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.

Tensions with North Korea

North Korea has a long, long history of being obnoxious. Long time observers have noted that threats, bluster, and even occasional small scale military action against South Korea have been (rather successful) negotiating tools of the Nork regime.

But the sense today is that Kim Jung Un’s grip on the levers of power in North Korea may not be as firm as his father’s, let alone his grandfathers.

I have to concur with this assessment. What is happening right now in North Korea has more to do with North Korean internal politics than what the North Korean government may feel towards the U.S., South Korea, or anyone else. But this is why the situation is dangerous. Osama Bin Laden felt that the only way that he could defeat the Saudi Royal family was to drag the U.S. into a shooting war against him …. hence 9/11. There may be some in North Korea who may feel that the only way to keep their grip on power is to instigate a conflict with South Korean and the U.S. …. hence all the talk of war and threats of nuclear attack. This is all just speculation, but I do know that when people in absolute power feel that their status is being threatened …. they are capable of anything. In the case of North Korea …. they are truly the last “Stalinist” regime …. and they all know that.

North Korea has also apparently decided that pretty much every foreign embassy should  pack up and go home.


Galrahn at Information Dissemination has a great piece on the North Korean situation, escalation control/crisis management and seapower. He’s gotten a few technical details about Ballistic Missile Defense wrong, but his overall piece is informative, and thought provoking. It’s a long piece, but well worth your time.  The comments are good too, especially for clarifying some of the BMD details.