Why Retaliation Against Seoul Should Not Stop US Military Action Against North Korea

Here is what strategist Edward Luttwak has to say about conducting a military strike against North Korea:

Edward Luttwak

One mistaken reason to avoid attacking North Korea is the fear of direct retaliation. The U.S. intelligence community has reportedly claimed that North Korea already has ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads that can reach as far as the United States. But this is almost certainly an exaggeration, or rather an anticipation of a future that could still be averted by prompt action. The first North Korean nuclear device that could potentially be miniaturized into a warhead for a long-range ballistic missile was tested on September 3, 2017, while its first full-scale ICBM was only tested on November 28, 2017. If the North Koreans have managed to complete the full-scale engineering development and initial production of operational ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads in the short time since then — and on their tiny total budget — then their mastery of science and engineering would be entirely unprecedented and utterly phenomenal. It is altogether more likely that they have yet to match warheads and missiles into an operational weapon.

It’s true that North Korea could retaliate for any attack by using its conventional rocket artillery against the South Korean capital of Seoul and its surroundings, where almost 20 million inhabitants live within 35 miles of the armistice line. U.S. military officers have cited the fear of a “sea of fire” to justify inaction. But this vulnerability should not paralyze U.S. policy for one simple reason: It is very largely self-inflicted.

When then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter decided to withdraw all U.S. Army troops from South Korea 40 years ago (ultimately a division was left behind), the defense advisors brought in to help — including myself — urged the Korean government to move its ministries and bureaucrats well away from the country’s northern border and to give strong relocation incentives to private companies. South Korea was also told to mandate proper shelters, as in Zurich for example, where every new building must have its own (under bombardment, casualties increase dramatically if people leave their homes to seek shelter). In recent years, moreover, South Korea has had the option of importing, at moderate cost, Iron Dome batteries, which are produced by both Israel and the United States, that would be capable of intercepting 95 percent of North Korean rockets headed to inhabited structures.

But over these past four decades, South Korean governments have done practically nothing along these lines. The 3,257 officially listed “shelters” in the Seoul area are nothing more than underground shopping malls, subway stations, and hotel parking lots without any stocks of food or water, medical kits or gas masks. As for importing Iron Dome batteries, the South Koreans have preferred to spend their money on developing a bomber aimed at Japan.  [Foreign Policy]

You can read more at the link, but he believes that possible retaliation against Seoul should not influence US decision making because it is a problem caused by ROK governmental irresponsibility over the decades.

Is it Time to Conduct A Preemptive Strike on North Korea?

That is what this retired Naval Captain is advocating for in his article published on the US Naval Institute website:

Limited strikes should be targeted carefully and focused on North Korea’s specific provocation. A good start would be to take out the next North Korean intercontinental test missile on its launch pad. Before making such a preemptive strike, however, careful consultation with allies, particularly South Korea and Japan, would be essential. Controlling escalation would require the adept execution of sound tactical and strategic plans that had already been established.

In the wake of such strikes, Kim likely would feel compelled to act. If rational, he would respond in ways that would  not promote a wider war. Especially because this is an unknown factor, it would be wise to prepare  for cyber and maritime aggressions similar to his more serious provocations in 2010. Such planning would dovetail with the development of sound preplanned responses to  increase the odds of  U.S. military success at this “escalate to deescalate” strategy. The nature of North Korea’s reaction to military strikes—rational or irrational—would shape U.S. and its allies’ policies to protect their citizens.  [US Naval Institute]

You can read more at the link, but I to am skeptical of the claim that Seoul will be destroyed if a limited strike is conducted against the Kim regime.  Kim knows if he attacks Seoul then a regime change war would be justified to remove him from power.  A limited military response in response to a preemptive strike would allow Kim to save face while not triggering a regime change war.

I tend to think that if for example his nuclear and ICBM facilities are targeted he would respond by targeting the bases where the bombers came from with ballistic missiles such as Andersen AFB on Guam or US military facilities in Japan.  I also think ballistic missile and even terrorism attacks against US bases in South Korea or Japan are a possibility.

I also think the ROK will not support a preemptive strike and will publicly make that known in an effort to not have military retaliation occur against South Korea.

So what does everyone else think?  Is it time to conduct a preemptive strike on North Korea?  If so what do people think the response would be?

US Expert Warns Against Preventive Military Strike Against North Korea

Here is the latest expert, Michael Green from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) to weight in with his opinion on what to do with North Korea:

Michael Green

A preventive military strike by the United States would not remove all of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities, a renowned American expert on the North Korean issue has said, while proposing economic sanctions as the most viable tool to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

“A preventive military strike would not destroy all of North Korea’s capabilities. It would risk a wider war that would inflame South Korea and Japan and potentially cause millions of casualties,” Michael Green, vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said last week in Washington, D.C. in his meeting with South Korean journalists.

Previously, he served as a senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council under former U.S. President George W. Bush.

“It would also threaten the U.S. because North Korea has an ability even without ballistic missiles to transfer nuclear weapons to terrorist groups, so a preventive military strike would not get all of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and would risk an unacceptable war,” Green noted.

Diplomatic negotiations with Pyongyang would also not warrant resolution of North Korea’s nuclear problem, given the country’s track record of breaking previous agreements, he said.

