Sunday, April 16, 2017


Special forces raid, missile strike, cyber warfare, or MORE negotiations: Trump's choices for dealing with Kim Jung-Un -but experts say there are no good options

Daily Mail
April 15, 2017

Donald Trump has said that ‘all options are on the table’ when it comes to North Korea - but what exactly does that mean?

The President has a vast range of possible ways of dealing with the secretive Communist nation ranging from cyber warfare to a missile strike - and even a nuclear attack of his own. spoke to three military experts to describe what each of those options means - and the pitfalls of each.

They described the President as having ‘no good options’ with North Korea and said that it will require impressive statecraft to deal with Pyongyang.

Our experts were:

J.D. Williams, a Senior Defense Policy Researcher at the RAND Corporation

Harry Krejsa, a Research Associate at the Center for a New American Security working in the Asia-Pacific Security Program

Jeff McCausland, a professor at Dickinson College, retired Army colonel, former dean of the Army War College and a CBS consultant.


McCausland: Hope is not a method and we’ve been hoping since Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan that this problem would solve itself, that one day the people of North Korea wake up and decide this wasn’t working any more. That hasn’t happened and it seems less likely it will happen. We seem to have this foregone belief we can work with the Chinese, that was the strategy of strategic patience. They have their own interests...Somebody once described North as the land of bad choices. When you deal with a problem like North Korea which has gone on for the last three or four administrations there are no good choices.

Krejsa: The Trump administration has made a rhetorical effort to say that they are considering military action but that was never off the table. Military action has always been a back burner because the options on that side are very bad. Seoul, which is home to 20 per cent of the entire population of South Korea, is within conventional artillery range of North Korea and there are thought to be a tremendous number of North Korean military units within range of Seoul. Seoul would be very much at risk for large scale civilian casualties and military casualties….All the options we have are bad and the options we have are not effective. We need really creative statecraft on the part of the United States and its allies and I worry we don’t necessarily have all the human capital in place to pursue that.


McCausland: Broadly you only really have three options. One, you accept the fact North Korea is a nuclear power and you decide you’re going to live with it. That’s what we did in Pakistan and India and Israel. Two, you can negotiate with North Korea or around North Korea. They would like it to be a bilateral negotiation because it enhances their positions but that’s impossible for the US to do because of our close ties to the Japanese and the South Koreans. You can negotiate around the North Koreans and I think that’s what the President will try to do, negotiate more directly with the Chinese and put pressure on Kim Jong-un so he does change his path...A deal with North Korea would be a complete revolutionary change from 60 years of American foreign policy.

The solution is the Iranian deal on steroids. It’s (the Iran deal) an ugly baby it’s a far more attractive baby than doing nothing, it’s more attractive than the alternatives’


Krejsa: A lot of the focus has been put towards secondary sanctions which I think are the next frontier - sanctions on companies which do business with the North Korean government but skirt restrictions. The tricky thing about them is that they would go after the sources of currency and goods and luxury items that still make their way into North Korea but fall into Chinese companies and cause problems with the Chinese relationship.


Williams: Theoretically it would be about getting access to systems that could disable or disrupt something in the operational chain of the North Korean military or specifically missile activity.

Theoretically it’s a very elegant way to achieve an effect without what the military likes to call kinetic operations, or firing guns and dropping bombs. If you have that in your kit bag it’s something you would want to consider using. But there are likely uncertainties about the effectiveness of that. Once you use them, you only get one shot because you reveal the capability and the adversary initiates protection measures.

McCausland: Using Cyber to go after the North Korean nuclear capability would be not unlike the effort against Iran using the Stuxnet virus. That being said going after North Korea is frankly more difficult simply because you’re talking about a country that’s hermetically sealed. It doesn’t have the connections to the global information systems, the Internet etcetera like a country like Iran. The portals where you can get into their systems are far more complicated. Secondarily any effort to try to do that through a human capability where you get a human inside their system who physically infects their computers is also very very difficult to do basic on how hermetically sealed this place is.


President Trump has dispatched Nimitz-class Carl Vinson with three cruisers and destroyers to the Korean Peninsula as show of force.

Williams: Sending a carrier strike group into anybody’s neighborhood has long been an important signal, politically both to adversaries and to your friends. Secondly the group was not sent as a rapid surge sort of deployment, it was already in the Pacific. It was scheduled to do something else and they’ve been turned around to hang out off North Korea. It’s a different thing to move a carrier around when it’s forward deployed than one or more ships being sent from the West coast. There’s a magnitude of what the signal is sent here. From a military perspective the carrier group gives you offensive and defensive options. On defense the ships have missile defense capability. If you’re concerned there might be a missile attack or a missile test that might go astray and you want to protect Japan or South Korea, having that capability gives you some options. On the offensive you have striking power. You can attack land targets with manned aircraft and cruise missiles. Depending on what political circumstances are, all those things, you have some more options with the carrier strike group.


McCausland: You’re talking about a pretty massive strike far beyond what we saw in Syria with 59 cruise missiles. The simple reason is you want a very high probability with a single strike you have been pretty successful in taking them down. Obviously you have to convince the South Koreans and the Japanese you can do this in a fashion that the possibility of them retaliating against Seoul or Tokyo or some other major target has been removed or dramatically reduced.

The problem is that if our intelligence about Iraq was such we thought they had nuclear weapons and they didn’ one North Korea expert put it to me, we know far more about black holes than what goes on in North Korea. If you think we have absolute assurance that we know everywhere that they have stored medium range missiles with conventional warheads, let alone nuclear warheads, that’s still somewhat problematical. Any type of decapitating strike would have to address multiple locations, many (missiles) stored inside a mountain and being able to assure the Japanese and South Koreans of the high probability of success and realising even a limited response (from North Korea) could still do massive damage to those two countries.

Williams: It’s going to make it a much more difficult problem if you have to hit multiple targets in the same time frame. It’s going to be much more difficult than hitting an airfield where a chemical weapons attack came from like in Syria. There’s probabilities of success which has to be weighed at the political level about how to use force and the potential reaction. The size of the campaign would depend on how many nuclear weapons the North Koreans have and how concentrated they are. If you have nuclear weapons you’re probably not going to disperse them widely. You probably want to maintain control of them. That makes the problem a little easier, you would expect some concentration of the nuclear arsenal but at the same time North Korea will have an awareness of the threat and they will do some dispersals. The difference in trying to do a campaign to eliminate somebody’s nuclear capability is your margin of error is zero. If you don’t get them all you have a big problem.

Krejsa: The issue is if they make the decision to go down this path the downsides are going to be tremendous. I’m sure there’s discussion as to what red lines could prompt military action but I don’t think we’re anywhere near that right now just because any sort of pre-preemptive attack would bring tremendous downsides. North Korea increasingly sees its nuclear weapons as totally central to their regime’s legitimacy and the continued survival of their regime. Any effort to take that away by force would probably be seen as an act of war and an attempt at regime change.


Williams: What the US can do with assets out of bases and Japan is subject to some constraints and the agreements with the host nation. You don’t have to worry about those things on an aircraft carrier. If the South Korean government and Japanese felt the threat was directed against them they would cooperate on a collaborative response. If it wasn’t they would probably some political hesitation and rightly so.


Krejsa: In recent years we’ve turned to Special Forces as a catch all that can have a light footprint and a narrow mission and get it done quickly and with great skill, but those kind of things are probably not practical for North Korea. North Korea is an intelligence black hole. Not many people believe we have great human intelligence inside North Korea and we don’t have enough understanding of how things work and where everything is to be able to do have any sort of convincing potential for success.

Williams: Special Operations are very good for doing very precise types of military action on ‘point targets’, as they are called, like if you have something that you want to do to a particular place on the ground and for whatever reason you don’t want to use a weapon like an air strike. The more recent uses have been to recover hostages, you’ve seen examples of that in Syria and Yemen. The second reason would be if you want to get intelligence out of a site like the recent raid in Yemen. Against that are risks; getting access, the possibility of something going wrong, the potential for casualties with manned aircraft. Your risk calculation goes up significantly.

Operations of this nature require very very good and precise intelligence. The choice to use it in a situation like this would be evaluated at the very highest levels of government.

My view would be: if there was very very good intelligence and part of it was that there was very strong potential for an imminent use of nuclear weapon those two things could tip the calculus to make a President strongly consider the use of Special Operations. But short of that or a decision to embark upon a campaign involving a series of military actions, I think that’s on the very low end of the probability scale.


McCausland: We’re talking about military capabilities far beyond one task force. I would hesitate to say, long range strike aircrafts such as B-52s. You’re looking for shock and awe, you’re talking large numbers carrier based aircraft, large numbers of long range aircraft coming from the United States, large numbers of cruise missiles, perhaps strategic strikes using conventional warheads.

Williams: If North Korea has the low end of the number of weapons you end up with a relatively small number of things you’re trying to get rid of. If you have good intelligence it might not be that big of a strike. It really depends on your judgments and assessments of what you have to take care of.


McCausland: I think it’s very unlikely if not impossible to believe that the United States would use a nuclear weapon preemptively. I think that would be way off the scales.


Assuming that North Korea can fire a nuclear missile that can reach the US - though experts say it may be 5-10 years from doing this - it would reach mainland America in around 30 minutes,

The missile would likely be a Taepo Dong which is thought to have a range of between 6,200 and 8,000 miles, enough to hit the US East coast.

But despite having the most powerful military in the world, America may not be able to defend itself against an attack from the Communist nation.

The Pentagon has spent $40 billion on the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system (GMD) which is designed to stop a nuclear warhead in space.

Each GMD interceptor is 60ft tall and has a 150lbs ‘kill vehicle’ at its tip.

During a nuclear attack the interceptors would be fired out of underground silos in Alaska and California and would travel through the air at four miles per second.

They would destroy the nuclear missile by crashing into it, though there are no explosives on board the interceptors.

However it is not clear if the system would work and tests have yet to be successful despite decades of similar programs and at least $84 billion being spent on missile defense over the past decade.

The Government Accountability Office said in 2015 that the GMD system ‘has not demonstrated through flight testing that it can defend the US homeland against the current missile defense threat’, which includes North Korea.

Williams: Ballistic missile defense is a very difficult problem, probably one of the most difficult problems that we have now. Our defense community is saying that we have some capability and it’s being designed and optimized to deal with the kind of threat you would get from a North Korean style attack. It’s still a hard problem, there’s been some success and failures.

Krejsa: Missile defense has improved a lot since the Star Wars era but it is no sure thing. Our capabilities are pretty good under ideal conditions but wartime is not ideal conditions.

It’s extremely unlikely we would be able to use military force to prevent a nuclear strike from happening.

1 comment:

bob walsh said...

Or we could turn the country into a parking lot that glows in the dark.