Friday, July 7, 2017

NORK Nukes

In what may well be the most NORK-y Fourth of July fireworks display ever, the Pyongyang regime appears to have successfully tested a nuclear-capable missile with the range to reach the western portions of North America; by definition an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The linked article does a good job discussing the strategic implications of this success, but the tl:dr version is "there are no good military options".

Simply put, the DPRK appears to have obtained what Stalin's Soviet Union did in the 1940s; a successful defense against U.S. military strongarming. Never a particularly good idea, given the NORK capabilities for inflicting nasty mayhem to American-aligned nations in northeast Asia, if the NORKs have the capability to directly threaten the U.S. mainland this option goes from "barely conceivable" to "off the table".

What's more, the strategic calculus of potentially-holding-U.S.-population-centers-hostage changes the relationship between the U.S. and Asian allies such as Japan and South Korea. If Trump wanted the Japanese government to start building its own nukes Pyongyang may well have given it the same push that the Soviets gave the British and French governments during the Cold War - the worry that the Land of the Big PX would be hesitant to risk its own civilians in the face of a possible nuclear exchange.

Where does the Tangerine Toddler fit into all this? Swinging the Big Stupid bat, of course. The King of the Deal is discovering what diplomats and potentates throughout history have discovered, albeit at his own, short-bus-slow-reader speed; that polities with interests that conflict with your own can't always - and often won't ever - be coaxed, swayed, or bullied into acting against their own interests. China fears a NORK collapse more than anything the U.S. can threaten. Figuring out a way to adjust U.S. geopolitical approaches to the new northeast Asian realities will require a hell of a lot more patience, creativity, and intelligence than either the current Chief Executive - who seems more interested in ginning up a "Blut und Ehre" white nationalist agenda - or his people have shown to date.

Nukes are funny things. Technically they are "weapons of war"...but they work well only as potential, not kinetic, energy. When the first nuke is thrown at a nuclear-armed adversary they have effectively lost much of their usefulness. If war is the "continuation of politics by other means" the problem with nuclear war is that, unlike politics, there is no real way to plan or predict or strategize what happens after the fallout settles. A single warhead getting through to a single city will mean that even the "winner" will suffer. There is little consolation for the "winning" public knowing that the northern portion of the Korean peninsula is a glassy wasteland.

Maintaining the nuclear balance was a difficult task for U.S. leaders like Truman and Eisenhower. What happens when the launch codes are clutched in the stubby fingers of a man whose primary education in conflict was as a WWF wrestling heel is something that I'm not sure I want to find out.

Update 8:30am: And speaking of the Hermit Kingdom, this little piece is intriguing in its' suggestion that the NORKs may present a "World War Z"-type problem, too; the primitive medical capabilities of the Pyongyang regime offers terrific possibilities for the incubation and spread of nasty epidemic diseases. North Korea! It's like a Disneyland of Death!


  1. Trump's pal in Moscow shares a border with North Korea. And Russia has a major city and a naval base only 100km from that border. There is no way Putin is going to let Trump enter those launch codes.

    Xi has the same problem but apparently no influence over Trump. I don't think the Chinese are really that worried about a NORK collapse. Don't the Chinese kind of like the current situation? If they wanted they could probably engineer a coup, blame it on us, but whoever they put in power would continue the current nuke & missile programs.

    1. China has two major problems with the implosion of the DPRK.

      First, and probably largest, is that it would probably, eventually, put the ROK and, by inference, the U.S. on it's northeastern border where it already shares a contentious relationship with the Russians. The NORKs, for all that they're a pain in China's ass, serves as an effective buffer against that. The PRC's leaders haven't forgotten that a big portion of what brought down the Soviet Union was the constant infiltration of consumer goodies and other Western lifestyle markers from the adjacent countries of Western Europe. That's one huge reason they've worked so hard to slam down the former European colonial outposts in Macau and Hong Kong.

      The other is the fear that the Kim implosion will unleash an large, unpredictable tide of refugees fleeing over the Yalu into Manchuria.

      The PRC knows from their own experience that when strongmen fall the possibility of another strongman "catching" the regime is unlikely without serious chaos. They'd rather deal with the devil they know. Hence little or no cooperation on defenstrating the Kims.

  2. Simply ignore them.

    1. I'm with you, Sven. To me this is just same-shit-different-day; there's no real need to get all panicky about this. The NORKs have always had this nut-with-a-gun deal in hopes of keeping their enemies from squashing them flat, and just keeping a wary eye on them from a distance has worked fine so far (well, except for the people IN the DPRK, but you'd end up destroying the village in order to save it to do anything about that at this point...)

      My concern - and I'm not sure whether I articulated it well in this post - is that the people running the Executive Branch of the U.S. government (and, as such, the armed forces of the same) are a hitherto-unprecedented mixture of credulous, foolish, misinformed, impulsive, and petulant. The possibility that one or more of these idiots, all the way up to the Idiot-In-Chief, might NOT choose the path of "watchful ignoring" seems far more likely than any of the administrations that preceded them.

      As I said in the post; nukes belong in the silo. Once you start throwing them all bets are off. But Orange Foolius himself is on record asking why not use the things, since they make such a cool boomy cloud?

      So the only thing that has changed is within my own country. But that change is so ridiculously disruptive as to make me genuinely unsure whether my own government will be as sensible as regular mooks like you and mike...

  3. Oh, and in re: Napoleorange's speech in Poland...

    Silly me, I always figured that the baseline for elected office in the United States was “At least don’t be a fucking Nazi.” Yeah, yeah, I know; low bar. But, hey, look at the American Public. “Here Comes Honey Boo-boo”? Seriously? So. Low bar.

    And yet, one that the Tangerine Toddler seems unable to clear.


  4. T-rex is saying "peaceful pressure campaign". But is going ahead with trying to freeze NoKo funds in international banks and other sanctions.

    Mook??? I reject any comparison to Robby. Guy had no political insight. Another John Dean. I blame him for Trump's win.

    1. I'd be fine w sanctions if that's what the Trumpkins would be good with. It's Five-Deferment Donnie I don't trust not to try some idiotic MOAB stunt.

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  6. Sven - An oversimplification I believe. Wouldn't the true picture would be more elliptical?

  7. Good article over at Real Clear Defense. Titled 'Learning to live with a North Korean ICBM' by Robert E Kelly.

    Takeaway if engagement does not work is
    1] Sanctions - may not work but always useful as 'sanctions relief' could be a bargaining chip as it was with Iran.
    2] China - same thing every president has been trying for 25 years. The Chinese have enormous influence over the Norkos. Keep working it, maybe Beijing will see the light.
    3] Missile defense, missile defense, missile defense. I concur. But I do have a beef with his logic. He claims that as defensive systems they do not signal any aggressive intent. Not so in my view. It was my recollection that ABMs were a major sticking point in the SALT talks, and still are a sore spot today.

  8. I was in a discussion at tank-net, and amazed how suddenly yesterday after I dared to break the taboo and declare the NK regime non-crazy and pursuing a rational deterrence strategy, the forum rolled over to the admission that the NK regime is indeed calculating, not mad.
    I never saw that happening before on this topic, it's as if the admission of the reality that NK likely has the long-predicted ability to hit a U.S. city with a nuke had taken the joy out of 'axis of evil'-style warmongering and power fantasies.