Thursday, June 22, 2006

Getting Tough With the DPRK

Former Defense Secretary William Perry believes the Bush Administration isn't being tough enough with North Korea. In an op-ed in today's Washington Post, Mr. Perry and his co-author, former Assistant Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, argue that if Pyongyang continues launch preparations for its TD-2 long-range missile, the United States should be prepared to destroy it--before it can be fired.

At first blush, Mr. Perry's suggestion seems surprisingly forceful, given his role in a Clinton Administration that (arguably) coddled Kim Jong-il, and entered into a sham "Agreed To" framework that allowed the North to build nuclear weapons, while receiving fuel and food assistance from the U.S. But apparently, the former SecDef has always been more hawkish than most of the Clinton crowd, particularly in his views on North Korea. The Post reports that Mr. Perry supervised plans for potential airstrikes against the DPRK in 1994, in the event that diplomacy failed.

Unfortunately, the paper ignores a salient fact in hyping Mr. Perry's "get tough credentials." In a Clintonian universe, diplomatic efforts with Pyongyang would never fail. In fact, the Administration was so anxious to conclude a deal with the North that it even endorsed the "diplomacy" of former President Jimmy Carter, who helped broker the arrangement. Prospects for airstrikes against the DPRK in 1994 were about the same as George Patton's "phantom army" invading Normandy 40 years earlier. Talk of airstrikes was largely that--just talk, designed to nudge Pyongyang closer to an agreement. When the North saw it would get everything it wanted (and then some), a deal became inevitable.

But I digress. While we've long advocated a tougher approach against North Korea, Mr. Perry's may be a little too draconian. Taking out the TD-2 launch complex with sub-launched cruise missiles would be interpreted by Pyongyang as an act of war, and invite a similar response by the North. The DPRK has hundreds of ballistic missiles, and it's not inconceivable that Pyongyang could retaliate with a SCUD barrage against the South, and NO DONG strikes against U.S. bases in Japan and Okinawa. Such attacks would result in collateral damage, civilian casualties and a potential escalation into all-out war.

According to Mr. Perry, Pyongyang has little incentive to attack the south, since it would mean the end of Kim Jong-il's regime after a "few, short bloody weeks of war." That may be optimistic. As we've noted before, a successful invasion of the south requires that North Korea only grab the northern part of South Korea, including Seoul. Preventing that requires a massive influx of U.S. air and naval power--and the full mobilization of ROK reserves--a process that takes at least two weeks to complete. And that's assuming that we have adequate intelligence warning. With much of North Korea's military and missile forces postured near the DMZ, intel warning for a limited DPRK attack may be measured in hours, not days or weeks. In other words, Pyongyang has the ability to launch a surprise attack and gain many of their objectives before the full weight of allied combat power can be employed. Admittedly, the prospect of a NK ground attack is lower in the summer (when most of the troops are engaged in agriculture), but a counter-attack with ballistic missiles is a genuine possibility, easily executed.

Equally ludicrous is Mr. Perry and Mr. Carter's assertion that "creative diplomacy" could have averted the current crises. If they define innovative diplomacy in terms of the disasterous 1994 agreement, then we'll take a pass. In fact, one could argue that the "Agreed To" framework led to the current situation, by (a) allowing North Korea to proceed with the development of nuclear weapons and delivery platforms, and (b) teaching Pyongyang that the Americans will eventually cave to your demands, if you only bluster and threaten enough. Perry and Carter were part of a national security team that proved--conclusively--that unilateral diplomacy doesn't work with North Korea.

From our perspective, Bush Administration plans to possibly engage the TD-2 with ballistic missile defenses (if it threatens U.S. territory). The odds for a successful engagement are better than Mr. Perry and Mr. Carter would have you believe, and, more importantly, the BMD scenario provides more flexibility in dealing with North Korea after the event occurs. The Perry-Carter approach would work only if the U.S. had hard intelligence that the TD-2 will be an ICBM test (vice a space vehicle launch), and had pre-deployed enough combat power to deter an escalated North Korean response. Absent those factors, the Bush Administration's measured response is a better option, at least for now.


El Jefe Maximo said...

