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April 06, 2009

Comments

I'm hardly a proponent for war. Nor do I have any interest in the US to get involved one way or the other - IMHO NoKo is a regional challenge.

But I disagree that it would be a bloodbath for SoKo. I fully suspect the vast majority NoKo's military, leadership and grunts alike, would walk away once either their political leadership was isolated or there was any serious push against their border redoubts. NoKo simply doesn't have the logistics and their common people the will they might have had in previous decades.

Sparking a war between North and South Korea would be a disaster that could make the Iraq conflagration look tame in comparison.

Unfortunately, you're talking about people who think Iraq was a resounding success. There's the rub.

I wouldn't care to bet the lives of millions on Observer's surmise, whether or not it's right.

I'm with Scott. Oberver: that's possible, though I there is more than enough room to doubt that, and that is more than enough reason for us not to act on that assumption.

The truly frightening part, however, is that most experts agree that any war with North Korea will be cataclysmic for the inhabitants of the Korean peninsula - resulting in hundreds of thousands if not millions of fatalities.

Don't care, don't care, don't care, where is our Okama Gamesphere?

"unambiguous win"?

I mean, WTF? WTFF?

BTW, Eric: Even though Mr. Cirincione's piece does, as you say, make sense, he (like many others) seems to take it for granted that No. Korea actually does have some sort of working nuclear weapon in their possession (even if too crude/heavy/unreliable, etc. to be missile-deliverable). Is this a known fact, or a surmise? Last I read, the readings from their well-publicized N-test were ambiguous enough to suggest that they may not have even gotten a functioning nuke to work properly. Is this old news?

PS: not that it makes much of a difference: NoKo is still a dangerous rogue state, and John Bolton is still full of crap.

Eric:
As with North Korea's prior two efforts to test its long range missile capacity, this weekend's attempt was a resounding failure.

I don't know if we can definitively conclude that. First of all, all missile programs advance by learning from their failures. This is science: a productive failure is still a success. Secondly, we don't know for sure what their technical goal was. Maybe they weren't trying to prove they could hit the US, but to prove to potential clients (Iran, Pakistan) that they have something that could hit Europe, say. Thirdly, we don't know that the purpose of the missile test was even mostly scientific as opposed to political. Certainly, Western officials have an interest in playing down the success/significance of the test, either way.

Observer:
I fully suspect the vast majority NoKo's military, leadership and grunts alike, would walk away once either their political leadership was isolated or there was any serious push against their border redoubts.
As others have already opined, your statement seems blithely unfounded, although I hope you are right if it comes to that. I see good reason to assume that the North would put up a decent defense that could really devastate the South, and/or lob their nukes at Japan as a final hurrah if the jig is really up (it's the Japanese they hate the most).

Flicking channels late Saturday night/early Sunday morning to see how the North Korea story was playing, Fox was a model of restraint. Fox's graphic: "North Korea Launches Rocket Capable of Hitting U.S."

Sara Palin reportedly saw it from her front porch.

"For while North Korea lacks the long range missile technology necessary to hit the US homeland, it likely has missiles with the range (and capacity) to deliver a nuclear weapon to Seoul or Tokyo (which it has vowed to do if attacked)."

There's not doubt North Korea has a handful of nuclear weapons. I have to really wonder if they've had the skill to construct any miniature enough to fit on one of their missiles, though.

It's quite possible, but it's also possible they haven't; building a Fat Man or Little Boy is relatively easy compared to slimming one down enough to be a missile, as opposed to bomber, payload.

Which isn't to say that North Korea doesn't have thousands of short-range convention missile warheads, because they almost surely do.

Last I read, the readings from their well-publicized N-test were ambiguous enough to suggest that they may not have even gotten a functioning nuke to work properly. Is this old news?

It was my understanding that this was a settled issue, though I admit that it is not a subject that I have followed as closely as some others.

"I fully suspect the vast majority NoKo's military, leadership and grunts alike, would walk away once either their political leadership was isolated or there was any serious push against their border redoubts."

It's one thing to suggest that North Korea's people and military wouldn't have the stomach for a prolonged war, which is plausible; it's another to suggest that they wouldn't be able to inflict enormous casualties in an initial attack, which is implausible.

"Last I read, the readings from their well-publicized N-test were ambiguous enough to suggest that they may not have even gotten a functioning nuke to work properly."