“We shouldn’t end sanctions or military exercises in order to have dialogue with Pyongyang because then we will prove there’s no cost to North Korea for the path it’s on,” Green said, suggesting that the U.S. build “infrastructure of sustained consequence” for North Korea to facilitate diplomacy work with the regime. “We now have to restore deterrence and restore credibility if we have any chance in medium to long run diplomacy.”

Getting China to exert its influence in North Korea is crucial in the long run, he also highlighted.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link, but basically what he is advocating for is arguably what prior administrations have done and all it has lead to is the slow motion acquisition of North Korean nuclear weapons that will soon be mounted on ICBMs pointed at the US.

Representative Duncan Hunter Recommends A Preventative Strike on North Korea

Here is the latest opinion on what to do about North Korea:

U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., listens to testimony at a House Committee on Armed Services hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on on , Sept. 7, 2017. Hunter said Thursday, Sept. 21, that the United States should preemptively strike North Korea.

Rep. Duncan Hunter said that the United States needs to launch a preemptive strike against North Korea in order to prevent the rogue nation from harming the U.S. first.

“You could assume, right now, that we have a nuclear missile aimed at the United States, and here in San Diego. Why would they not aim here, at Hawaii, Guam, our major naval bases?” Hunter, a California Republican, said during an appearance on San Diego’s KUSI television station Thursday.

“The question is, do you wait for one of those? Or, two? Do you pre-emptively strike them? And that’s what the president has to wrestle with. I would pre-emptively strike them. You could call it declaring war, call it whatever you want,” Hunter continued.  [Stars & Stripes]

You can read more at the link.

What Would Happen After A Preemptive Strike on North Korea?

Via a reader tip comes this article from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute that describes the possible perils of a pre-emptive strike on North Korea:

First, conflict on the Korean peninsula could result in a momentous change in China’s role in the region and ultimately the globe. That could range from absolute regional dominance to collapse and disintegration into internal instability.

Regardless of the outcome of the conflict, South Korea could reject a self-interested, value-less, America-first approach to the region and choose to accept China’s dominance as the price to be paid for unification. For most South Koreans, China’s current steady position of reiterating the need for de-escalation, multilateral dialogue, and ultimately denuclearisation—essentially, diplomacy—stands in stark contrast to the incoherence and fecklessness of Donald Trump’s bluster. Throughout history, when China was weak, external states or greater independence came to the Korean peninsula. When China was strong, the Korean peninsula fell under its influence. It was from this point that China’s regional influence grew. China’s dominance on the Korean peninsula could again be a launching pad for dominance in East Asia.

Alternatively, unification could spread dissatisfaction and opposition to authoritarian rule across the region, leading to internal instability in China. Political disruption, economic dislocation and descent into instability are possible outcomes. Even in the most favourable unification scenario, North Koreans with direct or indirect experience of the momentous human rights abuses that China implicitly supported could act as a powerful constraint to China’s long-term influence in a unified Korea. China’s current policies aimed at maintaining the status quo are founded on the fears of such potential outcomes. Regardless of which way the dice fall, China’s regional role will change. A pre-emptive strike in Korea would precipitate that change.  [The Strategist]

You can read more at the link, but I don’t think anyone denies that China will have a major role in after a conflict with North Korea.  That is why I think the US government is giving China the maximum opportunity to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue without a military confrontation.  I also think if the price of a unified Korea after a military conflict is one with China with primary hegemony over the peninsula many policy makers may actually think that may be a good deal to get rid of the Kim regime and their nuclear weapons.

Is It Time for Japan to Field a Pre-Emptive Strike Capability?

With the ever increasing threat from North Korea the Japanese government may be forced into pursuing some kind of pre-emptive strike capability:

Japan is debating whether to develop a limited pre-emptive strike capability and buy cruise missiles — ideas that were anathema in the pacifist country before the North Korea missile threat.

With revisions to Japan’s defense plans underway, ruling party hawks are accelerating the moves, and some defense experts say Japan should at least consider them.

After being on the backburner in the ruling party for decades, a possibility of pre-emptive strike was formally proposed to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by his party’s missile defense panel in March, prompting parliamentary debate, though somewhat lost steam as Abe apparently avoided the divisive topic after seeing support ratings for his scandal-laden government plunge.  [Stars & Stripes]

You can read the rest at the link, but the offensive strike capability they are considering is tomahawk cruise missiles fired from their Aegis destroyers to take out North Korean missiles before they are launched.

Should the US Military Be Planning for Preemptive War with North Korea?

All the media has been headlining the preemptive war claim from General McMaster made during a recent interview.  It seems to me this is just prudent planning to provide the President options on how to respond to North Korea’s threats.  I am willing to bet that US military planners provided preemptive strike options to President Obama while he was in office as well.  It doesn’t mean the President will choose that option which clearly so far clearly President Trump has decided not to do:

Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster

The United States is preparing for a “preventive war” with North Korea among many options to deal with its missile and nuclear threats, President Trump’s top security adviser has said.

In an interview aired Saturday on MSNBC, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said the president has been clear he will not tolerate North Korea’s threats to attack the U.S. with nuclear weapons.

A preventive war is initiated to prevent an enemy from carrying out an attack.

“What you’re asking is are we preparing plans for a preventive war, right?” McMaster said. “If they have nuclear weapons that can threaten the United States. It’s intolerable from the president’s perspective. So of course, we have to provide all options to do that. And that includes a military option.”  [Korea Times]

You can read more at the link.