Korean War II?

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Otto von Bismarck, the ever quotable Chancellor of the Second Reich, predicted in 1888 that “One day the great European War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.”  I have long thought the same on a global scale about North Korea and Iran, where military power is wielded by regimes that seem to view rationality as a cardinal sin.

SEOUL — North Korea dramatically escalated its warlike rhetoric on Thursday, warning that it had authorised plans for nuclear strikes on targets in the United States.

“The moment of explosion is approaching fast,” the North Korean military said, warning that war could break out “today or tomorrow”.

Pyongyang’s latest pronouncement came as Washington scrambled to reinforce its Pacific missile defences, preparing to send ground-based interceptors to Guam and dispatching two Aegis class destroyers to the region.

Tension was also high on the North’s heavily fortified border with South Korea, after Kim Jong-Un’s isolated regime barred South Koreans from entering a Seoul-funded joint industrial park on its side of the frontier.

In a statement published by the state KCNA news agency, the Korean People’s Army general staff warned Washington that US threats would be “smashed by… cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means”.

“The merciless operation of our revolutionary armed forces in this regard has been finally examined and ratified,” the statement said.

Last month, North Korea threatened a “pre-emptive” nuclear strike against the United States, and last week its supreme army command ordered strategic rocket units to combat status.

But, while Pyongyang has successfully carried out test nuclear detonations, most experts think it is not yet capable of mounting a device on a ballistic missile capable of striking US bases or territory.

Mounting tension in the region could however trigger incidents on the tense and heavily militarised border between North and South Korea.

The White House was swift to react to Pyongyang’s latest “unhelpful and unconstructive threats”.

Go here to read the rest.  We have been down this path many times before with North Korea, that Stalinist- regime- frozen- in- amber, making outrageous threats and being rewarded with negotiations, world attention and aid from the West.  This time feels different however.  Kim Jong Un, Supreme Leader, took over on December 17, 2011.  There have been persistent reports of instability in North Korea including rumors of an assassination attempt against Kim in 2012 and in March of this year.  Kim has a reputation of being a playboy.  He owes his position purely to the fact that he is the grandson and son of the first two Communist dictators, the North Koreans having pioneered the concept of the Communist dynasty.  Traditionally domestic unrest in North Korea has resulted in the government sounding the drum of a potential foreign war.  Everything is on a hair trigger on the Korean Peninsula with only a minor miscalculation needed to lead to the first nuclear war of this century.

The war would likely be brief and would end in the destruction of the military capabilities of North Korea.  Unfortunately most of Seoul, the South Korean capital, with twenty-five million people in its metro area, would be in ruins with the city easily in range of massive amounts of North Korean artillery.  The South Korean military could defeat their North Korean counterparts in short order, but not before the South would absorb large amounts of civilian casualties.  Our troops of the 2nd Division, along with supporting air units, would be involved in the fighting from the onset.  Our air power would dominate the skies of North Korea, but our initial losses from the massive North Korean air defense system might be severe.

Despite the threats of the North Koreans, I would not expect that one of their missiles armed with a nuclear device could hit the US.  Much more likely is that a dying North Korean regime would lash out and send a nuclear armed missile against a major Japanese city.  If they were successful, that could be the most far reaching development of the war, as I think it would cause the Japanese to rearm and go immediately nuclear.  Japan and China have been increasingly at odds, and the chief legacy of Korean War II might be to see a newly militarized Japan confronting a China seeking to become the dominant power in East Asia.

What would China do in regard to a second Korean War?  So long as the US and South Korea do not seek to occupy permanently North Korea, I think the Chinese would be chiefly concerned with the millions of starving North Korean refugees attempting to flee to China.  Not a chance that China would let them in, and the scenes at the border could be quite harrowing.

 

My late uncle Ralph McClarey fought in the first Korean War.  I doubt if he would have been surprised at all to see war come again to that divided land.

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14 Comments

  1. 1. The concentrated metropolitan settlement has a population of about 13 million, similar to that of greater Los Angeles. The figure of “25 million” includes the population of the surrounding province of Gyeonggi.

    2. Japan’s total population, productive capacity, trajectory of economic growth, and demographic profile leave her ill-equipped to challenge Chinese pre-eminence in the Far East. Both Japan and Korea are facing social crises derived from abiding low fertility. China is as yet not.

    3. I suspect at some point in the course of hostilities between the U.S. and South Korea on the one hand and North Korea on the other, China will intervene. That is their near abroad and they have intervened before. The trick will be to avoid having American and Chinese troops shooting at each other.

    4. The most practical end result would be to place the ruins of North Korea under what amounts to a Chinese trusteeship. The place cannot be integrated any time soon into the politico-economic framework of a sophisticated and affluent country like South Korea.

    5. If we are very fortunate, the death toll will not exceed that of the Bosnian War.

    6. Ron Paul will blame the United States government.

  2. “1. The concentrated metropolitan settlement has a population of about 13 million, similar to that of greater Los Angeles. The figure of “25 million” includes the population of the surrounding province of Gyeonggi.”

