Yesterday's Diplomacy: The Trump Administration has dispatched a naval strike force to the seas off the Korean Peninsula. Unfortunately, the Kim family's dynastic dictatorship cannot afford to be seen to back down in the face of the President's gunboat diplomacy. Any US attack on North Korea will, likewise, force "Supreme Leader" Kim Jong Un to unleash "Total War" on its enemies. President Trump is, hopefully, being reminded that Kim doesn't necessarily require an ICBM to deliver a nuclear device to US territory - an unsuspecting container ship will do the job just as effectively.
PRESIDENT TRUMP says North Korea “will be taken care of” if its dictator, Chairman Kim Jong Un, authorises another round of nuclear weapons tests. A naval strike force, led by the Nimitz-class “supercarrier” the USS Carl Vinson, is positioned off the Korean Peninsula. The American ships will soon be joined for “exercises” by an undisclosed number of Japanese naval vessels.*
This grim show of force is intended to serve as a stark reminder of America’s ability to project its military power wherever and whenever if desires. In the aftermath of the recent Tomahawk Cruise Missile strike on Syria, Kim is expected to draw the obvious lessons and stand down his nuclear weapons testing programme.
This is not something the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) can do. Not without sustaining a catastrophic loss of face. Though it possesses all the trappings of a Soviet-style socialist state, the DPRK is, in reality, a quasi-monarchical dynastic regime, whose hereditary rulers are required to maintain an image of unassailable power and strength. Backing down in the face of American threats would likely prove fatal to the Kim family dynasty.
This would not be on account of the North Korean people rising up and overthrowing their semi-sacred head of state. Such is the iron grip of Kim’s “Workers’ Party” government that the North Koreans would never hear a word about their leader’s back down. The threat to Kim would come from his generals and party bosses. They chafe under the Kim family’s ruthless rule. The international humiliation of Kim Jong Un would be a heaven-sent opportunity to bring his family’s dynasty to an end.
A successful American strike against the DPRK’s nuclear weapons test site at Punggye-ri would deliver a similar blow to Kim Jong Un’s prestige. Not that the North Korean people would learn anything at all about a US attack. Punggye-ri is located in rugged, mountainous terrain, far from large population centres. The remoteness of the testing site could not, however, keep the upper-echelons of the army and the party out of the information loop. How would their Supreme Leader respond?
Much would depend of just how successful the American strike turned out to be. Punggye-ri is a complex of deep tunnels drilled into solid rock. An attack using the same ordnance as the Syrian strike would likely prove ineffective.
The Americans do, of course, possess much larger bombs: like the 10-ton “bunker-buster” dropped on an ISIS-controlled tunnel complex in Afghanistan earlier this week. (Was that operation supposed to send a warning to the North Koreans?) The problem with these huge weapons, however, is that they can only be delivered by large, relatively slow, military aircraft. The Americans would, therefore, have to destroy the fighter aircraft and surface-to-air missile batteries with which the Punggye-ri complex is defended. This would be a major military operation on the part of the United States.
There can be little doubt that, confronted with an American assault of such magnitude, Kim Jong Un would order “total war” against the United States. Thousands of 170mm Goksan artillery pieces and 240mm multiple-tube rocket launchers, among the largest such weapons in the world, would rain down death and destruction upon the South Korean capital, Seoul, and devastate the US military bases adjoining the Demilitarised Zone. According to the former US Commander in South Korea, General Thomas A Schwartz, the 28,000-strong US army in Korea “would be destroyed in less than three hours”.
Kim Jong Un’s order to unleash total war upon the United States would set in motion something else. A nuclear device, probably not much bigger than the bomb which devastated Hiroshima, would set out towards one of the key ports of the United States. Concealed in the hold of a fishing trawler. Or, perhaps, hidden in one of thousands of identical shipping containers stacked on the deck of a container ship bound for San Diego or New York, this device would be effectively undetectable and unstoppable until it came close enough to inflict scores-of-thousands of civilian casualties. Such a catastrophe would dwarf completely Al Qaeda’s attack of 11 September 2001.
And President Trump’s response? (Assuming the North Koreans weren’t inventive enough to deliver their nuclear device to a warehouse in Washington DC!) Who would be willing to bet against the enraged American president ordering a retaliatory nuclear strike against North Korea? Would he listen to those who pleaded with him not to incinerate millions of innocent North Koreans for the crimes of their Supreme Leader? Would he care that the radioactive fallout from such a strike would be no more a respecter of international borders than the fallout from Chernobyl? How could America’s Commander-in-Chief be sure that the Chinese and Russians would not respond in kind?
Can Donald Trump really “take care” of this?
* This information was subsequently revealed to be more “fake news” from the Trump Administration. At the time of writing (16/4/17) the USS Carl Vinson and its strike force was nowhere near the location indicated by the White House Communications Director, Sean Spicer. As of this morning (19/4/17) the strike force was still, apparently, en route!
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 18 April 2017.