I suppose Mr. Perry and Mr. Carter would have called Mr. Chamberlain's trip to Munich "creative diplomacy."

The Clintonites certainly "coddled" as you put it. With their all carrots and no stick policy, they punted the problem right on down the road and here we are, eyeball-to-eyeball opposite Haiti with Nukes. Come to think of it, I'd rather have Haiti with Nukes -- Baby Doc was probably better adjusted than Spoiled Brat Dear Leader.

Your points about defending the South are well taken. Yeah, I know the ROKS had to re-build Seoul after the war -- but why they rebuilt it as big as they did is beyond me. The whole industrial/cultural/demographic guts of the country are right under the NKPA's artillery footprint. Even without an all-out invasion, the NK's can use the threat of that artillery making economic and humanitarian ruin to extract all the Danegeld they could want from the ROKS -- specially if they can hide under a deliverable nuke umbrella.

Further, if Seoul DID get grabbed by some kind of bolt-from-the-blue; I really wonder if that wouldn't end the whole thing without a chance for the ROKS to mobilize, or the US to surge-in reinforcements ? Yeah, I know we did in 1950, but Seoul is so much more the whole ball of wax today than it was previously.

Pyrthroes said...

A North Korean ground attack focusing on Seoul would --how you say?-- interest Japan and Taiwan. Ignoring an American Seventh Fleet stationed within range since Quemoy and Matsu fifty years ago, now ably abetted by phenomenal advances in aerospace technology plus satellite surveillance, would not redound to any victory of the Commissars. And China? Having recently conducted joint exercises with Russian naval forces, explicitly repudiating Kim's small-bore sabre-rattling, the question is only to what level would they bluster and threaten before reclining in their lawn chairs.

Like Cuba, North Korea survives in a Communist time-warp due solely to political geography. Were Castro's regime not on an island, or Kim's not on a virtually inaccessible peninsula, these rodents would long since have gone the way of Ulbricht's Berlin Wall.

Take Reagan's "Caribbean alternative": Faced with Castro's megalomania in Grenada, Reagan dispensed with El Maximo forthwith.
These cruddy little dictators snort and wheeze only so long as they escape real-world attention. Then like East Europe in 1989, to everyone's surprise-- they're gone, as if they never were. It turns out that these sleazy little twits never had anything behind them anyway. Let Kim go the way of Nicolai Ceausescu, mourned solely by Noam Chomsky and his wretched ilk. Save the Children!-- it will be very long past time.

Dubliner said...

The only good option is to attempt a shoot down of the North Korean missile, even if there was only a 1:100 chance of success. A US preemptive strike against North Korean ground targets is insane without a massive build up of US troops on the peninsula and the complete mobilization of the ROK. Destroying a North Korean missile in flight over international waters, however, would greatly undermine the efforts of the DPRK to blackmail Japan and the rest of the Pacific.

John (Useful Fools) said...

Slightly off topic, but one wonders in such a situation where the nuclear threshold would be crossed.

If the Norks invaded the south before we had adequate combat power to stop them, would we use nuclear weapons to do the job? I suspect we do have sufficient tactical nuclear capability to stop them, and hopefully it is deployed within range (say, in Guam).

The Russians have already lowered their nuclear threshold, stating that they would counter any attack with nukes (because they don't have any other capability that is worth a damn).

There is also the possibility that the Norks would use WMD against the South - chemical artillery targetted at Seoul. That would certainly cross our nuclear threshold.

All in all, a scary situation. It does seem that the best thing to do is to take out the missile in flight, if possible. On the other hand, there are the questions of how the heck did we get into this situaiton, and what the heck we are going to do, long term, about NK?

I think the biggest NK threat is a terrorist (or saboteur - same thing really) use of one or more nukes in US cities. Such weapons may be anonymous and terribly devastating.

Sassenach said...

"Creative diplomacy?" That reminds me of Kerry's campaign mantra: "I'd do the same thing, only better." What's that supposed to mean?

Retired Spook said...

This doesn't sound like the Bill Perry that I remember. He was pretty much of a wimp. Guess It's easier to sound tough when you know no one of any importance is paying much attention to what you say.