Bomb North Korea?

Hardly a day goes by where I don’t find myself in disagreement with at least something from the Op-Ed pages of the NYT. Today is no exception. It’s far more rare that I find myself in agreement with the left leaning blog Lawyers, Guns, and Money. Today is an exception.

University of Texas Professor of History Jeremi Suri argues that the US should preemptively strike North Korea’s ballistic missile capability.

The Korean crisis has now become a strategic threat to America’s core national interests. The best option is to destroy the North Korean missile on the ground before it is launched. The United States should use a precise airstrike to render the missile and its mobile launcher inoperable.

President Obama should state clearly and forthrightly that this is an act of self-defense in response to explicit threats from North Korea and clear evidence of a prepared weapon. He should give the leaders of South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan advance notice before acting. And he should explain that this is a limited defensive strike on a military target — an operation that poses no threat to civilians — and that America does not intend to bring about regime change. The purpose is to neutralize a clear and present danger. That is all.

Erik Loomis at LGM notes:

China’s role in a potential war on the Korean Peninsula is hard to predict. Well then. Might as well just bomb North Korea and see what happens!

For that matter, we might just want to consult our South Korean allies on the matter, rather than just giving them advanced notice since, after all, the inevitably resulting war would take place on their turf. Seoul, the capital of South Korea, and one of the densest metroplexes on Earth, lies within easy artillery range of North Korea. I’m not entirely convinced they’d relish being plastered by thousands and thousands of artillery rounds and rockets just based on a hunch that North Korea was doing more than its usual sabre-rattling-for-aid routine.

That’s not to say I don’t take the threat of a nuclear armed North Korea seriously. Just that any serious (or even the most amateur)  student of strategy  in the nuclear era* knows there are more options on the table than shoot/don’t shoot, today, at this moment in time.  I tend to agree with URR that willfully lying to ourselves that China is a strategic partner with a shared interest in maintaining stability on the Korean peninsula is foolish. But that doesn’t mean we can’t point out to China that a full scale crisis holds greater risks to them economically and politically than it does to us, and maybe dialing it back a bit might help.  A steadfast refusal to submit to North Korean extortion for aid might be a good idea as well. And finally, if historians must weigh in on the matter, perhaps they should stick to reminding the Obama/Kerry foreign policy team of the parlous rates of returns that investing North Korean promises of good behavior in the past, when previous tantrums have been rewarded with food, fuel oil, and nuclear reactors.

*As opposed to nuclear strategy. Nuclear strategy is how to fight a nuclear war. Strategy in the nuclear era is how to avoid a nuclear war.

13 thoughts on “Bomb North Korea?”

  1. North Korea does provide quite a pickle.
    My usual suggestion is to blow up power plants, but the Norks gave up on electric lights long ago.
    How on earth do you apply economic pressure to a nation without an economy?

    1. Apply pressure to the country holding the leash.

      If I were President I would let the Chinese know that if Korea went hot we would turn Beijing into a crater. Just before we significantly widened the Yalu river.

    2. There are about 300 secret family estates for the wealthy rulers of N. Korea. They are very opulent. Look up “Hidden North Korea” for examples.

      My plan would be to send a small diameter inert bomb into the top 10 estate’s outdoor swimming pools. No explosives needed, just precise targeting and a stealth delivery. This personal message would be forceful yet not provocative to the rest of the world. It can be repeated until no elite has a functioning, open-air pool.

  2. Jeff, to let the Chinese know that, one has to have the will and the means. One of the reasons that the DPRK is acting as it is right now, having gotten this far in their calculus, is that they rightfully sensed a wavering of will, and are observing a willful dissolution of the means on the part of the United States. We have a foreign policy team that doesn’t even admit to the existence of power politics, let alone understands how to function in such a world.

    China smells blood in the water. A shrinking Navy, Air Force, and Army, a shrinking ability for strategic maneuver, and a proposal to shrink the US nuclear arsenal to the point of insignificance. All this of our own doing.

    1. I was answering TrT’s question about what can be done, not what will be done. I have no illusions of competence on the part of this administration. I agree that the next few years will be interesting. We’re pulling back, though not so much in the western Pacific. China also knows their economy cannot be sustained much longer, so if they’re to act it must be soon.

  3. Fair enough. China, however, is as capable of misreading intentions and miscalculating as we are. Particularly with how long the dog’s leash can be.

  4. I think we should ask the ROK if they wouldn’t like it if their northern border weren’t further north. Let them know that we would be ok with that.


    1. I don’t think they’d go for it. Remember, the North Koreans, between Japanese and communist domination, haven’t been part of a normal economy in over 100 years. Reunification would make Germany look like a bake sale. Trading Seoul for a few million wards of the state doesn’t sound like a profitable venture. Never mind the nuclear weapons aspect.

  5. If you fling steel and explosives across teh DMZ, tehn you’d better have the assets in place to fight a hammer and tongs fight with the NORKs and the Red Chinks. The NORKs would fold quickly as they did after Inchon in 1950, but the Chinks are a much different story. And, it would not involve human wave tactics as in 1950.

    I don’t see anything happening, however, on our side. It’s not just a matter of incompetence, although there is that. It’s a matter of lack of will. Or, to put it less charitable and accurate terms, cowardice.

    The Neocons, however, are just as much of a problem because they aren’t willing to carefully choose our battles. We, for example, had no need to go into the Balkans. I agree with Bismarck’s statement about the Pomeranian Grenadier modified for our situation. The time we spent in Iraq was largely a waste, and the same with the rock pile.

    I have no trouble with taking out threats, but the nation building bidness is for the birds. The occupation of Europe and Japan had the outcome they did because of two factors, the cold war, and they were basically of the same civilization as we were. The Afghans have been a schemozzle for millennia and there is no real Arab civilization beyond the tribe. Consequently, the money we spent beyond taking down Saddam and killing bin Laden have pretty much been a waste of time, and the casualties a loss beyond calculation.

    In the rockpile we should simply have told them to turn over Omar and bin Laden, and failing that, kill everything and plow the place with salt.

    1. Well, we can fund an all expense paid vacation for every Democratic legislator and Democratic think tank member to visit North Korea. Just pay for their transportation. Let their host pay for and supply the food. Win-Win.

      Next on the tour is a month in the Republic of the Congo, then Zimbabwe.
      Let them return when they start praising President Eisenhower and his culture of achievement.

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