Wednesday, August 9, 2017

NORK Nukes II - Fire and Fury Boogaloo

So for some bizarre reason we're back to fiddling with these damn DPRK nukes again, largely, I suspect, because the Tweeter-in-Chief has got a whole lot of people clenched up to Pucker Factor 11 by promising "fire and fury" if His Porkulency Kim Jong Un cocks another nuclear snook at the Land of the Free and the Home of the B-52s (seeing as the current objet de furor seems to be principally the U.S. installations on Guam).
(And let me note in passing that...what the hell is it with U.S. politicians and chest-beating military rhetoric? Trump, in particular, seems pretty damn partial to bluster for a man who had a fistful of deferments from getting within sniffing distance of harm's way back in the day. Whenever I run across this stuff I'm forcefully reminded of yet another of the wonderful bits of writing from Robert Bolt's "A Man For All Seasons". In particular, where Thomas More, having been arrested for treason and under "examination" by the current Chancellor of England Thomas Cromwell, is reminded by the latter of the government's capacity for causing More physical pain.

"You threaten like a dockside bully." sniffs More.

"How should I threaten, then?" snarls Cromwell, angry at being chided by a man that he can have tortured or killed and who, therefore, should be fearful instead of caustic.

More looks Cromwell up and down (and, remember, More was Cromwell's predecessor as Chancellor) and observes dryly: "Like a Minister of State.")
Perhaps the MOST frustrating thing about this is that we know, His Porkulency knows, and Trump knows that there really are no good military options for dealing with the NORK nukes. Keep in mind I'm not saying there are no options - just that there aren't any really optimal military ones.

So the Tangerine Tweetmonger's bluster is really just that, unless he's actually stupid enough to consider the loss of life in our Korean ally outside of consideration. But whenever the custodian of one of the globe's biggest nuclear weapons stockpile is flapping his gums like a schoolyard bully that sort of bluster is hard to ignore, regardless of the uselessness of the blustering.

Or maybe it's just me. I came of age at a time when the "enemies" my country was supposed to confront were global powers armed, as we were, with ginormous armies and fleets and swarms of aircraft and glowing piles of nukes.

All this sound and fury over raggedy-assed jihadi wannabes and upstart Korean tinpot dictators seems immensely tiring.
Perhaps we should all just relax and have a nice sandwich.


  1. NK has a couple subs that may or may not hide a SLSRBM (submarine launched short range ballistic missile) launch tube in the sail. Let's assume one such boat cruises to the West Coast and gets within 600 nm. I don't think the admirals would be overly concerned about sinking it with plausible deniability (though Trump would no doubt announce it on Twitter nevertheless).
    Such details could lead to messy results.

    But I stick to my opinion that NK won't do more than harassing anyway.

  2. This is all pre-negotiation chest thumping by politicians who are being told that the horse is well outside the barn, the trillion dollar military is of no practical use in this case, and that it is time to get the diplomats to salvage what remains.

    Which inevitably means treating North Korea like a real country (albeit governed by an unfriendly regime) and not a laughingstock among nations.

  3. Couple of schoolboys. Daring each other to take the first swing.

    But point one goes to Kim for his comment on Trumpy being "bereft of reason".

  4. What I find MOST frustrating about this is typified by the NBC news last night. My Bride loves watching the Beeb and gets most of her news from it, but we were sitting in front of the tube last night and just blundered into the national news.

    The NBC feature was breathlessly excited about all this posturing, and even included some sort of "60 minutes" feature on a US SSBN with the requisite exciting horns and buzzers and squids barking orders. It all seemed very "doomsday prepper" and nervous. My Bride was glued to the screen.

    After the feature we turned it off and I called up a Guardian article on her tablet and patiently walked her through all the reasons why that, regardless of the hyperventilating on NBC that there are STILL no good military options, either for the NORKs to pester the U.S. or the US to stifle the NORKs. We're still exactly where we were; the DPRK just has too damn many ways to hurt the ROK and Japan and the US has too few guarantees that any sort of strike short of glassing the entire DPRK from the DMZ to north of Pyongyang (and that, of course, is both ridiculous and offers enormous risks of collateral harm to the US' allies, especially the ROK...) will completely suppress the NORKs' ability to do that harm for an intentional to break out.

