The com­ing war with North Korea

Chances are slim that China can talk Py­ongyang out of its nu­clear am­bi­tions

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Ge­orge H. Wittman Ge­orge H. Wittman has spent 45 years in op­er­a­tions and anal­y­sis in the field of in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity af­fairs.

It ap­pears to be ac­cepted that North Korea will have an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic missile (ICBM) ca­pa­bil­ity with a suit­ably minia­tur­ized war­head in the next three to four years, along with the ca­pac­ity to de­liver that weapon to the West Coast of the United States. Py­ongyang has al­ready an­nounced it is pre­pared to take any ac­tion nec­es­sary to “de­ter U.S. ag­gres­sion.” At this point, the only ap­par­ent non­mil­i­tary ac­tion to stop or im­pede such an evo­lu­tion is Bei­jing’s diplo­matic in­ter­ven­tion with the leader of North Korea. How­ever, the rec­og­nized un­sta­ble char­ac­ter of leader Kim Jong-un makes even such a seem­ingly in­flu­en­tial en­treaty rel­a­tively un­en­force­able no mat­ter the de­gree of pres­sure Bei­jing places on Py­ongyang. Thus, bar­ring a com­plete re­ver­sal of Mr. Kim’s cur­rent be­hav­ior, the United States must plan to de­stroy North Korea’s nu­clear and long-range missile sites some­time in the next sev­eral years — and per­haps within the next two.

At the same time, it must be ex­pected that the Amer­i­can ac­tion would trig­ger the North Korean mil­i­tary to in­stinc­tively launch a full-scale re­tal­ia­tory strike against the Repub­lic of Korea (ROK) along the ar­mistice line of the Demil­i­ta­rized Zone (DMZ), whether or not Mr. Kim re­mains alive. With that as a given, the United States must pre­vent such an event by launch­ing, si­mul­ta­ne­ously with the ini­tial at­tack on the North Korean nu­clear and ICBM fa­cil­i­ties, a full-scale of­fen­sive against the North’s po­si­tions along the DMZ. There can be no de­lay in this U.S.-ROK of­fense, for it is es­sen­tial to pre­clude North Korea’s own coun­terof­fen­sive against the South.

Cur­rently, there is a hope­ful an­a­lyt­i­cal view that Mr. Kim is us­ing his well-an­nounced nu­clear pro­gram sim­ply as a de­fen­sive de­vice to de­ter any at­tempt to threaten Py­ongyang into ac­tions counter to his in­ter­est in main­tain­ing dom­i­nance over his na­tion. In other words, Mr. Kim is merely seek­ing to pre­vent an at­tack rather than pre­par­ing to at­tack. That rea­son­ing cer­tainly hasn’t been his mo­ti­va­tion for ex­e­cut­ing scores of rank­ing of­fi­cers and po­lit­i­cal per­son­al­i­ties who tended to dis­agree with him, in­clud­ing his un­cle-in-law, orig­i­nally thought of as his men­tor.

Hopes that the Chi­nese will have greater suc­cess through prom­ises or threats to de­ter Mr. Kim’s am­bi­tions seem to fly in the face of re­al­ity. The last time Bei­jing tried to al­ter his de­sires was in 2013 when Bei­jing sent Vice For­eign Min­is­ter Fu Ying to Py­ongyang to talk the clearly un­sta­ble leader out of launch­ing a satel­lite. The re­sult was a very swift and undiplo­matic re­buff that sent the Chi­nese of­fi­cial un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously pack­ing.

For any strate­gic plan­ner to count on a rea­soned ap­proach from Mr. Kim mo­ti­vated by a com­mit­ment to a posture of de­ter­rence lacks logic. Ul­ti­mately, such an anal­y­sis is a bet that any ex­pe­ri­enced op­po­nent sim­ply could not af­ford to take. If Pres­i­dent Trump had as good an ex­change with China’s Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping as has been re­ported, this was cer­tainly com­mu­ni­cated, as was any com­mit­ment by the Chi­nese leader to give the de­sired ef­fort to re­strain Mr. Kim the “old col­lege try.”

Equally, it did not have to be ex­plic­itly stated that the United States would have no al­ter­na­tive but to take the nec­es­sary ac­tion to “in­hibit” the North Korean leader’s even­tual abil­ity to launch a nu­clear at­tack on the Amer­i­can West Coast. Bei­jing is both highly strate­gic and prag­matic in its think­ing. The Chi­nese know what the fu­ture holds if Mr. Kim is not re­strained. There may be slightly more than a cou­ple of years left to await fi­nal ac­tion — but not much more. China knows that, and so do the Rus­sians. One can only hope the Western Al­liance mem­bers are also that re­al­is­tic. Un­for­tu­nately, it ap­pears the Amer­i­can press and pub­lic do not seem to be as aware as the sit­u­a­tion de­mands.

For any strate­gic plan­ner to count on a rea­soned ap­proach from Mr. Kim mo­ti­vated by a com­mit­ment to a posture of de­ter­rence lacks logic.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY GREG GROESCH

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