Tuesday, August 1, 2017
A Man without a Foreign Policy – Korean Nightmares
“The time for talk is over.” Nikki Haley, American UN Ambassador, July 31st.
Haley issues the official Trump administration response to the latest North Korean missile test, an ICBM apparently capable of taking a small multi-warhead payload at least as far as the entire U.S. West Coast and highly probably all the way to New York and Washington, D.C. That missile is obviously operational now, even as Kim Jong-un’s regime is not capable of the kind of compact nuclear warhead that could devastate large cities… yet. And no matter how much we may tout our anti-missile defense system, it is far from 100% accurate. If enough missiles are launched, some would probably get through.
The Trump administration is long on talk and short of genuine options. “US vice-president Mike Pence … claimed ‘all options are on the table’ after the rogue regime’s latest test of a long-range missile allegedly capable of hitting American cities.
“Donald Trump and his senior aides are looking to China to act to restrain dictator Kim Jong-un. Nikki Haley, American ambassador to the UN, said Beijing ‘must decide if it is finally willing to take this vital step’ of taking on North Korea.
“It follows Friday’s [7/28] test-firing by Pyongyang of a second intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). North Korea said it flew for 47 minutes and reached an altitude of 2,300 miles, with Kim claiming it put the whole of the US within strike range… After the launch the US sent two supersonic B-1B bombers over the Korean peninsula in a 10-hour show of force. They were escorted by South Korean fighter jets and performed a low pass over an air base near Seoul.
“Mr Trump said he was ‘very disappointed in China,’ tweeting: ‘Our foolish past leaders have allowed [Beijing] to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk.’… Speaking during a visit to Estonia, [Pence] added: ‘The continued provocations by the rogue regime in North Korea are unacceptable, and the United States of America is going to continue to marshal the support of nations across the region and the world to further isolate North Korea economically and diplomatically. We believe China should do more.’… Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe today said he and Mr Trump had agreed on the need for action on North Korea.” MSN.com, July 31st.
Pass the buck to China? Really? Can they actually control the North? Let Russia continue to build its trade relationship with North Korea, including a new ferry service to Kim Jong-un’s ugly nation? Exactly what can we do?
A scant 30 miles from the border, Seoul, South Korea is home to over ten million people, well within range for the massive array of traditional artillery just on the other side… aimed at the South Korean capital. Even without nukes, the likely devastation in South Korea and Japan (the latter well within range of several fully-operational North Korean missiles) could produce tremendous numbers of human casualties. Add nukes and we could have the greatest loss of life in all of history.
Is the threat that we will destroy every living thing in the North (population just shy of 25 million) with a retaliatory strike enough? How many South Koreans would also die as a result of such a U.S. strike? What would China’s response be? Remember that China tolerates an unstable Kim Jong-un because the last thing it wants is a U.S. ally directly on its border. Is it just unstable “Kim” or are there a passel of serious arrogant North Korean generals equally as adamant that they can bring the U.S. hegemony down in flames?
Is the North’s seemingly unstoppable development of increasing military capacity purely offensive? What’s really going on here? Former Acting Director of the CIA, Michael Morell, in an interview for the July 30th The Cipher Brief, explains: “The North has now demonstrated two of the four things they need to put the homeland at risk -- a workable nuclear device and a missile that can travel the distance. They still have not demonstrated the other two things -- the ability to make a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on a missile and the ability of the warhead and the missile to actually work together as designed, particularly under the stress, pressure, and heat of the launch of the missile and the reentry of the warhead. It is very important to note that just because the North has not demonstrated these last two capabilities does not mean that they don't have them. That would be both a wrong -- and a possibly very dangerous -- assumption.
