« Donald Trump Will Not Survive by Publius Tacitus | Main | Washington Elite Opts to Destroy Trump at All Costs by Publius Tacitus »

16 May 2017


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Iran is not North Korea, Iran doesn't have and not need to have nuclear weapons at her current geopolitical instance. IMO, Iran is not in the same shity position that Israel is and has been, the difference is that Iran may have forign enemies, but none of her forign enemies and neighbors view her as illegitimate or a forced occupier of others land. Iran doesn't need to kill her nighbours on daily bases to secure the land she exist on. Those are a lot of differences that makes Iran at curent security level not needing nukes.


North Korea is like a den of rabid foxes.
So in your world, we lay back and wait for them to hit...I don't know...Pearl Harbor?
There are worse things than "getting tough" - like dying.
The FIRST job of a government is protection of the populace.
Why do we have the most expensive military in world history?
To NOT protect us?
This large and expensive military, no doubt, has non-nuclear capabilities to solve this problem.
If we need to lay waste to that place, so be it.
Better than a missile hitting US territory.


There is a belief, at least among some Koreans, that the US sold out Korea to Japan via the agency of Teddy Roosevelt

Actually it is belief shared by many Koreans as well as most Western historians that have studied that period. T. Roosevelt's Nobel Peace prize was one for his efforts to end the Russo-Japan war in 1905. Part of the deal old Teddy reached was that Japan could have Korea.

Account Deleted

38north posted a right up to date, somewhat cautiously optimistic, analysis today:


Keith Harbaugh

Anna Fifield, WaPo bureau chief in Tokyo, writes (emphasis added):

Over the last couple of years,
North Korea has said it would hold talks with the United States -
as long as denuclearization was not on the agenda,
a deal-breaker for Washington.
(This article seems to have been removed from the WaPo web site,
but I read it in the print edition.)

How is that consistent with your [b's] statement that:

NoKo (the DPRK) has made a clear offer to the U.S. -
"stop the yearly maneuvers that are threatening us
and we will stop (verifiable) our development of missiles and nukes."
It has made that offer three years in a row now.
Which is right? (I certainly don't know.)

Tim B.

Great comment. It seems our goal is to keep Korea split between North and South, and bully NK. No wonder the want a nuke IBM system to protect themselves from us.

Tim B.

NK seems pretty rational to me, if one takes an honest look at everything the USA has done.


B.Fuller: Weaponry vs. Livingry. Christ: Forgive us OUR trespasses as we forgive others [before blowing this off, ask yourself: Are you smarter than Jesus?]. B.Oshry's "Seeing Systems": The Terrible Dances of Power. We know how this one ends up if we keep going this way.

A genius president would (a) recognize N.K.'s right to peaceful & quiet enjoyment, and cease existential invasion/attack threats; (b) hold a Truth & Reconciliation meeting, perhaps in Switzerland or South Africa; allow N.K. to air mortal grievances; and truly apologize for them; (c) in restitution, offer to build each of 10M NK households (25M pop) a $75,000 American-made home, with electricity and running water, total cost of $750B paid for by the Treasury printing money. The resulting $750B pop to the American construction/materials economy would pull America out of its recession and give employment to millions of hard-working Americans for the next ten years, while keeping the money in America.

This should be the baseline scenario against which all other scenarios are compared. In contrast, the non-nuclear battle with Iraq burned up $1T in direct, and est. $1T-$7T in delayed/indirect costs. Any hot war with nuclear N.K. will cost America much more (and could wipe out S.K. or Japan, both world-economy powerhouses). Cooperation is exponentially more profitable than competition.


You touched upon a very important point about the unnatural aspect of an alliance involving South Korea and Japan. The Koreas have a more historically-rooted alignment with China. It would be very possible for it to re-emerge if South Korea plays the right cards with China, starting with getting the US force out. US forces out of South Korea would remove two major reasons China props up the North, first as a buffer against the US and its allies and second as a bargaining chip. The third reason China has propped up the north is to curtail economic competition from a unified Korea. That reason seems obsolete with the intergrowth of China and ROK in business relations and the extremely rapid growth of the Chinese economy. Korea simply doesn't figure to threaten China's economic position anymore. And DPRK is a burden for China, with refugees and the economic aid it requires. China and ROK could make mutually beneficial arrangements to change that situation if ROK adopts a more neutral stance, and ROK has major rational and emotional incentives to do so.


In my view North Korea is acting rationally from its point of view.

