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Kim Jong-Un’s war strategy
By Daniel M. Ryan
Despite clear and clearer signs that both the United States and mainland China are fed up with Kim Jong-Un’s antics, North Korea shows no signs of being deterred. The Trump Administration is ratcheting up sanctions, which serve as the now-standard warning shot over the bow. Mainland China is threatening to cut off more trade with North Korea. More significantly, the Chinese troops stationed at the border with North Korea are getting lessons in North Korean. Consistent with the Chinese leadership wishing that North Korea be quarantined, the lessons include “phrases like ‘stop’ and ‘don’t move or I’ll shoot’�?. One main reason why Kim has gotten away with so much is the state of the North Korean people: whichever side takes up regime change, whether it be China or South Korea, will have a monster headache. If China, the border provinces are going to have a huge refugee problem that makes Germany’s a piddle. If South Korea, unification will entail huge budget-busting expenditures that would make German unification look cheapskate.
Consequently, North Korea’s migrained neighbours have settled on a Hobson’s choice: let the Kim regime alone so long as the Hermit Kingdom stays in the hermitage. Since the hermitage means North Korea’s established borders, this put-up-with-it stratagem has allowed the Kims to get away with becoming a nuclear power. Twenty-three long years after the Clinton Administration tried the be-nice approach to deter North Korea from developing a nuclear bomb, the Norks have arguably five Hiroshima-strength nukes. As this Wikipedia timeline indicates, it’s been a long time coming. From China’s end, Kim tore it when a North Korea underground nuke test resulted in the prevailing winds blowing a lot of radiation China’s way. That happened last year.
With this bomb capacity combined with operational if iffy long-range and even ballistic missile capability, North Korea had upped itself from kooky museum piece to urgent threat. Japan, overcoming decades of defensive pacifism, is seriously looking at acquiring cruise missiles to defend itself against a Nork attack. The Kim regime has become enough of a threat to turn the pacifist part of Japan’s Constitution into a Living Constitution – of the “not a suicide pact�? variety.
It’s not that hard to see the road we’re on. China’s “Strategic Patience�? is wearing out, President Trump’s “ Strategic Impatience�? is kicking in, and the Japanese government is seriously alarmed. Unusually, there seems to be little war worry in South Korea outside of defence circles in the government. Perhaps the South Koreans see all this as nothing more than the latest instalment of North Korea’s continual hot-air bellicosity. The highest-polling contender for South Korea’s Presidency, Moon Jae-in, has promised a “ Sunshine Policy�? approach that would drop the hardlining in favour of constructive dialogue.
Those South Koreans could be right. It could be that Kim’s strategy is nothing more than geopolitical ---lording: to be the International Edgelord of Mystery. As we all know to the point of inurement, there are folks who think that being the #1 arsehole makes you an important dude.
But as we also know, Kim’s edgelording looks an awful lot like salami-slicing. The Norks are officially Communist, and salami-slicing did work for the Soviets: so well that the Free World’s victory over the Soviet bloc was arguably due to President Reagan exploiting Soviet imperial overstretch. In contradistinction to the Soviets, Kim’s salami tactics do not involve acquiring new territory; they centre on acquiring full nuclear-weapons capability. North Korea is not at risk of imperial overstretch: its military-first policy has made the country a privation-ravaged hellhole, but it’s also made for a stable hellhole. Even the neoconservatives consider North Korea a write-off for a counterinsurgency-type war of regime change. The common wisdom is that Kim’s subjects are too “brainwashed�? to be of any help.
With China now alarmed, the road we’re on is clearly via bellum: War Road. If not now, then some point in the future. With this in mind, it’s prudent to look at Kim’s most likely strategy.
Door 1: The Haymaker
The haymaker strategy, like the punch, would consist of the North Korean army lashing out with all it’s got. This strategy would include not only pummelling South Korea with a blizzard of artillery, enough to inflict serious damage even after the missiles taken out by THAAD and its likes, but also thumping Japan with longer-range missiles. There’s a worrisome chance that one of the fingers in the haymaker would be nuclear. Conceivably, it could include and attack on the U.S. itself – which could go as far as the long-dreaded EMP attack.
If Kim Jong-Un uses the haymaker, then he really is as dumb as he acts. North Korea has been studied so thoroughly, the Pentagon et. al. have a good idea of its real capabilities. For the haymaker to work as true shock-and-awe, North Korea has to act like an all-in poker player who purports to have a huge bankroll waiting in reserve. It won’t be hard to tally-up and detect any bluff along these lines.
More saliently, the haymaker does not work on the United States. Imperial Japan was a far more formidable foe when it tried the haymaker on the U.S. by attacking Pearl Harbour. We all know how that turned out.
Even an EMP haymaker will likely result in a re-fight of World War 2. One of the reasons why morale was so steady in WW2 was civilians needing to sacrifice at home via rationing. Instead of demoralizing, it was girding: the fat middle-aged guy who was nowhere near a gun got a gut-level solidarity with the guys being shot at on the front. As his standard of living lowered, he blamed the enemy for his privations. This shared-sacrifice communion with the boys at the front hardened his morale into steady implacability.
The EMP-preppers do write engagingly, and are well-informed, but they have a habit of underestimating human resourcefulness - and, in some cases, of assuming that our political leaders would be purblind enough to treat an EMP attack like a natural disaster and cover up. Obviously, whoever is President in such a scenario would immediately belt out – to whichever communication organs still exist – that the attack was another Day of Infamy. The most likely result, on the home front, would be a hybrid of WW2 and the 1930s: not only rationing but also labour battalions clearing the roads, finding and commandeering vehicles that work, working the farms, and so on. It does not take a sophisticated JIT inventory system to run a commandeered rationing depot that offers only a hundred basic foodstuffs: that can be run with pencil, paper and Pony Express.