    The nuclear paradigm still holds; no nuclear power has ever struck another nuclear power. Nukes are only useful as actual weapons-of-war if you are the only one that has one. Once the NORKs got the Bomb (and I'd argue that even before that their chemical weaponry and ability to deliver it to Seoul made a nuclear strike on the DPRK implausible) it was Game Over for war, and, as Ael points out, any sort of sword-brandishing became nothing more than part of negotiations.'d never have known that from the goddamn NBC broadcast, and I'll bet that every other damn TV news outlet was asbad or worse. And that's what 99% of the public that actually bothers to pay attention gets their "information" from. So that public - and worse, since you bet your ass that FAUX and all the wingnut welfare papers were all Trump Is Strong and Daddy Is Defending Us! bullshit 24/7 - is being fed utter nonsense guaranteed to skew their understanding of this.

    The really scary scenario - which Sven point up - is that all this posturing COULD lead to some sort of cascading-assassination-of-Franz-Ferdinand sort of mess. Let's say that one of the NORK diesel-electric boats is cruising off Japan (more likely than San Diego). A US/JNSDF task force detects it and begins harassing it. The sub captain, believing that the ASW vessels are going to push the engagement all the way to sinking, decides that he might as well volley his missiles (either SLBMs if he's a nuke boat or even SLCM's if he's an attack boat).

    Or a US recon aircraft takes AAA fire over the Z. The US returns fire at the launcher and the local NKA commander takes it for the beginning of a full-scale attack and give his arty guys the fire command to slime Seoul.

    See the difference? The news reports make it sound like the "danger" is that the two countries will go to war intentionally, so it makes it sound like Trumpy's "warning" is a rational act of deterrence against a belligerent opponent.

    But examining the real likely possibilities makes the sort of accidental collisions or military actions Sven mentions the more plausible, meaning that talking about "fire and fury" and acting the madman makes the danger of escalation MORE likely. After all, if your enemy leader is a tangerine-colored nutbag you can't take the chance that that incident IS accidental and not the first shot in a nuclear war. If your enemy's leader is a colossal nutter who intends to glass you if you blink, then, screw it, you're gonna make him and his buddies hurt before you go...

  5. You and Sven are right of course that extremely messy results can arise from accidental actions or close calls.

    If that NoKo sub captain is on a nuke boat what is his protocol for launch? And the same question goes for those nukes mounted on land based TELs or silos. Do they have the launch codes on board or do they need them from the NoKo NCA?

    Who among the NoKo NCA, besides Kim, can authorize launch? Do they have the 'Dead Hand' doomsday system that the Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces reportedly have? Or the 'Last Resort' letters of the British boomer boats? Either of those would make decapitation efforts much like pissing into the wind. Have to wonder what system the Chinese, French, Israelis, Pakistanis and Indians use for controlling launch?

    As for the tangerine nutbag, I am hoping he stored his Gold Card with the launch codes in his golf bag and has a senior moment in recalling where he last saw it. Or perhaps kept it next to his cell phone, which would erase or contaminate any digital authentication it might have. Or hopefully he knows the consequences of dropping nukes on NoKo sites that are close to the Chinese and Russian borders.

    On the other hand, I have no doubt that the USAF and USN could take out all known or suspected NoKo nukes by using only conventional weapons. But that of course would still lead to massive death and destruction within South Korea and some in Japan.

    1. "I have no doubt that the USAF and USN could take out all known or suspected NoKo nukes by using only conventional weapons."

      But I think there IS a lot of doubt about that, Mike; specifically, the NORKs have a shit-ton of assorted military crap running around. They're also really good at camouflage and hardening in firing positions (they learned from the IJA the gimmick where you tunnel all the way through a mountainside and open just a teensy-tiny aperture on the far side to shoot through). Pretty much all the Western intel I've read suggests that the only way to be "sure" that you've got all their launchers and cannon are to, as I suggested, just glass the whole fucking peninsula north of the Z, and that's both ridiculously impossible and dangerously liable to get both the Russians and Chinese hair on fire wondering if those birds are targeted on THEM.

      My guess is that the NORK boat drivers are pretty locked down, and that's only because the Kims' MO has always been tight control of their military. Praetorian treason is the most likely end for an autocrat, so they've always ensured that their officers are on a pretty short leash.