    True, but much of the province would be a battle zone in any case.

    “2. Japan’s total population, productive capacity, trajectory of economic growth, and demographic profile leave her ill-equipped to challenge Chinese pre-eminence in the Far East. Both Japan and Korea are facing social crises derived from abiding low fertility. China is as yet not.”

    That has not stopped them from doing so Art, especially in regard to Senkaku Island. A nuking of a Japanese city would awake some very old patterns in Japan, call into question the value of the American defense shield, and remind Japan of their traditional foreign policy of never trusting gaijin.

    “3. I suspect at some point in the course of hostilities between the U.S. and South Korea on the one hand and North Korea on the other, China will intervene.”

    Perhaps, but the Chinese have been wary about becoming too involved in North Korea, the casualties suffered in the first Korean War still being vividly alive in the institutional memory of the Chinese military. So long as the US and South Korea do not seek to occupy North Korea, I think the Chinese will sit this one out.

    “4. The most practical end result would be to place the ruins of North Korea under what amounts to a Chinese trusteeship. The place cannot be integrated any time soon into the politico-economic framework of a sophisticated and affluent country like South Korea.”

    I doubt if anyone will want the immense task of dealing with the wreckage of a society in North Korea.

    “5. If we are very fortunate, the death toll will not exceed that of the Bosnian War.”

    Depends if nukes hit a civilian center.

    “6. Ron Paul will blame the United States government”

    But of course!

  3. “Both Japan and Korea are facing social crises derived from abiding low fertility. China is as yet not.”

    I thought China was in the middle of some very severe social crises derived from “low fertility” — that is, forced low fertility courtesy of the one-child policy. However, that crisis does not, as of yet, include any lack of military manpower — if anything, they have a huge surplus of single young men with no wives/girlfriends around to discourage them from fighting or getting killed. Would that, perhaps, tilt the balance in favor of Chinese intervention? Or do they have too much of a good thing going as far as trade with the West, etc. to take that chance?

  4. “3. I suspect at some point in the course of hostilities between the U.S. and South Korea on the one hand and North Korea on the other, China will intervene.” – I cannot think of a better means to end (high quality) Hyundia/Kia competition for Government Motors Conglomerate and the UAW’s lemons . . .

    The CHICOM army made the hike in 1950. It’s a long walk from the Yalu R. to Seoul.

  5. Per the World Bank, the total fertility rates for China, Japan, and South Korea are as follows: 1.6, 1.39, and 1.22. China’s fertility rate fell below replacement level in 1993, Korea’s in 1983, and Japan’s in 1974. Unlike a number of European countries, there has not been any discernible improvement in fertility rates in the last 15 years here or anywhere else in the Far East. China has had a foolish anti-natalist policy for a generation now and could presumably improve if they all stopped penalizing procreation. (By way of contrast, France’s fertility rate is 2.0 and the anglospheric countries bar Canada have fertility rates between 1.94 and 2.16. Germany and Austria have problems similar to Japan).

  6. If, as Mr. McClarey acknowledges, South Korea’s military could deal with the North Koreans easily enough, then there is absolutely no reason for America to be involved. As it is, our presence on the peninsula guarantees our participation in any war. Let South Korean and Japan develop their own nuclear arsenals and then they would be able to handle any kind of threat from Kim. If we can live with China and Pakistan possessing nuclear arms, then surely world peace won’t be any more seriously threatened by SK and Japan having them.

  7. To what planet would we have to retreat to to not risk being hit by a nuclear armed missile from a rogue state like North Korea? What would be the consequences of China confronting a nuclear armed Japan in the Pacific? What would be the consequences to the US to a nuclear conflict between China and Japan? Retreating to Fortress America is one answer to foreign policy challenges but it is almost always a bad one.

  8. It is far from a foregone conclusion that any of the scenarios that you lay out would actually occur if the US adopted a less interventionist foreign policy in the Far East. As for any threat Kim directly poses to us, I think we can deter him by letting him know in no uncertain terms that he and his regime would be utterly destroyed in the event of a conventional or nuclear attack on the United States. This could be done without maintaining a garrison in South Korea.

    BTW, I do enjoy this website, but I have my disagreements with you on foreign policy.

  9. “I think we can deter him by letting him know in no uncertain terms that he and his regime would be utterly destroyed in the event of a conventional or nuclear attack on the United States.”

    We have done that many times to no avail. Irrational regimes, and North Korea is clearly in that category, have their own agendas and are often not deterred by threats. A US pullout from South Korea might well convince Kim that now is the time to strike. The idea that the US retreating to its own shores would solve our foreign policy difficulties is simply an illusion. The world is shrinking each year through technological advances and a foreign policy suitable for the US in 1789 has no chance of success in this century.

  10. Mr. McClarey, you are 10,000 times wiser than a certain Pat Buchanan, who believes to his core that Fortress America is all we need to fix every problem.

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