonstrated range and accuracy sufficient to threaten the named targets. Perhaps France or China could also do so if they wished. North Korea has not to date fired much farther away from its shores than the sea of Japan, and has not demonstrated the ability to hit anything specific at any appreciable distance.

  46. kao_hsien_chih says:

    “Magic 8 ball says ‘Might do anything,'” I think is the dangerous part.
    One thing that no one seems to mention is that the entire series of events has been escalating with both sides ratcheting up the pressure. The analogue is not Gulf of Tonkin, but either the run up to the Pearl Harbor or the aftermath of the Archduke’s assassination in 1914. Some aspects of personality flaws on the part of Trump and his advisors–the arrogant machismo–may well be contributing the problem, but they have been matched every step of the way by bellicose actions taken by the North Koreans.
    Are these actors “rational”? I don’t think that means anything: if everyone were “rational” the way people think, there would be no accidents anywhere. World War I would never have happened, Japanese would never have bombed Pearl Harbor, etc. People are, however, “rational” gamblers–they take on huge risks and hope that they hit the jackpot. I think this is North Korean “rationality,” of a reckless high-stakes gambler.
    I don’t think a “negotiated” solution, where NK can seat as an equal, is possible if only because they can blackmail everyone else by threatening to escalate the whole situation to the edge of the cliff and endanger everyone. If a “negotiated” solution is to be worked out, NK ability to escalate the situation whenever they like has to be taken out. But they will never voluntarily give it up, since, without that, they are a fairly inconsequential country without many cards to play with. So the situation continues in a bad equilibrium where everyone distrusts everyone else because they all know that the others will “rationally” cheat. North Korea attempts to “solve” the problem by creating ever bigger crises, while China and SK try to put a fig leaf over things by pretending nothing is going on and paying NK some pittance–which, naturally, NK does not think is enough. And, thanks to our unhelpful involvement in the matters Far Eastern, we are the prop through which NK can escalate the situation. But, if the situation escalates enough, will things stay sober? The very thing that NK is threatening everyone with is that, if the tensions rise enough, things can go completely bonkers beyond anyone’s control–and the “rational” thing is to set things up so that, if they don’t get what they demand, things really will go completely crazy–so that their threats are taken seriously.
    I don’t think our goal should be to “solve” North Korea. That’s not our job. That’s not even our part of the world. But we do have to find some means of extricating ourselves from there, and I don’t think we can if NK can threaten us with ICBM, and a warlike conspiracy by US bigwigs is not really needed when NK propaganda screams aloud how they can attack us with ICBM’s. A military conflict, not to “solve” NK or change regimes, but to extricate ourselves from the trap, is something that needs to be considered seriously.

  47. Balint Somkuti, PhD says:

    “The last thing American hegemony should do is scare Russia and China into working even more closely together.”
    By alienating, and turning Russia into a pariah state the US establishment just DID that. The russians wanted to be a partner with EU because in that relation they would have had been the major partner. That did not fit well into the Borg’s ideas about being Number One, so they killed the 2008 reset, and did what they did.
    In my opinion Russia barely but survived the sanctions, and as a consequence it had no choice (and NO not single handedly V.V. Putin, but the whole leadership) to accept the role of the minor partner in a China relationship.
    Oddly enough in a 90’s sci-fi game (Full Thrust) the creator John Tuffley (hence Tuffleyverse) forecasted a strong Chinese-Russian alliance called Eurasian Solar Union, even though he thought it would be based on communism. The rest of the timeline is also worth reading.

  48. aleksandar says:

    But NK is ALREADY a nuclear power.
    “Cost of a possible war at a later time will be even worse ” argument doesn’t work.
    Nuke NK.
    NK nuke Seoul.
    And then ?
    What endgame ?

  49. Lemur says:

    It’s possible China could adopt a non-confrontational military tack in the event of a US strike decapitating the North Korean elite. China might very well prefer to execute a regime change, using the chaos caused by US military action as an excuse. They might send in a ‘peace keeping/stabilizing’ force designed to set up a buffer zone and establish Chinese suzerainty. Depending on their reaction time, they might be able to grab up to 50% of North Korean territory.

  50. ToivoS says:

    I think walrus is correct. If the US used even tactical nuclear weapons against RONK in a first use attack then any nation in Europe that hosted a US air or naval base would immediately become a real target of Russian nukes should Russia get sucked into the war. There would be mass demonstrations by people living anywhere near one of those bases insisting that the US leave. I would think that Italian, French and German governments would be under tremendous pressure to leave NATO.
    I agree with you that those nuclear winter scenarios following a nuclear war are fantasies but the psychological impact on the people of Europe would be huge since most believe in those scenarios.