      But, again...this comes back to Orange Foolius. If I'm KJU and I hear the Tangerine Toddler's gums flapping and don't have the experience to take him as the blowhard he is...I'm going to send my boat drivers out with the warning "The Yankee bastard wants us dead. He's looking for any excuse. So if his lackeys come after you it's because he's started a war. You will do what is needful to punish them and their slaves."

      That's why you "threaten like a minister of state" instead of like a dockside bully. Five-Deferment Donnie in his ignorance has no idea.

    2. FDChief -

      Yes, which is why I said "known and suspected" instead of "all".

      Looks like Trumpy and KJU are bloviating even more and more. Pretty soon they will be double-daring each other like Billy Buckley and I did back in fourth grade. But I think Trumpy's threats are indirectly aimed at China and/or Russia instead of KJU. He is signalling to them like the drunk in a bar fight that is screaming "Let me at him, don't hold me back".

    3. I read that today. This fucking idiot is...well, a complete fucking idiot. What a ridiculous mess. KJU you can kind of excuse; he's the clueless scion of two generations of autocrats. Trump? WTF? When the hell does someone who actually understands the situation force him to sit down and shut up before he blunders into a nuclear exchange in East Asia?

      Will no one rid me of this turbulent conman?

    4. I wonder if Pence has prepared an emergency brake; declaring Trump unfit due to dementia, kicking him out of office with help of half of the cabinet.

    5. Sven, there is a very real chance that you are right. I suspect that if Trump were to decided to nuke North Korea he would discover that the nuclear codes couldn't be found for a few critical hours

  6. Hopefully McMaster or Mattis is briefing Trump on the implications from China if he acts pre-emptively. That is if they can drill through his attention-deficit-dosorder and capture his attention for more than a few seconds.

    From a Chinese newspaper: "If the US and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korea regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so".

  7. Here's some actual ideas of what might work to undermine the Kim regime:

    P.J. O'Rourke was kind of a douchebro, but he did coin what I thought was one of the best comments on the fall of the Soviet Union; that the problem that the regime couldn't overcome was that after they saw their first Air Jordans nobody in Moscow wanted to wear East German sneakers.

  8. FDChief -

    Regarding the article you linked to: I imagine that KJU security apparatchiks have many ways to keep that undermining from happening. But your link did point me to another Politico article, a historical one, talking about Nixon's Madman Theory. Which did not work either. But I found the following quote illuminating. So perhaps Sven and Pluto's comments above may be right on.

    QUOTE: Defense Secretary James Schlesinger recalled years later that in the final days of the Nixon presidency he had issued an unprecedented set of orders: If the president gave any nuclear launch order, military commanders should check with either him or Secretary of State Henry Kissinger before executing them. Schlesinger feared that the president, who seemed depressed and was drinking heavily, might order Armageddon. Nixon himself had stoked official fears during a meeting with congressmen during which he reportedly said, “I can go in my office and pick up a telephone, and in 25 minutes, millions of people will be dead.” Senator Alan Cranston had phoned Schlesinger, warning about “the need for keeping a berserk president from plunging us into a holocaust.” ENDQUOTE

  9. I remember that point in Nixon's presidency. One of the non-trivial concerns in DC was that Tricky Dick was incapable of responding to a crisis. Not surprised that his staffers were even more worried.

    Problem being that Doofus is surrounded by a gang of idiots and loons. He doesn't listen to or trust the adults. Who would take the responsibility to shoot him to prevent a war in Asia..?

  10. I'll throw out an alternative opinion about what might happen.

    a) North Korea is deeply unpredictable, but it's equipment and maintenance is not. The artillery tubes that number in the tens of thousands are old, like 60-70 years old. It is highly likely that a large number of them are not going to last long or much at all. Also considering the age of many of its munitions, it is possible, that the damage of a North Korean conventional assault is much less than the worst case scenario.
    b) China and Russia agreed to the sanctions on North Korea that might actually impact their business interests. Russia has more recently gotten a clearer hand in Syria.
    What about China?
    Speculatively, China is in a pretty intense standoff with India...

    What is the possibility that Trump made a deal to stay out of the Dokolam/Donglong issue in exchange for more pressure on North Korea?
    What if North Korea has nukes and not much else? How does that change things? Could we get a photo op preemptive military strike and call it a day without actually seeing a similar retaliation?