The strategic balance has changed considerably since the end of the Cold War. For a long time the North was in much better strategic situation - it had a huge advantage in conventional forces and a high readiness rate that would allow it to credibly attempt to retake the South with little warning. It was this threat that drove the US and ROK to agree to stage US tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea (they were withdrawn in 1992). Back then, they were secure thanks to their conventional forces and the support of other Communist allies.

Today the strategic situation is much different: The conventional balance of power turned decisively against the North beginning in the early-mid 1990's. Their Soviet and Chinese patrons are gone and no longer provide military assistance. The North's conventional equipment hasn't been updated since the late 1980's. Their personnel spend more time farming than training. Although the North still retains significant combat power that could do a lot damage, particularly to South Korea, they would lose any conventional war and they know it. And then there is the domestic situation which is terrible.

Against this backdrop the priority for the North Korean leadership is regime survival. The are vulnerable in three ways:
- The conventional balance of power, as already discussed. This is getting worse for them and they have no means to improve it.
- They have no allies of consequence and it's questionable that China would come to their aid again in another war. They have no one providing them a nuclear umbrella or strategic protection that would deter hostile powers.
- Domestically, even though they are a brutal dictatorship, they still need to keep some legitimacy with the people they rule. They have few means to build legitimacy except through the perception of strength.

For them, nuclear weapons are the answer to these vulnerabilities. The North believes it needs a credible nuclear deterrent to guarantee the security of the regime because it has no friends and it would lose any war with its enemies. Nukes counterbalance their conventional weakness and thus are the only thing they have to protect the regime from external threats. Domestically, nukes provide a useful tool to buttress the legitimacy and credibility of the regime, and justify the hardships the people must endure.

So, they aren't pursuing deliverable nuclear weapons in order to trade them away. They won't give them up to stop the US from conducting exercises in South Korea or to get the US to withdraw its forces because those two actions by the US will not materially lessen North Korea's strategic vulnerabilities. Withdrawal of troops from South Korea is probably a good idea just on the basis of US interests. Ending exercises which the North perceives as preparations for an invasion might decrease the North's paranoia a bit. However, we shouldn't expect much in return as long as the North's strategic situation remains as it is.


NK is offensively hopeless. Their peak use is palace demonstrations. There's no there there ... C'mon, they're still a decade away from a deployable & reliable missile system for nukes. Let's not spoke Trump... he's non-linear WTF at any moment. Leave him to the kids... that's some real Shakespeare there.


Any serious discussion should begin with a desirable end stable-state in mind, and then plan how to work towards & achieve that. The most stable state is US and NK are friends, mutually beneficial trading partners, and have no reasons/motivations left to hurt each other. The second most stable state is MAD. This is not desirable. Overthrowing the NK gov't, in the hopes that a power vacuum will result in a better situation, is not a viable stable end state, as evidenced by Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, Bin Laden, etc. ad nauseam. Start with the end in mind, then how to achieve?

Strategic planning requires a good theory of mind, including a good respect for human needs, instead of treating the enemy like cockroaches/cardboard villains. The world is a very small house to live in. Recast conflict as divorce proceedings--yes, we hate each other viscerally, but how about the kids? Each side has a point. American divorce counselors have superb technology recently for fair negotiations and theory of mind; advise hiring top divorce researchers to counsel strategy. Whoever has the best ideas, wins.

Or, we could just nuke them. And lose Seoul and Tokyo, and eat strontium-90 in our wheat. That would be stable, too.

Change your thinking, and change your life. Why not take the log out of our own eyes first? It's the one thing that we can control.

The Twisted Genius

I think the best outcome for the Korean peninsula is some kind of variation of the Deutsche Wiedervereinigung. It may end up as a united Korea or just a normalized North and South Korea. Our part in this is to STFU and let it happen. That may be the best policy for China, Russia and Japan as well. I lived through the German version. It certainly wasn't smooth or cheap. I imagine the Korean version would be far rougher, more expensive and take a hell of a lot longer. It still beats us staring each other down like morons shaking our missiles at each other.


So the U.S. can launch a lot of planes. The U.S. is always impressed by its own capabilities. But it regularly fails to see the limits of such resources. How is war in Afghanistan going?

Does the U.S. know the targets in NoKo - those besides bridges and dams? Does it know where the missiles are? All of them? Does it know where the nukes are? Did it find Saddam's Scuds? The U.S. likely does not even know how many missiles and nukes are there.