There's a bit of ambiguity, yes. It was an explosion of approximately .8-1 kiloton, so it was either a very tiny fission explosion, or some kind of fizzly one, or possibly an extremely large convention explosion with some radioactive material.

I'd tend to think that until you've tested the warhead in the same form-factor it would have as a warhead, you don't have a useful warhead.

Maybe that's a record of some kind.

Still, until you've tested your actual package with the actual arm and fuze hardware and software, not to mention the actual initiators and explosives configuration, you're only demonstrating that you've got the physics generally right. That part was settled 65 years ago, roughly.

I think the issue is more regarding Japan becoming a nuclear armed nation in response to a nuclear North Korea. My understanding is that though Japan does not have nuclear weapons, it is treated as being a virtual nuclear weapon state because it could have them in approximately 6 months, and there is no technological issues for Japan in developing them. Japan has plenty of plutonium.

China has an interest in preventing Japan from building nukes. China should be leading this problem with N. Korea.

Other than the proliferation aspects of N. Korea's program, I don't really see this as a US fight. Our interests are tangential compared with the regional powers impacted by N. Korea.

So the way to stop North Korea from killing millions of people is to start a war that will result in the deaths of millions of people.

Do I have that right?

Newt Gingrich told “Fox News Sunday” that he would have disabled the long-range missile before North Korea was able to launch it.

Bullshit. There's nothing as much fun as talking tough when you are out of power.


Newt Gingrich told “Fox News Sunday” that he would have disabled the long-range missile before North Korea was able to launch it.

Newt meant he personally would have air dropped into the launch site as part of a daring midnight commando raid. He would have fooled the guards using his legendary Korean language skilz and vague physical resemblance to a 1960's era Russian rocket scientist, and then once inside the launch complex he would have disabled the missile using chewing gum and paperclips (I saw that done on a MacGyver episode once). But Obama wouldn't let him go. Apparently only unmarried men are authorized for such hazardous missions, which makes Newt thrice disqualified.

They've got pitchers in NKorea who could hit Japan on a good day with a tailwind. It's just not that far. If the NK regime means trouble, all's they gotta do is lob a bombt up high enough and let the earth roll under it as it falls.

Which is why everybody around that way probably should be real nice to each other...

Is there another Kim in the offing in NKorea when the present one succumbs to whatever it is that is eating him?

Or is it gonna just be another bloody third-world power struggle with nukes in there for fun?

Newt, like me, might have already done this at least once. Granted, I was playing Splinter Cell...

Wonder what his gamer score is?

They've got pitchers in NKorea who could hit Japan on a good day with a tailwind. It's just not that far. If the NK regime means trouble, all's they gotta do is lob a bombt up high enough and let the earth roll under it as it falls.

Hm. Is Japanese port security better than the US's?

But I disagree that it would be a bloodbath for SoKo. I fully suspect the vast majority NoKo's military, leadership and grunts alike, would walk away once either their political leadership was isolated or there was any serious push against their border redoubts.

Oh, I disagree. Last time I checked, North Korea had literally thousands-upon-thousands pieces of heavy artillery and rockets aimed at Seoul. Let's not even talk about their reputed chemical weapons stores.

I don't know if you've ever been to Seoul, but it's only around 40 miles, or so. It's an incredibly large and incredibly dense city.

Short of using nukes all across the DMZ (and turning Korea and its people into C.H.U.D.S), there's just no way the ROK and USA could take that out before it inflicted cataclysmic damage on the place. Of course, this automatically assumes a rout by the ROK and USA.

Of course, we're also completely ignoring the reaction of the South Koreans. I don't reckon they'd take too kindly to launching a completely unnecessary attack against their brothers and sisters in the North. Their relationship may be complicated, but family is family.

Would China stay on the sidelines and watch the ROK and USA move right up to their border (which offers a nice land-invasion route straight to Beijing, the kind a mechanized US Army would really like)? If I remember my history properly; that's a good deal of the reason China jumped into the Korean War.

What happens to Japan is a wild card too.

So yeah, let's go playing around with millions of lives and the geo-strategic stability of East Asia. That sounds like a fantastic gamble!

I meant to say: I don't know if you've ever been to Seoul, but it's only around 40 miles, or so from the North Korean border.

Failure to use the preview button will be the death of me.