    I don't think is the actual picture at all, but I do think that there is a greater variability in what will happen than is usually discussed. We should consider that North Korea might break under minimal military pressure and that there is another fight brewing in southeast Asia.

    PF Khans

    1. I think the problem with that is that the counterargument- that at least SOME NKA systems work well enough to toss a dozen or so VX shells into Seoul is worrysome enough to make taking a slap at the NORKs at least the-least-optimal-course-of-action. The degree of uncertainty and the proximity of the ROK population centers makes this a hell of a lot more iffy than whacking Saddam's people was back in '91.

      The China thing, tho...I'm betting you're right that Tillerson's people are dealing intensely with the PRC to get them to back economic and diplomatic play against the Kim regime. Not sure whether the border dispute w India is part of that but would be unsurprising. Not expecting much from the Trumpkins but that ain't exactly rocket science.

      Still...hopefully the grownups can get Goofus to shut his Tweethole.

    2. The other thing to recall is that artillery doesn't have to be very slick to work, especially if all you're doing is hucking gas rounds at a major city. Old and indifferently maintained is problematic if you're shooting at a moving target. Seoul? Not so much...

    3. Two 2/319th FA killed and five wounded during an M777 mishap in Iraq on Sunday. But my uninformed guess is that it was more likely the ammo or something else at fault rather than the tube.

    4. @FDChief:
      Very few old NK arty has a range in excess of 20 km, though.
      The dedicated long range arty pieces often have a low sustained rate of fire because the charges are hot, muzzle velocities high - huge thermal load.
      Even a mere hundred 130 mm VX rounds are still a huge problem, but I read often that the North Koreans have fortified much arty close to Seoul - and the relatively few towed long range pieces (M-46) should be easy prey for JDAMs et cetera.
      Self-propelled 170 mm pieces would be detected by arty radar and engaged after a few shots unless they begin to fire with strategic surprise.
      The real problem are the few long range MRLs (relatively new 200 and 300 mm models.)

  11. PF Khans -

    President Xi does not need Trump's deal for the US to stay out of the Dokolam issue. Xi has too many other options there. i.e. deal with Bhutan directly and cut out India, or if Modi goes hardcore then the Chinese could enlist the Pakistanis to fire up the Kashmir.

    Interesting article at the National Interest titled "If 2.6 Billion People Go To War: India vs. China". Author surmises India's Navy could win that war by cutting China's trade routes through the IO to Europe, the MidEast, and Africa. Maybe so, but the author forgets about Pakistan. And even so, it does not mean that the Chinese troops would withdraw from Dokolam.

    In any case the world does not need two more nuclear powers throwing threats around in addition to Trumpy and KJU. But I think Xi and Modi will threaten more like FDChief's 'Minister of State' instead of the Two Toddlers in DC and Pyongyang.

  12. The ship has sailed. The beltway elites never came to terms with reality and now nothing can be done.

    North Korea has been pretty clear about its intentions for a while yet so many "experts" still think it's all some kind of negotiating strategy to get concessions from the west. Fools.

    North Korea is a nuclear power and they will keep developing their program until they have a credible assured retaliation/second strike capability. We'll have to see if they go further and incorporated nukes into a warfighting doctrine - my guess is yes given the sorry, pathetic state of their conventional force.

    It's a Brave New World.

    1. "We'll have to see if they go further and incorporated nukes into a warfighting doctrine..."

      Unpossible. Nukes are only "useful" as a force-in-being"; once you throw one it's game-on. At least, that was the conclusion of every NATO "Red Storm Rising" sort of exercise back when I was around in the 80's. The "Tactical nukes" were an empty threat. Once a maneuver commander tossed a little nuke it was something like 96% probable that an all-out East-West nuclear exchange would follow.

      So Kim - who, despite the "beltway elites" not coming to terms with reality (whatever the fuck that means...) - is neither insane nor suicidal - will use his nukes the same way every other nuclear power has used them; to prevent other powers, including nuclear powers, from strongarming him. But he will ALSO know better than to think of them as big artillery. The moment he throws a nuke he and his entire country get glassed. That's pretty simple.