Seoul is in reach of North Korean weapons. It will be destroyed before North Korea is destroyed.

You are correct to say that North Korea has not directly demonstrated that it can put a nuke on Guam. But it has demonstrated that it has working nukes. It has demonstrated that it has nuclear capable missiles that can reach Guam and beyond. It has smart and very knowledgeable missile and nukes people. Israel never demonstrated that it can put a nuke on a missile and hit Riyadh or Cairo with them. Would you doubt such capability?

Guam is a fixed target crowded with U.S. military stuff. One does not need 5 meter CEPT to hit something relevant. More so even for bases in Okinawa and other areas in Japan.

From the recent S. Hecker interview:

BAS: Is it plausible that a US pre-emptive strike could destroy all North Korean nuclear weapons, fissile material, and nuclear production facilities? Why or why not?

SH: There is no conceivable way the United States could destroy all North Korean nuclear weapons. It is not possible to know where they all are. Even if a few could be located, it would be difficult to destroy them without causing them to detonate and create a mushroom cloud over the Korean peninsula.

It is even less likely that the United States could locate and demolish all of the North’s nuclear materials. Missile launch sites could be destroyed, nuclear test tunnels could be bombed, production sites could be destroyed, and North Korean missiles could possibly be intercepted after launch. But North Korea is developing road-mobile and submarine-launched missiles, which cannot be located reliably. New test tunnels can be dug. And while we know North Korea has covert production facilities, we don’t know where they are. The US military may not be able to intercept missiles after launch. The bottom line is, military strikes could be used to set back the North Korean nuclear program but not to eliminate it.

Moreover, I believe the US and South Korean governments consider the consequences of any military intervention unacceptably high—in spite of the proclamation that “all options are on the table.” I believe the military option will only really be on the table if North Korea initiates military actions.


"A powder keg with a very short fuse under the control of some seriously out of touch individuals"

I assume you are referring to the US war machine. So, far it looks like the DPRK is the only one making reasonable requests that the US get out of its face and stop provoking instability in the region. It is making everyone nervous because the US has been promoting the idea that their first strike capability would cripple a serious response, not only with North Korea but with China and Russia as well.

Why else would the US be surrounding China and Russia with heavily armed installations and bases? What country would not see this as provocation? Every time the Russian do flybys on the borders of US and NATO countries, they flip out. I always find that amusing for some reason.


"Amen. I still recall the articles about Kim Jong Un having his half brother Kim Jong Nam brutally murdered with XV in Kuala Lumpur. Beyond the simply ruthless brutality of Kim Jong Un, it shows clear indications of a psychologically unstable mind in his rotten head."

If that is deranged, then what do you call the US "brutal" assassinations of numerous world leaders and various nationalists advocates of freedom for their respective countries? I think the US is one of the world leaders in trans national assassinations, and perhaps domestic assassinations as well. I do not doubt that Russia, the UK and many other countries are pretty much neck in neck for the title. So, why o why does the murder of Jong Nam make it any more "brutal" when other countries might call their assassinations strategically necessary for national security. Get real!

Fellow Traveler

There must be a 100K American civilians not related to our military presence living and working in SK. Might as well give up a standing army if they're to be left to a game of nuclear Gonggi.

More importantly, there a several Trump properties in Seoul.

OT, Erdogan's boys show protestors in DC how it's done: https://twitter.com/VOATurkish/status/864631567972540417


Thanks, good find - I know a little of Cumings's work and have found him excellent. He's also married to a Korean scholar and I think has spent a lot of time in the country. This kind of stuff I think is known by a few people but should definitely be known by more, and I've tried to spread it over the years.

More recently, as much as I dislike the Clintons the rapprochement under Bill in the 1990s seemed to be going fairly well IIRC - I think NK even demolished its reactor tower once the fuel started coming as per the deal.

Of course, that was all ruined when the Republicans came in. Since then we've had the supernote stupidity to cut NK out of the global trade & finance system as well as freeze what little assets it had outside its borders, and now ever-increasing sanctions on its exports.

And what does this produce? It is absolutely the antithesis of a rational approach because it gives them nothing to lose. Why would you put them in that position? It only leads to one thing. That must be known, and yet here we are again because as usual politics trumps reason.

