Next Steps in North Korea

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In fact, the military apparently has a larger stake in the country’s leadership than before the passing of Kim Jong-Il. Reuters is reporting that sources close to Pyongyang have sent signals that a “collective leadership” structure was put in place by Kim Jong-Il to guide his untested son. The structure is said to comprise a triumvirate that includes the younger Kim, his uncle and top military commanders.

In short, it seems the NKPA has all the more reason to sustain and protect the regime—or at least to sustain and protect itself. In other words, the prospect of a power struggle among military factions and regime loyalists is not out of the question. The parallel here might be the civil wars in Libya and Syria.

That brings us to an even scarier nightmare scenario: To consolidate internal control, the paranoid North Korean regime could lash out across the DMZ and send shrapnel in every direction. As a once-classified Pentagon report warns, there is “the possibility of conflict spurred by internal instability, miscalculation or provocation.” (In this regard, one wonders how many more unprovoked naval attacks and artillery barrages South Korea can ignore.)

The best version of this worst-case scenario would feature China doing the opposite of what it did during Korean War I: using its military leverage to end the North Korean regime rather than sustain it, to shorten the war rather than prolong it. But even a short war would be brutal and bloody. In their book The Next War, the late Caspar Weinberger and Peter Schweizer predicted that a second war on the peninsula would claim almost 19,000 American casualties—in less than 90 days of fighting.

Within easy range of the 11,000 artillery pieces that line the northern edge of the DMZ, Seoul would bear the brunt of the blow. Gen. Leon LaPorte, the former commander of U.S. forces in Korea, noted in 2005 that every third round fired by North Korea would be a chemical weapon. Perhaps worse, with the North Korean regime’s very survival at stake, the U.S., South Korea and Japan would have to expect the unexpected: modified long-range missilery, swarms of commandos, terrorist attacks, even nuclear weapons.

The fact that a second war would end the beastly Kim Dynasty is of little comfort. Such a war would give new meaning to the term “Pyrrhic victory.”

We can continue to hold out hope that the Kim Dynasty will fall like a rotten tree rather than explode like a time bomb. But since hope is no substitute for policy, Washington’s objective should be to brace for the worst, shield America’s allies in the region, cooperate with China where necessary and keep the powder keg from exploding. That’s how U.S. administrations have measured success in Korea for 58 years. Given what Korean War II would look like, it’s a worthy goal as Kim Jong-un takes the reins of the regime his grandfather forged in war.

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  • tarleton

    The N Koreans are dangerously paranoid AND nationalistic …they fear unification as an invasion …these folks are like a paranoid and bizarre cult that has collapsed and need to be treated with great caution …let reality ease upon them gently , drip by drip , like an anesthetic …sooner or later they will sober up to reality

  • tarleton

    The N Korean mindset is very much like the japanese of the WW2 era …quasi medieval and prone to hysteria and fanaticism …instead of Emperor worship they have the Kim dynasty…..even the S Koreans are hysterical christians …koreans tend to be emotionaly immature and fragile …they don't stand pressure or stress very well at all ….HANDLE WITH CARE

    • UCSPanther

      I fear you are right, especially with the North Koreans.

  • Brujo Blanco

    I lived in S Korea for quite sometime. NK is a maximumly indoctrinated country. They literally worship their leader as a God. They will tell you pont blank that all good things that happen to them are because of their beloved dictator. All bad things are becaus of foreign enemies. The enemies are the USA and S. Korea. There are many young S Koreans that believe the left wing rhetoric and carp for the demise of the USA.

  • Ghostwriter

    There are people from both countries who live here in America. Believe me,many of them have no love for the Kim Dynasty,I can assure you of that. I don't know what will happen. I guess we'll just have to watch and wait.

  • WilliamJamesWard

    The South Korean Military is anything but immature and fragile, they are some
    of the best soldiers on the planet in spite of the misinformation on this thread. I
    would challenge anyone to last a day in training with the S.K. Tiger Division. I
    remember how the VC were terrified of the South Korean Army.
    The North Koreans are unique in the intensity of the brain washing and suffering
    put on them by their leaders. If the North invades South Korea the invading
    troops will quickly throw down their weapons and hold up signs, "will work for food".
    William

    • tarleton

      The japanese in WW2 were formidable soldiers and yet it's undeniable that they were mentally unstable , emotionly immature and quasi medieval ..the ''rape of nanking and Bataan death march were something out of the hundred years war of 14th C Europe …infact ,the japanese were very much like moslems with their fanaticisms and suicide bombers /kamakases, love of swords , bayonets and head chopping ….BANZAI !!!!

    • John_Kelly

      Great insight William and many (myself included) may be unaware of the facts regarding the S.K. Tiger Division's reputation in Vietnam.

      Keep up the great work in 2012 and Happy New Year.

  • g_jochnowitz

    East Germany fell when large numbers of people were able to cross the border into what was then Czechoslovakia and travel to West Germany, where they were accepted as citizens. The United States should make an agreement with China and South Korea in which we agree to pay for flying North Korean refugees from China to Seoul and then help the South Korean government pay for their integration. We have enough economic problems, to be sure, but nothing would be more expensive than a nuclear war started by the crazy Kim Dynasty.

  • UCSPanther

    North Korea’s massive army looks good on paper, but it is full of starving conscripts and using weapons and gear that have been obsolete since the ’70s. For tactics, they probably would employ old Chinese and Soviet “Human wave” attacks that have long ago been phased out in the face of more modern warfare. It does not help that their leadership is on shaky ground either.

    The South, in comparison, is overall better armed with more modern hardware, their soldiers are better trained and they would utilize more modern tactics on the field. Their leadership would doubtlessly be more stable as well.

    For allies, the US would be forced to back the south and they could easily get help from other powers in the area, such as the Japanese. The North, on the other hand is pretty much isolated, and I suspect that China would not be very keen to come to their aid in the event of a war. If China does intervene, as pointed out in the article, it would be more to stop the war, and they would probably seize control of their erstwhile “ally” while they were at it.

    • tarleton

      The Norks are brainwashed political cultists …in defense of their nation/cult , their morale is high …remember what happened in jonestown and the David koresh compound ?…these nutcases will blow themselves up and commit group suicide if pushed into a corner

      • UCSPanther

        You are probably right, but that will very likely change in the event of a war, when the NKPA faces off with US and South Korean forces and they find out how weak they truly are.

        North Korean propaganda paints an extremely distorted picture of their strength. It portrays the North as a superpower that is feared by everyone, including the United States. They even go as far as to claim that the US sends them tribute.

        Simply put, the propaganda fueled arrogance would be the death of a lot of NKPA conscripts.

        • tarleton

          the future of N Korea is probably more of the same …the N Korean leadership are not going to surrender as they'd all be out of a job …the S Koreans don't want the burden of a mentally and physically handicaped brother …they are becoming an embarressment to China who will play the role of kingmaker
          The long term menace from the ''hermit kingdom '' is that they will develop increasingly lethal weapons and become a weapons bizarre for radical Islam ..now that's a frightening thought

  • BLJ

    I have a hard time believing that the rulers of North Korea nor the Chinese would ever allow a reunification of Korea. I also don't think the South Koreans want an economic basket case on their hands.

    Kudos to WilliamJamesWard on his comments about the South Korean military. They can handle themselves in a fight against the Reds.

  • tanstaafl

    Feed them. Air drop food over North Korea. What will the Korean military do when the population discovers they can't feed them?