      I tend to agree with mike; the real concern is what happens when the Kim dynsaty finally crumbles. My guess, though, is something more like Romania or Russia; a slow-rolling internal coup/revolution that ends up with some sort of former intel spook or general in charge. Sadly, I HOPE that whoever this merciless sonofabitch is he can keep better track of his nukes than, supposedly, Putin's Russia has...

    2. FDChief -

      Would we turn his country into glass? Maybe not.

      A more sane approach would be to NOT turn the Chinese and Russian borderlands into an irradiated wasteland. IMHO if he throws a nuke we should sign up all his neighbors as allies (or neutrals if that fails) and respond conventionally.

    3. FDChief,

      Your description is basically what I mean by incorporating them into their warfighting doctrine. It means any conventional conflict will escalate so some kind of limited war against the North will be a nuclear war.

      I also agree with Mike. Dynasty's don't last forever and the fall/transition could be very bad.

    4. Jeez -

      WTH, Andy and FDChief and I agreeing on something??? I'm going to have to start posting contrarian comments just to keep this blog from turning into a circle jerk.

  13. Andy -

    Good points all.

    My concern is that sooner or later the Kim Dynasty is going to implode - internally and not because of anything the beltway does. What happens then? A civil war between Kim wannabees all vying to take over nuke assets perhaps? Or a post-collapse invasion by the South?

  14. Well, since the potential effects on South Korea were mentioned; why don't I read their political leadership's opinions and demands in this avoidable crisis?

    Back in 2010 I addressed the question of who should devise a strategy for deterrence & defence, and I certainly didn't come up with proposing that some ally from another continent should dominate the strategy in your region.

  15. Sven -

    I agree that the western press should spend much more time on what is being said in Seoul (and in Tokyo also).

    I note that Seoul delayed THAAD deployment as long as they could. Hmmm, what deals were cut behind the scenes for them to change their mind.

    And Kang Kyung-wha, Seoul's Foreign Minister, was trying a soft approach with the North even as the sanctions went into place. But she was called derogatory and misogynistic names by the North Korean negotiators across the table from her. Apparently they have the same lowly opinion of women as our own Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief.

    I don't understand why Kang gets no face time on American television. She is photogenic as the camera seems to still love her even after 60 odd years, she speaks English better than Trumpy, and has some good ideas on the relationship between North and South. Perhaps the decision to stay away from American TV cameras is hers?

    1. Maybe the Koreans figure that teh American public is not relevant.


    2. Sven -

      Maybe so!

      And also maybe Trumpy and some of his more rabid supporters figure that the Korean public is not relevant. I am hoping T-Rex and Mad-Dog keep him on a tight leash.

  16. Kang probably wisely stays away from American TV. She would be branded as an appeaser: the new Chamberlain.

    Although something the American Right seems to forget is that Chamberlain was a Conservative.

  17. A look into the paranoid world of KJU, North Korea's answer to our own Orange Gauleiter...

  18. Is KJU coming around due to Chinese pressure, or perhaps due to SoKo prez Moon' recent statement?

  19. Ah NorKor, and it's illustrious leader, Kim-"where's the cake"-un, the master of disaster, the rage in the cage, the score in the roar...I think getting in a dick-wagging contest with him is kind of like wrestling a pig in the mud.


    On the flip side...that can be said about Donald "where's all the lil'girls at" Trump.

    I don't see a nuke exchange between us and NorKor, ever. Even by accident.

    And here's why...China.

    SoKor opinions, like everything else seems to amount to a hill of beans with Trump's clown circus, but China?

    One just doesn't go out and piss off 1.5 billion Chinese who, unfortunately, has a MASSIVEFUCKINGMILITARY with their own nukes to back up their, "you ain't doing shit to NorKor no matter how much they piss you and me off."

    China doesn't like Kimmy any more than Donald "penile-envy" Trump, or anyone else...lets face it, when your Southern border with NorKor is a long-ass refugee line to get into China impacts your domestic spending one isn't going to have a lot of patience for the leadership causing that problem.

    So...I think smarter heads will tell micro-penis Donny to pack away his junk because China will deal with lil'Kimmy.


  20. Sheerakhan -

    Great middle naming conventions!

    I am guessing you are right that China is the biggest dick in the room and has stared down Trumpy.

    I am not so convinced that someone might throw a nuke by accident. But I hope you are correct.