Thursday, 31 August 2017

The Multilayered Strategy Hidden in North Korean Missile Launches


North Korea has never suggested it would use its nuclear weapons to attack the United States or its allies completely out of the blue.

But, like Washington, it has stated quite explicitly that if it is either attacked or has reason to believe an attack is imminent, it has the right to launch a retaliatory or even a pre-emptive first strike.

The trigger for North Korea could be unusual troop movements in South Korea, suspicious activity at U.S. bases in Japan or — as the North has recently warned — flights near its airspace by U.S. Air Force B-1B bombers out of their home base on the island of Guam.

If Kim deemed any of those an imminent attack, one North Korean strategy would be to immediately target U.S. bases in Japan. A more violent move would be to attack a Japanese city, such as Tokyo, though that would probably be unnecessary since at this point the objective would be to weaken the U.S. military’s command and control. Going nuclear would send the strongest message, but chemical weapons would be an alternative.

North Korea’s ability to next hit the U.S. mainland with nuclear-tipped missiles is the key to how it would survive in this scenario. And that’s why Kim has been rushing to perfect and show them off to the world.

“The whole reason they developed the ICBM was to deter American nuclear retaliation because if you can hold an American city or cities at risk the American calculation always changes,” said Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a nuclear strategy specialist.

“Are we really willing to risk Los Angeles or Chicago in retaliation for an attack on a U.S. military base in the region?” he asks. “Probably not.”

That, right there, is Kim’s big wager.

If “no” actually is the answer, then North Korea has a chance — though slim and risky — of staving off a full-scale conventional attack by the United States to survive another day.
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USE ’EM OR LOSE ’EM

Kim isn’t paranoid. He has good reason to fear an attack by the United States.

It’s highly unlikely Washington would unilaterally start a war. But if it did, North Korea would face a far stronger and better equipped enemy able to — literally — bring the fight right to Kim’s front door. A successful U.S. first strike could within hours or days take out North Korea’s leadership, or at least seriously disrupt its chain of command, and destroy a good portion of the country’s fighting power.

So North Korea has a very strong incentive to escalate fast, before all is lost.

Under Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il — Kim’s grandfather and father — North Korea relied on conventional artillery just north of the Demilitarized Zone to keep Washington at bay, figuring the U.S. wouldn’t make any moves that might risk an attack on South Korea’s capital, Seoul, and the tremendous casualties and destruction that would bring.

Kim, fearing “decapitation strikes,” has brought missiles and nukes into the mix for an added layer of protection.

His strategy is to neutralize Washington’s military option by holding both Seoul and an American city hostage while building up his own ability to withstand a first strike or a massive wave of retaliation. To do that, North Korea is developing an array of missiles that can be launched by land or from submarines and easily hidden and transported to remote, hard-to-detect sites.

Reasonably enough, countries with big arsenals are generally considered less likely to feel the need to use them or lose them.

North Korea is believed to have an arsenal of perhaps several dozen nuclear weapons, growing by maybe a dozen or so each year. That’s a lot, but some analysts believe it may take a few hundred to cure Kim of the itchy trigger finger syndrome.
https://www.truthdig.com/articles/north-korea-winning-deterrence-war-us/

Because there is so much to lose on all sides of a conflict it is unlikely that war will break out. We might find limited exchanges of fire as has happened in the past but no major war.

However, the tense situation can be exploited for political reasons - to help defence companies sell weapons or to put trade sanctions on China.

[Posted at the SpookyWeather blog, August 31st, 2017.]

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