  51. BillWade says:

    sorry PT, I meant to elaborate a bit but it was late for me last night and I was tired. I did read Col Lang’s article and was pretty sure I fully understood it. As he stated, we and our ally there would not match the NK forces man for man in which one would have to infer we would do something else and I believe that something else would be tac battlefield nukes. One thing we do have, at least after the initial 24 hours hours, is overwhelming air superiority. The Air Force practices for this possibility and is ready for it all the time and at a moment’s notice, am sure the Navy does as well. There would be horrific casualties in the first 24 hours, we would then gain the upper hand as our deployed air forces arrive in the area. I think it’s likely NK would capitulate by the 72-96 hour point. By then “neogiators” would come into play. We mustn’t forget too that SK has a very formidable armed force which, in my opinion, is much more capable that any non-US NATO force. If we don’t take out NK forces as quickly as possible, by using tac nukes, casualties will mount day by day significantly.

  52. turcopolier says:

    What do you mean by “decapitating attack?” If these means trying to kill the leaders of North Korea with air weapons and commandos. I would rather go on a snipe hunt.” Do you really think we know where all these people are all the time? Or does “decapitating attack” mean wiping out the greater Pyongyang metro area? This sounds a bit like that other fantasy, the “surgical strike.” pl

  53. turcopolier says:

    Endgame is no more DPRK. pl

  54. turcopolier says:

    Yes. IMO China IS a rational actor and knows that a nuclear strike on the US would result in a total destruction of modern Chinese society, but the most likely scenario is that the PDRK strikes first. pl pl

  55. ex-PFC Chuck says:

    I second that.

  56. FourthAndLong says:

    If we feel compelled to gamble then maybe you’ve got a good point. But one h*** of a gamble. Hope would be to force them (NKs) to light up any nuke sites we don’t know of, and take them out post-haste. And to even be feasible we’d have to be sure of having the drop on them. And then there are the unknowns and incompetencies to consider.

  57. Hood Canal Gardner says:

    In the 2009 debate (thanks..more on that someday) you used the word “maybe” a couple of times. You were generous re serious lasting (country-level) social change vis-a-vis military action.
    Perhaps your “maybe” reading belongs re “not necessarily” re contained fallout read? Just perhaps Little Man and Fat Boy were twofer fires we stole from Zeus. In Heisod’s words (Works and Days):
    “Son of Iapetus, surpassing all in cunning, you are glad that you have outwitted me and stolen fire — a great plague to you yourself and to men that shall be. But I will give men as the price for fire an evil thing in which they may all be glad of heart while they embrace their own destruction.’

  58. robt willmann says:

    A useful and comprehensive book, although it is from June 1957, is “The Effects of Nuclear Weapons”, prepared by the U.S. Department of Defense and published by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Back then, it was for sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, for $2.00.
    I got it from one of my favorite places — used book dealers.
    The forward to the book, by Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson and Lewis L. Strauss, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, says–
    “This handbook, prepared by the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project of the Department of Defense in coordination with other cognizant government agencies and published by the United States Atomic Energy Commission, is a comprehensive summary of current knowledge on the effects of nuclear weapons. The effects information contained herein is calculated for yields up to 20 megatons and the scaling laws for hypothetically extending the calculations beyond this limit are given. The figure of 20 megatons however is not to be taken as an indication of capabilities or developments.”

  59. Stephanie says:

    “I prefer to put greater odds on Trump being bombastic so as to put pressure on Kim – probably a vain attempt, and what Trump will do when he’ll understand his threats aren’t effective is a worrying prospect.”
    As we’ve seen in his dealings with Congress, issuing threats, even empty ones, is all Trump seems to know how to do. The problem here is that he will paint himself, and us, into a corner much more decisively than Obama did with his “red line,” or frighten Kim Jong Un into thinking that he’s doomed no matter what he does – think Gaddafi — and decides to strike first. (And of course the Libya venture worked out so well. This could be unimaginably worse than that.)
    None of his aides had any advance knowledge of the “fire and fury” burblings, which is not reassuring.
    Trump did make it clear during the election that he was a big fan of nukes and using them, so no surprises there for anyone who was paying attention.

  60. turcopolier says:

    these are not “empty threats. DJT cannot command the congress. He does command the armed forces. pl

  61. ancient archer says:

    Very well written. Couldn’t have said it better myself

  62. Jony Kanuck says:

    I wonder what the Chinese are saying to RONK. I wonder what the Russians & Chinese are saying to each other. I wonder what the Donald is saying to Jared. One thing I can say is that if tactical nukes are used in Korea, the barriers to further use will be much lower. I can think of a couple countries that would be ‘burning the midnite oil’ to develop tac-nukes asap, as defense or to use. Sigh…
    Ambrose Bierce slips into my consciousness:
    PATRIOTISM is as all seeing as the headless chicken
    PATRIOTISM is as hot as the fever, as cold as the grave.

  63. Fred says:

    what is the chance of DPRK controlling its nuclear arsenal in the long term and preventing its scientists from spreading the capability among others like Pakistan did?

  64. anonymous says:

    Just trying to fix the runaway italics.

Comments are closed.