Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Who’s talking?

Contingenc­ies for everything, but …


IT’S BEEN said that the United States government and its military should have contingenc­ies for everything. If there isn’t a plan in some colonel’s desk at the Pentagon to prevent an attack by aliens—the space kind—then somebody’s not doing his job. There should be a plan, somewhere, if the United Kingdom decides to “take back” Massachuse­tts. There should be a plan if beautiful Liechtenst­ein invades.

(Liechtenst­ein’s air force must be incredibly stealth. The country has no airports.)

So it came as a surprise to few realists when the papers began to report that the brass in the United States has a plan in case North Korea falls into chaos.

Right now, the North Koreans are just . . . quiet. Which they tend to be when they aren’t screaming bloody nuclear war.

If you think the videos coming from Times Square right now are eerie, well, that’s what downtown Pyongyang looks like all the time. Its planned economy is more plan than economy. Vermont has about the same GDP as North Korea.

But the little would-be Stalin running the joint—North Korea, not Vermont—has been keeping a low profile. So low that rumors started last week that he’d died. Or was seriously ill. Some press release out of Pyongyang said he visited a factory the other day, but few people in the West believe the press releases coming from above the 38th parallel.

A country with a free and robust press—that is, this country—has had stories in the papers about contingenc­y plans should Kim Jong Un end up in the posters with his father and grandfathe­r, but otherwise leave the Earthly stage. One way or the other.

Because if there is any kind of movement at the top, then what about all those nuclear weapons? A rogue general could use them. Or sell them. The world can’t have that.

Turns out, there’s a plan. Why it’s being noised about is another question.

YOU MIGHT have read about this so-called Operations Plan 5029, or as the colonels at the Pentagon call it in briefings, OPLAN 5029. Officers like to capitalize things.

It was prepped in case of massive instabilit­y in North Korea. That is, if Lil’ Kim was sick or removed. And if another tyrant couldn’t be found fast enough to keep North Koreans from fleeing the prison.

South Korea and mainland China are very concerned about that. Neither wants a refugee crisis on its border, or just inside its border. And Beijing doesn’t want to see North Korea converted, giving America’s allies a friend within a 2-iron of Chinese land. The American media is all over the story. For example, from Fox News: “The U.S.-South Korean contingenc­y plan, created in 2008 among heightened tensions from Pyongyang’s missile launch, addresses everything from securing the border to sending in secret operatives to find Pyongyang’s nuclear stockpile and prevent it from being used, stolen or sold to the shadiest bidder.”

An expert quoted by the Associated Press said, “The million-dollar question is: When do you invoke the OPLAN and what indicators do you rely on to do so? Because one country’s ‘securing the country’ operation can look to the other nation like an ‘invasion plan.’ And then all hell can break loose.”

The Daily Mail in Britain published the story last week. So did Times of India. And Foreign Policy magazine wrote about it years ago. A report by RAND, issued five years ago, details the number of men and vessels it would take to secure North Korea from itself and others.

Our question is: Who’s talking? Who’s telling the press about specific plans for anything concerning North Korea? Or any other country we might “secure”?

Strategic ambiguity is something the United States uses in the Asian neighborho­od on frequent occasion. Fact is, strategic ambiguity is useful so that red lines aren’t created, and nations can keep options open. If the government of the United States is asked whether it has plans in case North Korea implodes, the answer should be Yes. When asked what that plan is, the answer should be: Mind your own business.

This isn’t the first time the free and aggressive American press has spilled secrets. Remember Col. McCormick’s Chicago Tribune running the Japanese order of battle immediatel­y after the Battle of Midway? If the Japanese had had a subscripti­on to the Chicago prints in 1942, they might have figured out that the Americans had broken the Japanese code.

The military of the United States really should be more careful. Newspapers are going to do newspaper things. Television stations and wire services and foreign policy magazines are going to do their things, too. These days, breaking news from deep inside the government wins prizes. But that doesn’t mean those holding important secrets should make it easy.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: We wish our spooks the best. Now they should hush.

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