General Clark: ‘North Korea is the crisis’
QUEENSTOWN — The best defense is a strong economy, according to retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, who was charged with talking about the United States’ military preparedness to a gathering of Wye Fellows Thursday evening, Sept. 7, at the Aspen Institute’s Queenstown campus.
A former candidate for president of the United States, Clark served 38 years and retired as a four-star general in May 2000.
A chance to meet and hear the general speak meant a sold-out audience at the Institute, with mostly members in attendance.
The general cited several major challenges that the United States faces in terms of security.
“We’ve got to deal with the terrorists,” he said. “Because they are relentless. And all they have to do is bring down an airplane to shut down world commerce. And they are still trying to do it.”
He also talked about the challenge of cyber security.
“Now we don’t know all the dimensions of that challenge,” he said. “This is a very rapidly evolving area.”
“The Chinese are about to enter quantum computing,” he said. “And with quantum computing you can do so many computations that the existing cryptographic protections we are using will not succeed in protecting us if there are secrets they really want to get after.”
Clark talked about recent collisions of Navy ships in the Pacific. He said that he understood that the commanding officers had been relieved of their duties, but he found it very surprising if they were at fault.
“You don’t come up through the ranks of the armed forces and not know your stuff,” he said. “Especially in the United States Navy because it is the most technically demanding and difficult of all of the services.”
Clark said he had heard behind the scenes that the lookouts on those ships had been on duty and alert.
“There’s something very strange going on with GPS systems or internal controls of these ships,” he said.
He also noted that, in the last 2 or 3 years, every major airline has had reservation or ticketing problems that caused shutdowns.
He said he talked to Delta Airlines about it, and suggested that the problem could be cyber-related. Clark said they told him that a power converter had failed prior to the problems. He said United Airlines and other major airlines had reported the same thing.
Another challenge to security, he said, is that the United States has a financial stability problem, beginning with the recession of 2008.
“Right now we are roaring ahead with naked derivatives and shorts and there’s still no regulation in the world-wide currency trade,” he said.
“When you have $650 trillion or more in play at any given time and if anything ever happened to that, there’s no telling ...” he said.
“Yes, we put a little more money in the banks but is it really secure enough?” Clark said. “I don’t know. It’s a risk.”
He said another major risk for the United States is China and what China wants to do in the “world environs.”
“The south China sea’s not going away,” he said. He said there was one area where the Chinese are building atolls.
“They’ve got the dredging ship right out there just piling it on so they can put in the airfield, the anti-aircraft missiles and the Chinese fighters on the atoll,” he said.
He said he had been in China last October on business and had suggested to leaders that they could put the atolls under the United Nations, but the Chinese did not seem to like that idea.
“They want to pursue their atoll building program in an aggressive and offensive fashion in the south China sea,” he said.
“And so we have accepted it as a fait accompli,” he said. “We have resigned the law of the sea treaty and we are going to lose the south China sea, and with it our ability to influence the Philippines, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, and all of them down there.”
He said that Australia was at risk from the expansion, as well as the United States’ relationship with Vietnam.
Clark said that China wanted to displace the U. S., but that’s not the crisis.
“North Korea is the crisis,” he said. Clark said he had been part of negotiations, along with Bob Gallucci, back in 1994 when the U.S. almost went to war the first time over the nuclear issue in North Korea. He said a peace agreement had never been signed.
“And nothing’s really changed,” Clark said. He said North Korea has three unchanging objectives.
“They want to survive,” he said. “They want to be free of American influence and power on the Korean peninsula. And they want to unify Korea under the control of the Kim family.”
He said that North Korean aggression is part of the “long-term Chinese game.”
“The Chinese game is to push the United States out of the Western Pacific,” Clark said. “They may consider letting us keep Hawaii although one of their maps shows that Hawaii also belongs to China.”
But for now, he said, the U.S. can have Hawaii.
“But certainly not Okinawa, certainly not Korea,” he said. “And not Guam.”
“And the way they get us out is, North Korea is the barking dog,” Clark said. “And the center of gravity is the population of South Korea.”
He said that North Korea ratchets up tension in the South Korean population by pointing out training exercises held by American B-1 bombers and how threatened it makes them feel.
“As long as South Koreans are on our side and say, these guys in the North are nuts, everything’s fine,” Clark said.
He said that South Korea is twice as large as North Korea and has ten times the economic power.
But, he said, if America’s popularity begins to wane with South Koreans by a significant percentage, it could begin a “slide” into that long-term Chinese game.
“So we have to know the long term,” he said of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. “What is this really about? Yes, he has nuclear weapons. He has long range missiles.”
“You know if he ever attacked us?” Clark said. “He would be obliterated. The point is, there is no good military option for getting rid of the nuclear and missile programs of North Korea, short of general warfare.”