"Is there another Kim in the offing in NKorea when the present one succumbs to whatever it is that is eating him?"

He's understood to have been married three times, with one marriage producing two sons. He's reputed to have some nine or so illegitimate children.

"Or is it gonna just be another bloody third-world power struggle with nukes in there for fun?"

Nobody outside North Korea really knows squat, but to say that there's no line of succession remotely visible outside North Korea is fair. (Inside North Korea, too, but who knows if Kim has placed plans in the hands of a handful of people or not?)

Some South Korean sources claimed last month that his youngest son, Kim Jong-woong, was appointed to succeed Kim Jong-Il (who is now 67, and had a recent stroke). Kim's oldest son, Kim Jong-nam, went on record denying this.

Hillary Clinton was just talking about this problem a shade over a month ago.

Slarti - The Hiroshima weapon was never tested before use, only the Nagasaki one, and that not even in the form factor used for the actual attack.

Also worth noting is the fact that the recent test (assuming it was an attempt to loft a satellite) looks like it was a failure of the third stage, and yet managed to travel 2000 miles before impact. Unless the third stage was incredibly sophisticated and the payload tiny, that means a fairly crude nuclear device could be thrown ~2000 miles by the first two stages.

If you are looking to store and transport your missiles easily and want bells and whistles like Multiple Impact Reentry Vehicles, the ability to launch without delay, and reasonable levels of ground crew safety, you need small warheads so you can have small missiles while still using the nasty propellants needed to give you high performance without massive infrastructure. If, OTOH, you are willing to launch from unhardened open air sites and can tolerate many hour prep times, the constraints are relaxed substantially. Treating ground crew as semi-expendable loosens constraints still further. The downside is that you're pretty much committed to a first strike, since the enemy is going to take out your launch sites in their opening salvo.

For while North Korea lacks the long range missile technology necessary to hit the US homeland

Uh, I think Alaska is part of the "homeland" unless you really dislike Sarah Palin that much . .

Sara Palin reportedly saw it from her front porch

Oh, I guess you do. Anywho, Even Cirincione cites a source as follows:


According to a pre-launch analysis by David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists, this kind of rocket might carry a small warhead to parts of Alaska, 6,000 kilometers (3,730 miles) from Pyongyang, . . .

As a former Alaskan, I'm having trouble reconciling refusal to drill in ANWR with leaving the state exposed to a NK nuclear attack.

As a former Alaskan, I'm having trouble reconciling refusal to drill in ANWR with leaving the state exposed to a NK nuclear attack.

Alaska has the best protection from nuclear attack imaginable: it has very low population density. That means that a single nuclear attack against Alaska will not kill many people and will not destroy significant industry. That's not really true of New York City or Washington DC or San Francisco.

Given that attacks are difficult and expensive to launch, adversaries tend to target sites that maximize the amount of personal or economic loss. Alaska seems to be a very poor candidate for attack by that standard.

Then again, it seems that many Americans have completely nutty views about how great a threat terrorism and foreign attackers in general pose to places out in the middle of nowhere with very low population densities.

Also, I would point out that given the state of our port security, and the ease with which NK could simply ship a nuclear weapon here (say, by wrapping it in cocaine), people like me who live in densely populated parts of the country face a much larger risk than the average Alaskan. Bear that in mind.

What turbo said.

Also:

According to a pre-launch analysis by David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists, this kind of rocket might carry a small warhead to parts of Alaska, 6,000 kilometers (3,730 miles) from Pyongyang

While that is theoretically possible, it should be noted that the rocket didn't perform as anticipated, and the difficulty of affixing a warhead is not insignificant.

While that is theoretically possible, it should be noted that the rocket didn't perform as anticipated, and the difficulty of affixing a warhead is not insignificant.

I agree. However, I think the real question is do you wait until they CAN? Even preemptive-war-in-Iraq aside, it is a fair question of how to respond. If only Israel were a bit closer to NK . . .

Alaska has the best protection from nuclear attack imaginable: it has very low population density.

the best protection from NK nuclear attack would seem to be no nukes in the hands of NK.

I agree. However, I think the real question is do you wait until they CAN? Even preemptive-war-in-Iraq aside, it is a fair question of how to respond. If only Israel were a bit closer to NK . . .

