Saturday, November 27, 2010

Upping the Ante

UPDATE//28 November/0726 EST// Updated information from Yonhap indicates North Korea has moved both anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles to launch positions near the Yellow Sea. The SAMs have been identified as SA-2s, the aging, Russian-built system that has been the backbone of the DPRK air defense network for more than 40 years. They do not pose a significant threat to the advanced tactical aircraft operated by the U.S. and the South Korean air forces. The anti-ship missiles have a range of up to 60 miles but they also represent rather dated technology.
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula ratcheted even higher on on Sunday, amid reports that North Korea has placed surface-to-surface missiles on launching pads near the Yellow Sea.

Reports from Reuters (and other media outlets) didn't specify the type of missiles, but given the location, they are almost certainly anti-ship weapons, perhaps the Chinese-designed C-802, which is deployed--and occasionally tested--at positions along the North Korean coast. At those locations, the anti-ship missiles could be used to target U.S. or ROK naval vessels operating near the Northern Limit Line, the maritime extension of the demilitarized zone which divides the two Koreas.

The deployment effectively raises the ante in the current standoff between North and South Korea. Missions normally conducted in that portion of the Yellow Sea, ranging from freedom of navigation to the reinforcement and resupply of South Korean-controlled islands, now face a heightened threat from North Korea's coastal defense batteries.

While these missiles are always a potential menace, their deployment to launch positions suggests a heightened alert posture. And, based on the example of last week's artillery barrage against ROK positions on Yeonpyeong Island, there may be standing orders--from Kim Jong-il himself--that would allow the missile batteries to engage allied naval targets with only the slightest "provocation."

After the artillery strike on the South Korean island, it was revealed that the North Korean leader (and his designated successor), Kim Jong-un, had met with military commanders in the area during the hours leading up to the barrage. Deployment of the coastal defense missiles, preparation for a possible nuclear test in the coming weeks and the personal involvement of Kim Jong-il affairs that the North Korean leaders is engaged in his familiar game of brinkmanship, and this particular episode is far from over.

Pyongyang will likely describe the missile deployment as a "defensive measure," taken in reaction to naval drills between the U.S. and South Korea that are now underway. But that claim is rather specious, since much of the activity will occur far from the disputed waters of the NLL. But it does provide a potential pretext for launching anti-ship missiles at ROK patrol craft and other vessels in the Yellow Sea.

And, at that point, the ball is back in the court of the Seoul government and their allies in Washington. Let's suppose North Korea locks onto a South Korea or U.S. Navy vessel with its target tracking radar. That alone is considered an act of war, giving allied commanders the right to defend themselves, by targeting the unit or system responsible. Will political leaders grant that authority, or will they remain hesitant for further "provoke" the DPRK.

Beyond that, what about options for wider military action, including counter-attacks against other missile sites/offensives systems. That is also well within the right of military commanders (under standing operations plans in most theaters), but there's no indication that American or South Korean leaders would quickly grant that authority to their armed forces. Historically, all responses to Pyongyang's provocations have been deliberate and measured, and limited to political and diplomatic measures. While North Korea has routinely targeted U.S. and ROK military personnel for decades, we have been extremely reluctant to return the favor.

Now may be the time to return the favor. As Kim Jong-il pushes the peninsula towards the brink, the U.S. and South Korea must be clear in explaining the consequences of future attacks--and be willing to follow through. One reason the DPRK has grown so emboldened is a consistent lack of action on the part of the United States and our allies in Seoul. Recent history suggests North Korea has little to fear from allied bluster. At this point, they have little incentive to back down.

No one wants war on the Korean peninsula. But the feckless appeasement of Kim's regime is hardly a path to peace.


sykes.1 said...

It is possible that the Obama administration would not respond to a missile attack on American warships even if the attack succeeded and damaged or sank the ship.

How possible is anyone's guess, but the probability is not zero. The question is how do the North Koreans estimate the probability.

F said...


"How possible" is exactly what the world is wondering. This administration has not shown any eagerness to respond to threats from anyone except the Israelis and UK -- our erstwhile allies. And Kim Jong Il has shown himself more than willing to tickle the dragon's tail. That is not a good combination. I think what we need to do is carry the progression out several iterations:

-DPRK attacks the George Washington with missiles, presumably ineffectively because of Aegis

-US sends a stern warning

-DPRK attacks again


-DPRK attacks George Washington from sub, again ineffectively

-US sinks their sub

-DPRK attacks again, this time with missile swarm

In both cases, it seems to me the DPRK is in the driver's seat and we are just along for the ride. What will it take us to decide we want to be in control instead of just responding?

joetote said...

N.Korea as well as China consider this president a weak sister and that is putting it mildly, They are not the least bit afraid of retaliation because this president with his Chamberlain like tendencies has absolutely no respect. I also believe that china has already warned the U.S. in no uncertain terms to back off and if pressed, Obama will in fact do that. For what it's worth, that was a missile that was filmed off California most likely fired by a Chinese sub. Due to the fact tha Clinton allowed missile guidance technology to be sold to the Red Chinese we are now in this fix. And remember one other thing. We have 30,000 troops over there. The NORKs are moving missiles around and do have weapons that can reach our troops!

joetote said...

Please note: I firmly believe China has already fired a warning shot at the U.S. also as that thing off the coast of California was definitely a missile, government lies beside. Thanks to Clinton allowing them to buy missile guidance technology along with this President's Chamberlain like tendencies (Anti-American in my book) it stands to reason that China is getting exactly what it wants
I wrote the following well over a year ago. In the full post, I made the argument that this President showing the weakness that he is now known for would in fact aid and abet this tin horn dictator in N.Korea. I just above took the China card into consideration as to my premise. Now, the madman is taking his shots as I feared and the Moron in Chief has the utter gall to proclaim this isn't a crisis or something to that effect.

"WE CANNOT NEGOTIATE WITH MADMEN! Chamberlain Jr. has got to get that through his fat head! While we fiddle/faddle, Korea lies to our faces while working at getting what they want! One other thing here. The folks on the left seem to think the Koreans, being the honorable people that they are would never do anything stupid! Wrong!! As is evidenced buy their latest action, the North Koreans are willing to risk destruction well knowing the weak sister leaders of the world will cave in as always. And in the eyes of the morons in power here, they can't deliver a payload! WRONG! They have a short range missile that can deliver a small warhead. And lest anyone forget, we have 35,000 troops around the border there. One bomb. That's all it takes! But we'll trust the Anti-American UN and a madman?! Good Grief!

Vigilis said...

Agree with Sykes.1, but must note that in North Korea's calculus no missile attack on U.S. forces is even necessary to decapitate S. Korean leadership and occupy Seoul.

Like his predecessor, Obama would wait for an emergency session of the UN Security Council to spotlight U.S. direction in defense of S. Korea.

In April 2008, a closed-door U.N. Security Council emergency session convened at Georgia’s request failed to resolve the dispute, but the U.S., the United Kingdom, France and Germany issued a joint statement expressing their concern over Russia’s recent moves in Abkhazia and calling on Moscow to reverse Abkhazia and South Ossetia policy. Russia stressed that it had no intention of reversing its plans.

There can be little doubt of N. Korea's (and China's) intententions with respect to the DPRK occupying the South, nor its ability to succeed under current U.S. leadership.

The U.S. bluff has been called too often. Taiwan, Australia, and Japan (not to mention Iran, Venezuela and Mexico) are watching intensely.

The DPRK is an unwitting proxy for China's takeover of Taiwan under a weak U.S. administration.

- Just the opinion of one man who hopes he is wrong.

Consul-At-Arms said...

I've quoted you and linked to you here: