Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Nukes Won’t Save North Korea

The U.S. and South Korea’s war games are their best sanction.


By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.
The Wall Street Journal
August 2, 2017

In 2012, the commander of U.S. allied forces in South Korea explained the nature of the thousands of North Korean artillery and conventional rocket systems aimed at Seoul, a city of 24 million.

“These systems are capable of ranging Seoul without moving, and can deliver both high-explosive and chemical munitions with little or no warning.”

This would seem a pretty good deterrent given the improbable scenario, as North Korea surely understands, of a U.S. and South Korean attack on the North. Then why nukes? Penetrating North Korean rationalizations is never a sure thing, but a likely answer is to be found in the recent joint Chinese-Russian proposal of a freeze in North Korea’s missile and bomb testing in exchange for an end to U.S.-South Korean annual military exercises.

When North Korea is already spending 22% of gross domestic product to maintain its military, the cost of mobilizing in response to near-constant U.S. and South Korean maneuvers is a killing burden. Washington’s and Seoul’s war games are their most effective sanction and always have been.

North Korea upped the tempo of its training flights sixfold, to 700 a day, on the first day of the 2013 U.S. and South Korean “Key Resolve” annual maneuvers. That naturally sent Seoul’s analysts to their calculators, concluding triumphantly that the North was either draining its war reserve or starving its civilian economy of fuel.

The North especially goes ape over carrier deployments. When President Obama dispatched the USS George Washington, the North denounced “imperialist aggression” and promised “unpredictable disasters.” When President Trump sent the USS Carl Vinson, the North raged about “maniacal military provocations.”

When the U.S. and Japanese navies are operating in nearby waters, the North must keep its jets in the air and defenses mobilized. When U.S. and South Korean and (recently) Chinese troops are on the move near its border, it must activate troops in response.

Blood-curdling threats are the norm, possibly because they are cheaper than jet fuel. The North’s deputy United Nations ambassador warned earlier this year amid various Trump deployments that “thermonuclear war may break out at any moment.”

Or not. Both sides have been playing this game for a long time. Miscalculation is always possible, but much less so than in 1950.

Adm. Harry Harris, chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, said before Congress in April that the goal is to “bring Kim Jong Un to his senses, not his knees.” Tellingly, the admiral noted North Korean “shortfalls in training and equipment.”

In 2013, when Gen. Mike Flynn headed the Defense Intelligence Agency, he testified that “the North’s military suffers from logistics shortages, largely outdated equipment, and inadequate training.”

The U.S. and its allies can maintain their mobilization virtually indefinitely. North Korea can’t. Motor fuel is a sore point, but so are food, equipment, and sanitation and health care for troops in the field.

Ultimately, the Kim family regime remains in power by distributing resources to its loyalists, which actually shows every sign of being the growing priority today. In April, foreign reporters were invited to witness a ribbon cutting on a sumptuous new apartment block in Pyongyang for Kim favorites. The Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean paper, recounted the scene:

“Premier Pak Pong-ju then delivered a speech in which he claimed the opening of the street is more powerful than ‘hundreds of nuclear bombs.’ A Los Angeles Times correspondent tweeted that the street is ‘impressive’ and the skyscrapers lining it as ‘very modern’ but pointed out that the thousands of soldiers massing in the capital ‘looked severely stunted. A reminder of widespread malnutrition outside of Pyongyang.’ ”

In theory, what North Korea wants is a peace treaty ending the Korean War of 1950-53 and removal of U.S. forces from the region. Unfortunately, the North can’t afford the treaty it claims to want, because it can’t do without a U.S. threat to justify its sociopathic dictatorship.

In the end, the irresolvable dilemma is North Korea’s, not the West’s. The Kim regime doesn’t have a realistic solution for itself except to make sure the standoff goes on forever. The answer to North Korea’s nukes is a deep breath and to invest in missile defense, which the world needs anyway. The upside is likely to be a marked deterioration in its conventional forces.

In the meantime, the U.S. and South Korea maintain their long-term watching brief on the Northern regime’s effort to hold itself together. Keep up the pressure through the annual war games variously known over the years as “Team Spirit,” “Key Resolve,” “Foal Eagle” and “Ulchi-Freedom Guardian.” No regime is forever. And North Korea’s is more mercenary than most—suggesting an endgame in which the Kim family essentially sells out one day.


Article Link To The WSJ: