Beyond the Cusp

April 6, 2013

Is North Korea Sabre Rattling for Attention or Real Threat?

The sabre rattling by North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un was notched up another level with the transfer of middle range ballistic missiles being deployed to the east coast threatening immediate launch ability. In the past such bellicose actions were simply a prelude to demands for emergency aid consisting of both funding and sizeable shipments of food to allow this financial wreck of a country to at least feed its military more so than feed its people. The problem this time is that we once again have a new semi-deity in charge and he is very young and likely going much further than his father or his father’s father in order to be taken more seriously. This is not to make him appear any greater to the outside world as much as it could be to convince the generals and others who might think the time might be ripe to replace the ruling family that he is amply ready and willing to use force. The problem is that we have little knowledge of the young Kim Jong Un which makes the question of how far he is willing to go in this brazen belligerence and whether this will turn out to be another North Korean ploy for aid or an actual threat to be taken deadly serious. When one adds the announced restart of the plutonium producing facility at Yongbyon the threats become even more real. The unfortunate truth is that it will not be clear which motivation is driving the threatening moves by North Korea until either the missiles have been launched or the plea for food and monetary aid and other possible demands are presented. In the meantime we also have no idea whether the actions taken by President Obama are prudent and will make the consequences clear so that Kim Jong Un or his Generals will be more likely to want to stand down or if he will feel that his leadership is being challenged and make Kim Jong Un far more likely to actually execute and act on his threats. And that begs the question that with absolutely no HUMIT (human intelligence) capabilities in North Korea, what are the actual capabilities currently available to the North Korean military? We are assuming that the North Koreans do not have ICBMs capable of striking mainland United States or even anywhere on Earth or if their longest range missiles are not even able to reach Hawaii. The one thing we know for certain is that most of what we know is uncertain.

Most pundits have made the argument that Kim Jong Un would never challenge the United States as he would have to know that the counter-strike would completely devastate his country. But does he honestly believe that or would he be more likely to believe that under the leadership of President Obama who has presumably frozen most of the funds for upkeep of the United States nuclear arsenal and who has spoken of unilaterally denuclearizing the United States as an example in order to convince the rest of the world to also give up their nuclear weapons that the United States deterrence has been weakened or destroyed to the point where it has become ineffective? Even the slightest uncertainty caused by these comments and policies and other actions by President Obama could cause sufficient doubt to embolden the young North Korean leader. Much might be directly dependent upon what his generals and other advisors have been telling him which again is a complete unknown to the West. As any planner or maker of policies will tell you, the worst thing they ever face is uncertainty and lack of reliable and credible intelligence, or as in the case of North Korea, almost no intelligence beyond satellite surveillance and offshore eavesdropping. The truth we all must realize is that we are dealing with an untested and inexperienced leader of a country which has little or nothing to lose who is ramping up his bellicose belligerence for reasons unknown, for what ends, we have no idea, whose aims are also completely unknown. We are aware that he was raised being taught that North Korea had military power that was equal or superior to anything the United States might possess and that he could be acting with a completely false set of concepts and suppositions about what a response from the United States might entail. Kim Jong Un could very well believe that he has the ability to strike the United States with a knockout blow which would preclude any retaliatory strike.

With such uncertainty it is difficult to decide what would be the most prudent plan to implement. The most crucial unknown is how Kim Jong Un would react to any actions taken by the United States, South Korea, Japan or others. We cannot even be assured that Kim Jong Un would react in a predictable manner should we convince China or Russia to intervene to try to step down the situation. Thus far President Obama has presented an initial show of potential for force which could be availed but has not made any direct threats and appears to be willing to take a muted response rather than respond to the threats from North Korea by returning threats in kind. The one advantage to facing an untested and unknown entity is that there can be no second guessing as everyone is in the same predicament of a lack of knowledge. The down side is that everybody is in the dark and those tasked with making the decisions have nowhere and no one to turn to for advice or options which contain any real degree of certainty based on knowledge and previous experiences. There will hopefully not be much room for second guessing once this situation has passed as that will mean it did not escalate beyond the point of no return as starting a war is the least desirable outcome, especially one that might very well include nuclear weapons use.

For many of us this feels vaguely familiar having lived through a few of these North Korean temper tantrums and breathed sighs of relief when the whole incident returned to calm with the agreement to pay tribute as a ransom. This time feels somewhat different, even more so than when Kim Jong-il succeeded his father, Kim Il-Sung. Let us hope that the difference is simply because we are dealing with the next generation in Kim Jong Un and not something more sinister and foreboding. Should this end well, or at least without resorting to violence, we will hopefully gain the advantage of gleaning an amount of familiarity with the workings of the mind of this new North Korean leader. It is said that experience can be a very hard teacher, let’s just pray that experience will be lenient and not take too big of a toll for this lesson.

There is one great consequence when writing articles about fast progressing situations; they have the annoying habit of changing on you while you are writing about them. This one has proven that theory and in grand style. While writing news arrived informing that North Korean authorities had warned that they would be unable to guarantee the safety of embassies, consulates and other facilities after April 10, and all should consider evacuating their missions amid soaring nuclear tensions. “Their communication said that from April 10, the North Korean government would be unable to guarantee the safety of embassies and international organizations in the country in the event of conflict. Our understanding is that the North Koreans were asking whether embassies are intending to leave, rather than advising them to leave,” according to a spokeswoman for Britain’s Foreign Office, according to AFP. This is a new wrinkle and raises the level of warnings and bellicose threats considerably and makes the idea that North Korea will be launching something around mid-month almost assured. The question now is what will they place atop the missile or missiles, the plural is significantly more likely, and where will they all be targeting? Would the North Koreans go so far as to launch a small nuclear warhead to detonate over a sizeable area of open Pacific Ocean just to prove their ability? Would they detonate EMP nuclear devices which have low yield with extremely high Gama radiation which initiates a massive electronic pulse which will destroy all unprotected electronic devices and power systems? Depending on the size and placement would determine the amount of damage which would result. Or worst case scenario would be including in their launchings one capsule into a polar orbit mimicking a weather satellite which was actually an EMP device designed to appear and transmit data similar to that of any regular weather satellite and a few days later as it passed over the central United States dropping it into the high atmosphere and detonating the device possibly destroying much of the North American power grid and incalculable electronic devices and systems across the entire continent. Whatever Kim Jong Un is hatching, my bet is there will not be many applauding his efforts and I am nervous that even fewer will be able to applaud after his little surprise is over. A young unproven dictator who may feel inadequate and insecure in his position is a very dangerous entity.

Beyond the Cusp

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