My neighbor can come and kill me any time he wants to. My locks are crummy, my door is not reinforced, my windows are unbarred and I have no security system. Should I wait until he CAN kill me? As an officer of the court, what do you suggest I do bc: burn his house down or shoot him in the head when he goes to pick up the morning paper?

Look, there is no perfect security. We all have to live with the fact that madmen can kill us at any moment, but adults are supposed to realize that obsessive controlling behavior designed to absolutely minimize the danger of that happening tends to make things worse and not better. I find it more than a little creepy at how concerned you are that people in Alaska may have to endure a small fraction of the same fear that millions of other people in the world live with everyday.

"While that is theoretically possible, it should be noted that the rocket didn't perform as anticipated...."

Nonsense!

[...] But on Monday, seeking to garner political gain from the test, the North Korean media praised Kim Jong-il’s leadership, insisting that a communications satellite was circling the Earth, broadcasting patriotic songs.
See?

Gary: I saw that too, lol.

Turb: I find it more than a little creepy at how concerned you are that people in Alaska may have to endure a small fraction of the same fear that millions of other people in the world live with everyday.

What the heck? First, NK is a weird case because they are just sophisticated enough to be dangerous. I wish they were even more incompetent so we could ignore them. Sure, the people of Japan or SK have or should have a lot more fear. Is that what you are talking about? I'm not just worried about Alaskans. I think NK poses a huge threat to the region and I, as an American, actually care about that part of the world (not that you don't, just sayin'). I therefore don't think the only metric is the threat to Alaska, real or imagined.

As for your neighbor, if he violated the gun regs, you could have him arrested without waiting ofr him to invade your home. What would you do if your neighbor decided to launch big rocks over your house with a "toy" trebuchet into the empty field next door? Would you say something? What if it wasn't your house, but another neighbor with whom you have a close relationship? Gotta stop, this domestic analogies just don't work with international relations . . .

But, no, you don't have to wait until he kills you. Send in the police to take care of him.

obsessive controlling behavior designed to absolutely minimize the danger

You say obsessive controlling behavior, I say non-proliferation. And you accuse me of promoting obsessive controlling behavior in light of Kim Jong Il? Arrggh. Maybe you're right. Maybe the risk really is insignificant. I just don't think so. This is a desperate regime.

I'm not just worried about Alaskans. I think NK poses a huge threat to the region and I, as an American, actually care about that part of the world (not that you don't, just sayin'). I therefore don't think the only metric is the threat to Alaska, real or imagined..

If this is the case, then I'd think you'd have an interest in provoking a regional war, which would surely be the result of a pre-emptive strike on North Korea. Did it ever occur to you that China is bound by a 1961 treaty to come to the aid of North Korea in the event of war with the US/ROK?

Which do you think is more dangerous: Attempting to contain/isolate North Korea, or almost certain war with both them and China?

Does the "bomb everything as our first option" crowd ever stop and think its positions through? No need to reply to that, I think we all know the answer.

I think the real question is do you wait until they CAN?

... to do what?

NK knows they'd be flash-fried at the first sign of a nuclear attack on another country.

It's just not that far.

Just over 1000 km from the launch site to downtown Tokyo. A walk in the park, really. Tina Fey could probably see the Taepodong sitting on the pad, while visiting friends in Hiroshima; a scant 760km away.

Slarti - The Hiroshima weapon was never tested before use, only the Nagasaki one, and that not even in the form factor used for the actual attack.

Yes, but we had not much to lose if they failed. Japan wasn't going to do anything extra-bad to us if they dudded. Still, good points.

Even preemptive-war-in-Iraq aside, it is a fair question of how to respond.

Iraq was not a preemptive war, it was a preventive war. Key difference, and the essence of cleek's response which I shall steal:

I think the real question is do you wait until they CAN?

... to do what?

NK knows they'd be flash-fried at the first sign of a nuclear attack on another country.

It's far, far more likely that NK would use nukes in their near abroad if attacked than the possibility that NK would use nukes at some later date.

Even irrational leaders in NK want to continue...being leaders. And, also, living.

They have zero to gain by nuking Alaska or Tokyo, and everything to lose. However, they gain a lot by maintaining a nuke deterrent.

So let's live with that, rather than spark a war that leads to the deaths of tens of millions because there is a remote chance that someday NK could kill...tens of millions if we don't act now.

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