A U.S. war with North Korea could be costly

Northern Berks Patriot Item - - OPINION - Adam Goldin Colum­nist Adam Goldin is a Philadel­phi­abased economist with mas­ter’s de­grees in both eco­nomics and in­ter­na­tional af­fairs. He re­sides in Ch­ester County. Email: [email protected]­look.com

Pres­i­dent Trump’s bel­li­cose rhetoric to­ward North Korea strays rad­i­cally from the usual norms of diplo­macy.

Trump has re­placed nu­anced mes­sag­ing, de­signed to pre­vent mis­cal­cu­la­tions or mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tions that could ac­ci­den­tally lead to war, with blunt school­yard ban­ter de­signed to taunt and in­sti­gate.

As a re­sult, many be­lieve war with North Korea is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly likely.

Why has Trump taken this strat­egy?

The ob­vi­ous ex­pla­na­tion is that he is sim­ply tem­pes­tu­ous and un­pre­dictable and knows no other way. An­other ra­tio­nale is that he be­lieves his ag­gres­sive­ness will bear fruit where other strate­gies have failed.

If it’s the lat­ter, the ad­min­is­tra­tion must as­sume the risks are worth tak­ing. In other words, if Trump’s com­bat­ive­ness leads to war rather than North Korean con­ces­sions, the war will be short, easy to wage, and rel­a­tively pain free.

Un­for­tu­nately, re­al­ity be­lies these as­sump­tions. First, U.S. in­tel­li­gence on North Korea is lim­ited since we have very lit­tle hu­man in­tel­li­gence in­side the coun­try.

Thus, a first-strike to oblit­er­ate North Korea’s nu­clear weapons or the regime would prob­a­bly fail. A North Korean nu­clear re­tal­i­a­tion re­plete with dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences can­not be ruled out.

A con­ven­tional re­sponse, while less cat­a­clysmic, would still cause thou­sands of deaths on day one.

Sev­eral mil­i­tary ex­perts be­lieve the ad­min­is­tra­tion is grossly un­der­es­ti­mat­ing how long such a con­flict would last.

Rather than a short and de­ci­sive war, these ex­perts be­lieve it would be a long war of at­tri­tion. A for­mer South Korean gen­eral re­cently said, “If we have to go into North Korea … it’s not go­ing to be like top­pling [Sad­dam] Hus­sein. Kim Jong Un and his fam­ily are a cult. It will be like pulling out all of your teeth.”

An­other South Korean mil­i­tary ex­pert said the war would be more like the U.S. war against Viet­nam.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion may also be down­play­ing the mas­sive lo­gis­tics re­quired to wage a con­ven­tional war with North Korea.

First, the U.S. would need to evac­u­ate the roughly 200,000 U.S. cit­i­zens liv­ing in South Korea and 50,000 in Ja­pan. How­ever, since the North Kore­ans would ob­serve this mas­sive ma­neu­ver, our ac­tion could trig­ger a North Korean pre-emptive strike.

Ad­di­tion­ally, of­fen­sive and de­fen­sive prepa­ra­tions for a con­ven­tional at­tack would be vis­i­ble.

For ex­am­ple, ac­cord­ing to Kim Yeol-soo, head of se­cu­rity at the Korea In­sti­tute for Mil­i­tary Af­fairs, the U.S. would need to mo­bi­lize al­most 700,000 U.S. sol­diers, 160 ships, 1,600 air­craft and 2.7 mil­lion South Korean re­servists, along with air­craft car­ri­ers, F-22 jets and B1-B bombers.

And since the U.S. only has about 30,000 troops in South Korea com­pared to the North’s 7.5 mil­lion re­servists, U.S. forces would have to come from out­side the re­gion and into nearby bases in Ja­pan. None of these move­ments can be achieved sur­rep­ti­tiously, so a sur­prise U.S. con­ven­tional at­tack is im­pos­si­ble to pull off.

War with North Korea will likely be lengthy rather than short, and myr­iad lo­gis­ti­cal hur­dles must be scaled for a con­ven­tional war to suc­ceed. With the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s rhetoric and as­sump­tions at odds with re­al­ity, the risk of a U.S. mis­cal­cu­la­tion is alarm­ingly high.

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