Even in the worst case, the haymaker strategy will be North Korea’s eventual suicide by America.
Door 2: Hunker-Down Götterdämmerung
This strategy is the reverse of the above. It consists of a burst of firepower followed by a hunker-down in the hopes that the United States and its allies will accede to another “truce�? that amounts to a status quo ante. This strategy, which would make a future Korean War resemble the original one, is less nutty than the haymaker because North Korea’s métier – burrowing underground – is more defensive than offensive. Although the Nork military has been clever in converting tunnels to havens for offensive weapons, burrowing is an intuitively defensive technique. What’s the difference between open terrain and a tunnel? From the defence end, the difference between open hunting and a shooting gallery.
True, the United States can compensate for the shooting-gallery problem with modern bombs. But not as much as you might think, as information on North Korea’s tunnels are sketchy. Most of what we know has only come from defectors. The Nork military may well expose their tunnels through launching missiles from them, but they’d be foolhardy to expose the bulk of ‘em. If they’re cunning enough, they’ll fire missile from tunnel networks that they’ve already deprecated: not unlike the boyz who arrive at those gun-buyback fairs with junk firearms.
This strategy might be combined with actions consistent with trying a haymaker as a late-stage götterdämmerung or with keeping the twilight-of-the-gods in reserve as a hole-card threat. Given America’s profound ambivalence towards wars, especially long-drug-out wars that eventually seem pointless (hello, Iraq), a hunker-down war of morale-attrition is sensible. For all your humble-amateur writer knows, it might well be Kim’s real game plan.
If it is, the most sensible war aim would be to defang North Korea: to target its nuclear and missile assets rather than going for the whole nine yards. The aim here would be to restore a status quo ante - pre-Clinton - as first priority and fatalistically prepare for calling it a day when the war reaches attrition. This strategy isn’t all that satisfying, but it avoids the nightmares that would result from regime change.
Door 3: Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Lobby
The third strategy, the one that every asymmetric enemy of the United States counts on, relies on the usual suspects to drum up an anti-war movement to sap morale. Call it the Tet strategy: lose militarily, win politically.
It’s important to understand why this strategy works. In the middle of his sprawling “ Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives�? series, Mencius Moldbug made this incisive observation about liberals: whether they be classical liberals or Current-Year liberals, they all have the common spine of anti-militarism. Ranging from the SJW-type lib who criticizes the military for not being politically-correct enough, to the New-Left liberal who screams about “hired killers in uniform,�? to the cold-war liberal cynically claiming that soldiers have an interest in war because war means higher pay and more promotions, to Bourgeois Blimp gasbagging about liberalism’s perpetual peace plan making military men obsolete, liberals – Moldbug calls them Whigs – have demonstrated that continuity. It holds from the Current Year right back to the Enlightenment.
There are only two exceptions. The first, relatively recent, consists of trying to twist the military into something palatable to liberal tastes. The most obvious example is the SJWing of the American military. But this twisting didn’t begin with President Obama or Pat Schroeder. Robert McNamara did the same thing, Cold-war-liberal style, in the 1960s. We all know how that turned out. Given that the prior spate of liberal-moulding led to normalized gundecking, there’s good grounds to worry about the effect of the current liberal-molding. Hello, Dr. ROE. Pass around the wodka.
The second exception – one that Patriots should mind – circuit-clicks in when the bad guy is an openly militaristic regime. Then, the liberals’ distaste for the military flips over into hysterical super-patriotism. It is easy to find a liberal who wrings his hands about napalm or depleted-uranium shells - and has zero qualms about the firebombing of Dresden. This apparent hypocrisy is consistent with the second exception – and is also consistent with their Republicans R the Real Enemy fetish. If you're a Boomer Conservative pining for the days when liberals were “American,�? those won’t come back unless the enemy is as militaristic and aggressive as you-know-who. Outside that chance, those days are gone.
Because the libs will not go super-patriot unless the enemy is Literally Hitler, there’s zero chance of them seeing Kim-Jong Un as the Great White Enemy. He not only has Third-World Privilege but also Communist roots. Consequently, any launch of war against North Korea will fire up the liberal anti-war machine. (R3E, remember?) Somewhat plaintive attempts to paint Kim as The Next Hitler will not penetrate beyond the usual neoconservative mindspace.
That said, the Norks will almost certainly not be able to swing a Ho-Chi-Minh propaganda offensive. Too much is known about the real North Korea to make that feasible.
And The Door Is...
Given the above, it’s most likely that Kim and his generals will settle on Door #2. As explained above, Door #1 is essentially suicide by America. If the Norks pull off a nuclear strike or EMP attack on America, Joe Average will be so incensed – and so implacable – that the usual suspects will keep their mouths fastened shut (at a minimum.) Confining Door #1 to pummelling South Korea, or both South Korea and Japan, will not bring about a new WW2 but will be just as futile. Being Pearl Harboured might well push South Korea to the point where they’re willing to shoulder the huge expense of reunification.
The Norks might try for Door #3, but they’ll undoubtedly be too ham-handed and ineffectual for it to work.
So by elimination, the most likely strategy is Door #2: an essentially defensive hunker-down that relies on morale attrition a là Iraq. If it comes down to war, if Kim has finally crossed the line, the Trump Administration would be wise to counter with a Gulf-War-type strategy. A strategy in which the goal is to leave Kim both defanged and, outside of his echo chamber, definitively humbled.
Daniel M. Ryan, as Nxtblg, is shepherding the independently-run Open Audi Initiative Prediction Market Shadowing Project. He has stubbornly assumed all the responsibility and blame for the workings and outcome of the project.