“The message that Kim is trying to send the U.S. is, at minimum, that North Korea has a deterrent to any U.S. effort to overthrow him and his regime. Essentially Kim is saying, ‘if you attack me, I will be able to bring about extraordinary death and destruction on you, so don't attack me.’…
“I find it very interesting that there is an unstated assumption in what almost everyone, including the President, says when they discuss the China/North Korea issue -- that China can solve this problem if it wants. Yes, China has been unwilling to try to use its economic relationship with the North to change Kim's behavior for any number of reasons, but I really doubt that China would be effective in changing North Korean behavior even if it tried. Why? Because Kim sees his strategic weapons program as the key to his political and personal survival. He is not going to give it up even under intense pressure from China…
“I don't see regime change as a legitimate policy option. I think that the probability that the U.S. could be overthrow Kim and his regime and replace it with one much more inclined to deal with the U.S. is extraordinarily low. And, even if we did, how could we be certain that what would follow would be better? It might even be worse…
“We have tried diplomacy for 25 years without success. The President is right when he says diplomacy has failed. But, still, we owe it to ourselves and to our allies to try at least one more time. But, in so doing, we have to be careful that we do not fall into the historical trap whereby we make concessions while North Korea does not… I think eventually we will get to a choice between the extremes of military action and acceptance…
“What Kim wants is to negotiate, but not give anything up, after he is able to convince us that he can threaten the homeland with nuclear weapons. He wants to negotiate from a position of strength. And, he is rushing in that direction. This is what is creating the sense of urgency here at home, and it is one of the reasons why diplomacy will ultimately fail…
“There are many questions to answer. What are the North's weapons capabilities today? If we attack them tomorrow, can they detonate a nuclear weapon over Denver? If so, that would give us pause. If not, how much time do we have? And, what are Kim's intentions? We could much more easily live with a Kim who just wants to deter us than a Kim who wants to extort us. And, even if his intention is just deference today, might that change down the road?”
Barack Obama made it very clear to the incoming president that his greatest and most difficult challenge, one that carried with it the onus of starting what might be a nuclear war, was our relationship with North Korea. He was so right.
Morell thinks these are the real choices on the table. “I think that the President is going to face three policy options -- (1) diplomacy, (2) acceptance, along with containment and deterrence, and (3) military action to significantly degrade the North's strategic weapons capabilities.” I agree, but… (1) is exceptionally unlikely to work, even if China literally disowned Kim Jong-un entirely. (3) would probably kill tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of people on the Korean Peninsula and possibly Japan even without nukes. In my mind’s eye, which will require vastly better intelligence than we are generating now to be sure, the probable option is number (2), a choice that does not fit well within Trump tweeting blusters.
Given Trump’s total distrust of his entire intelligence community, having gone well out of his way to demoralize and antagonize them, that’s a tall order. But it is what we are probably going to live with, as uncomfortable as that may be. On the other hand, if our intelligence tells us the North is hell-bent on attack… And if you think missiles and nukes are the only threat from North Korea, just wait, there’s more. Remember the Sony hack? Yeah, well, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
My friend, management consultant, Dennis Duitch, points out one huge gaping hole in our infrastructure that would bring us to our knees in minutes: AMERICA’S POWER GRID runs on roughly 2,500 extremely high-voltage transformers, each of which is uniquely designed, takes a year or more to build & install, weighs up to 400 tons, and is roughly 40 years old on average, and at risk of blowing out. Concern for risk from a transformer-wrecking Electro-magnetic Pulse (EMP) is realistic as potential sources increase, including: (1) ‘coronal mass ejection’ aka Solar Flares – one of which took down Quebec’s entire grid for nine hours; (2) hacker cyberattack – one of which cut power to nearly a quarter-million Ukrainians 18 months ago; (3) terrorism – which knocked out 80% of San Jose California’s transformers a few years ago; and (4) nuclear explosion above the clouds – whether intentional or accidental. The Emergency Management Dep’t of Los Angeles “estimates that, with the grid down, the city would be foodless in less than ten days… The scale of potential impact is staggering, including utilities unable to treat nor pump water or sewage (i.e. no toilet flushing); inaccessibility of gas, medicine, cash, and any type of transportation needing fuel; absence of fire or police protection; even military units stuck in place. According to the Pentagon’s ‘Defense Threat Reduction Agency, “critical military systems have been EMP-proofed, but other agencies have done ‘precious little’ to safeguard civilian infrastructure… Prolonged loss of electricity is a low-probability event, but the scale of potential impact is mind-concentrating.” [THE ECONOMIST – July 15th] North Korea is thoroughly familiar with this vulnerability. One EMP pulse later… That and bringing our financial system to utter surrender by decimating the Internet through strategic hacking.
So in addition to acceptance and deterrence, there are two additional steps the United States needs to take: 1. Build up its missile defense system including the “Star Wars” space-deployed system. I know it invites a space race, militarization of the heavens, but we are not remotely prepared for the Kim Jong-un types of the world. Unless China and/or Russia bring(s) the North under control first. What we have just is not enough. 2. Discard our existing Internet and replace it with a truly secure and vastly more sophisticated alternative technology. Blockchain derivative? Entangled photon pairs? Plasma-based transmissions? Other? What we have is just too damned vulnerable. We just have to live in the real world… not Trumpland.
I’m Peter Dekom, and with few good choices, a thoroughly unprepared “shoot from the hip” president and his advisory team are not remotely up to the task at hand.