March 16, 2017

An Increasingly Dangerous North Korea

Trump can thank Obama, Clinton and Carter for the trouble.

“North Korea during the last year created a new normal of threatening its enemies, launching missiles, and improving its nuclear capability — all on the pretext that it was unhinged and not subject to classical deterrence, and that the United States was not a reliable guarantor of the security of South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. Correcting that impression is fraught with real dangers and with the surety that whatever the U.S. does, it will be blamed for provoking a lunatic nuclear state.” —Victor Davis Hanson, National Review

Last week, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s rogue state — that now threatens its Asian neighbors, and quite possibly the United States itselflaunched four missiles that soared 620 miles before falling into the Sea of Japan. The statement following that launch was unambiguous: “Involved in the drill were Hwasong artillery units of the KPA (Korean People’s Army) Strategic Force tasked to strike the bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces in Japan in contingency.”

North Korea’s “practice run” was a response to Foal Eagle, the annual field training exercise involving U.S. and South Korean ground, air and naval forces that would be used for retaliation against North Korea if it attempts to make good on its threats to annihilate America and its Asian allies. Pyongyang views those exercises as practice for a pre-emptive invasion, thereby necessitating a response.

Foreign Policy columnist Jeffery Lewis sees a dark future. “Kim’s strategy depends on using nuclear weapons early — before the United States can kill him or those special forces on display in Foal Eagle can find his missile units. He has to go first, if he is to go at all,” he writes. “But going first is also the U.S. strategy. That means, in a crisis, the pressure will be to escalate. Whatever restraint Kim or Trump might show … each will face enormous pressure to start the attack lest his opponent beat him to the punch.”

And that’s now. The future? “Defense officials have warned that North Korea is on the brink of producing an ICBM that could target the United States,” Washington Free Beacon columnist Natalie Johnson reveals. “North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced in January during his New Year’s address that Pyongyang had ‘entered the final stage of preparations to test-launch’ an ICBM that could reach parts of the United States.”

Thus, America is faced with terrible choices. Doing nothing other than further isolating North Korea via sanctions has allowed Pyongyang to reach a stage of development where it could nuke South Korea and Japan — and U.S. troops stationed in both arenas. Remaining in the same posture going forward allows them to develop ICBMs, first capable of reaching Hawaii, but eventually capable of reaching the U.S. mainland itself.

What to do? In Japan, lawmakers are discussing ways to take out North Korea’s launch sites. “It is time we acquired the capability,” said Hiroshi Imazu, the chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) policy council on security. “I don’t know whether that would be with ballistic missiles, cruise missiles or even the F-35 (fighter bomber), but without a deterrence North Korea will see us as weak.”

China, (and Russia as well) see such capabilities as provocative. Adding to their anger is the Trump administration’s decision to locate components of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) in South Korea. THAAD is a defensive deterrent designed to shoot down ballistic missiles, but Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China would take action against the effort, with the U.S. and South Korea viewed as responsible for “all the consequences” that could arise.

Nonetheless, the Trump administration is sending other unsubtle messages to North Korea and China as well. A new Gray Eagle attack drone system will be deployed in South Korea, and a Gray Eagle Unmanned Aerial Systems company will be permanently located at America’s Kunsan Air Base about 150 miles from Seoul. The Grey Eagle, developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, is an advanced version of the Predator, capable of carrying four Hellfire air-to-surface missiles. “In case of a war on the Korean Peninsula, the unmanned aircraft could infiltrate into the skies of North Korea and make a precision strike on the war command and other major military facilities,” stated an unidentified South Korean military official.

The Trump administration is also adding U.S. special operations units, including the U.S. Navy SEAL Team Six unit that killed Osama bin Laden, to the mix of forces involved in Foal Eagle. Special ops forces are also participating in the computer-simulated command post exercise known as Key Resolve. Foal Eagle will run through the end of April, Key Resolve through March 24.

On Tuesday, an increasingly agitated Kim promised to launch a “ground, air, sea and underwater” attack if the drills continued.

“North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, once a source of global ridicule, is no longer being treated as a joke now that the Hermit Kingdom’s destructive power can match his increasing belligerence,” Fox News reports.

What never received the ridicule they so richly deserved were the machinations that allowed North Korea to obtain nukes in the first place. “This agreement is good for the United States, good for our allies, and good for the safety of the entire world. It’s a crucial step toward drawing North Korea into the global community,” former president Bill Clinton stated in 1994.

Clinton was referring the agreement orchestrated by his equally clueless negotiator, former President Jimmy Carter, whereby the Hermit Kingdom received a $4 billion, 10-year commitment in energy aid in return for its commitment to first freeze and ultimately dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

Dismantle? In 2002, Pyongyang officially announced they had crossed the nuclear threshold — an effort no doubt facilitated by the billions of dollars they received for their empty promises.

Hudson Institute senior fellow Arthur Herman sees a more encouraging alternative to the aforementioned military strategies. “Technology exists now for stopping a North Korean missile launch much earlier, in its boost phase,” he writes. That interception would come courtesy of “an unmanned aerial vehicle waiting at 55,000 feet and equipped with infrared sensors that will detect missile launches from 350 miles outside North Korean airspace.” The BPI operators would have enough firepower to bring down even a large ICBM and “nearly a minute to decide whether a launch is genuine or not, and then to initiate the intercept — more than enough time to prevent a mistake.”

Is America really interested in preventing mistakes?

The same progressive worldview that gave us North Korea was reprised with Iran. Clinton and Carter could at least make the case they were traveling in uncharted diplomatic waters. Barack Obama had their blueprint for failure — and embraced it.

Trump? Hanson warns he is “inheriting a world that is imploding, an electorate that has no belly to fix it, and a military that for the present is in no shape to do so even if it wanted to.”

North Korea is now about managing bad or worse choices. Iran? The only thing worse than a rogue state with nuclear weapons … is two of them.

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