He said the United States could strengthen deterrence by placing defensive missiles to shoot down those of North Korea. The U.S. could also help South Korea to build better defenses.
Clark said that as an American “just kind of hold your nose” when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un makes threatening statements about attacking the United States.
“And you don’t want to play that game back. that’s his game,” Clark said. “Stay away from that game. If he wants to survive, he’s not going to attack because he will be destroyed. Be strong.”
He said the United States could try negotiating with Kim Jong Un directly, but it is clear the negotiations would include the U.S. leaving the Korean peninsula.
“In other words, open the door to let him take over South Korea,” Clark said. “That’s the Chinese plan and that’s the exit strategy.”
Clark said it reminded him of the situation that happened in 1939 when the United States looked at Japanese aggression in the Pacific and did not go to war, but decided to stop selling Japan oil and scrap steel.
“In Japan, this was seen as a trigger for war,” he said. “So the fact is, we didn’t choose war but we did take actions that encouraged them to choose war.”
He said North Korea is not going to give up its nuclear weapons.
“He will starve 50 percent of his country before getting rid of nuclear weapons,” Clark said of Kim Jong Un.
“War on the peninsula could begin by accident or miscalculation,” Clark said.
“How are we doing for military preparedness?” the general asked. “Not ver y well.”
He said the 2013 sequestration took $600 billion out of the five-year defense program.
“We are behind in operations and maintenance money,” he said. “In all four services — the Air Force, the Marines, the Navy and the Army.”
“We’ve got equipment that cannot be repaired, we’ve got ships that need servicing, that is desperately needed. We’ve got tanks that need to be upgraded, etc.”
He said the United States has cut manpower, so all the services are short.
“Numbers of ships, numbers of fighter squadrons, divisions, manning inside the divisions, etc.,” he said.
“We’re short, most importantly, in modernization,” Clark said.
He said the United States saw in the Ukraine in 2014 what only five years of modernization had done for Russia.
“They used drones combined with rocket-firing artillery and they could put fire on target in less than three minutes,” he said. “They had broadspectrum jamming that totally shut down Ukrainian communications.”
“They had air defense systems that totally shut down the ability of the Ukrainians to fly,” he said.
“So those three things alone are so powerful that they change warfare,” he said.
“We’ve been fighting against technological dummies for 17, 16 years in the Middle East,” Clark said. “They didn’t have drones. They didn’t have good electronic warfare. They couldn’t really build intelligence systems. And they couldn’t handle our aircraft.”
“Well, all of that’s going away,” Clark said. “Today we are on the verge of using directed energy weapons. That’s billions of dollars.”
“We’re talking about using hypersonic missiles. That’s millions of dollars,” he said. “Our tanks in the United States Army have no active protection system.”
He said “the Soviets” have had for 20 years a reactive armor that deflects shaped charges in their tanks. “We don’t have what the Israelis and modern Russian systems have, which is active protection. They have new-wave radar that detects incoming projectiles in a tank, and fires projectiles out to deflect the incoming round or missile before it can hit the tank,” he said.
“And we are not expected to have it for another eight years in the United States Army,” he said. “We are way behind in modernization.”
He praised the ability of the United States’ F-35 and F-22 aircraft.
“As long as we fly against Syrian aircraft and Syrian air space, obsolete radar, we are fine,” he said. “But China and Russia are not standing still. That $600 billion that we lost — we need it back. In spades.”
The general touched on several other topics in his speech and comments after, but even after giving an overview of various weaknesses, he emphasized the most important strength for any country is economic.
“You can’t be a strong country on the basis of your military,” Clark said. “That’s not what it’s about for America. It’s really about our economy.”
In his last assignment as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Clark led NATO forces to victory in Operation Allied Force during the war in Kosovo, a 78-day air campaign, backed by ground invasion planning and diplomatic process, saving 1.5 million Albanians from ethnic cleansing.
He graduated first in his class at West Point, and completed degrees in philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.
He was severely wounded in combat in Vietnam as an infantry company commander, and later commanded at the battalion, brigade and division level.
General Clark was the principal author of both the U.S. National Military Strategy and Joint Vision 2010, prescribing U.S. war-fighting for fullspectrum dominance.
His awards include the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and honorary knighthoods from the British and Dutch governments.
Clark ran for president of the United States in 2003, but withdrew from the primary in 2004.
He is now an officer or director of many corporate and non-profit organizations, especially in the energy, finance and security industries, and international affairs.
He serves as co-chairman of Growth Energy, an ethanol lobbying group and is on the board of directors of BNK Petroleum.
General Wesley Clark, right, takes questions after his talk at the Aspen Institute. From left: Carl Doll, Richard Groves, Henry Parkhurst and General Clark.