Old Microbiologist

That all assumes that China, Russia, or both don't retaliate. The US administration appears to believe that China is stepping back but I am not reading it the same way. With China it is always a question as to the very long term goals. I believe China is firmly set on the slow path towards global hegemony but with China in charge. To do that successfully means eliminating the US as a potential threat. I think they have been looking at the long view of an imminent collapse of the US for economic reasons but now there is an opening to accelerate the process with little risk to themselves. They are still, despite all the enormous capitalist machinations, a communist country and will defend their foster child and North Korea makes a good proxy. How far they are willing to go is anyone's guess but I wouldn't want to bet the farm on it. China and Russia together could make the US a vast wasteland should the US once again nuke another country. We are still the only country to have attacked another with nuclear weapons. From the North Korean perspective the US is an existential threat and we continuously make that very clear. Killing Gaddafi a few months after making a deal for assistance in anti-terrorist operations and bombing the crap out of Libya under cover of the no fly zone was a very clear indication the US does not abide by agreements or even international law.


It's very interesting to google "timeline of north korea nuclear program." The Wikipedia article https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_North_Korean_nuclear_program is my preferred version. The CNN timeline says that in October 2002 President Bush "revealed" that North Korea was violating the agreement. Most people think Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld told him that. There are other claims that it is not true. Anyway, Bush then abrogated the agreement and the North Koreans reopened their Yongbyon plant and here we are.

I tend to agree with the commentators who say that Kim Jong Un's actions are perfectly understandable in light of the annual joint American/Korean military exercises which can easily be seen as a preparation for invasion. This forces NPRK to keep many soldiers on alert, when they would prefer to have them help with the harvest. The Americans have been very threatening since 2002, when George W. Bush included NPRK as part of the "axis of evil." I can understand that Kim Jong Un does not want to end up like Saddam Hussein or, worse, Muammar Qaddafi.

I'm don't comment here often so please forgive me if I'm unaware of actual evidence that people have that shows the detailed narrative in the Wikipedia section on 2002 is blatantly wrong.



As you must know I am not a believer in the ability of strategic bombing to determine the outcome of wars through intimidation of civilians, but in this case the objective would be to destroy a specific group of targets connected to the NoKo nuclear weapons and missile programs. That is quite different and, yes, IMO the US has the targeting data for the vast majority of these targets. DIA in particular will have been constructing target packages on related targets for a very long time and we have the means to do a good job on that. Wht would be left after a couple of thousand sorties might still have some residual value but, IMO, not much. As I wrote a day or so ago, the NoNos have not yet demonstrated the ability to hit anything with a missile other than the Sea of Japan. If they had a primitive nuc weapon post the US onslaught I suppose they could load it onto a cargo aircraft or a commercial ship and go somewhere with it. south Korea is more likely to take a frightful beating from conventional forces. pl


Note that the annual American maneuvers are economically very disruptive to North Korea. They have to mobilize much of their reserve army in case the exercise is a coverup to an actual invasion.

This is a major reason they were willing to trade their missile program from a stop to the exercises.


My sense is that, even if, or perhaps especially if, NoKo has developed long range nuclear capability, it is basically a trap that United States should best find avoid getting dragged into.

I've found the Koreans, of all factions, to be somewhat like the "stereotypical" Lebanese (at least the stereotype that I'm aware of--I acknowledge that I could completely off the base on the Lebanese.) The Koreans are a deeply divided people aligned along "tribal" lines who don't trust each other and play continual games of one-up-manship. In order to beat down their rival factions, they happily draw in powerful outsiders. Some are drawn in willingly, in pursuit of their own agendas (the Chinese and Japanese, century after century). Others are drawn in via hubris (Russians in 1904, perhaps us at different times). Playing along with the Koreans and their games is rarely straightforward and an unwary outsider is likely to be trapped. Of course, (again like the Lebanese), Koreans of all stripes will insist that they are victims of unjustified foreign aggression if things go awry (or if they go right, for their rival factions).

All in all, a giant snakepit, where outsiders wind up being used as much as, or perhaps more than, Koreans become victims. BM likes to bring up how medieval Korea was the "son-in-law" country to the Mongols, and this is a perfect illustration of the sharp Korean gamesmanship. On the one hand, Mongol invasions lasted for decades and utterly devastated the country. But, once all was over and done with, various factions in country formed good relationship with the Mongols and benefited greatly. Korean kings married into the Great Khan's family and literally became sons in laws of the Mongol royalty. Many aristocratic families did well serving Mongol interests in both Korea and elsewhere, with several rising high in the Mongol aristocracy--there were several Korean-born empresses of the Mongol Empire. I'm told that Korean troops were part of Mongol armies in many parts of their empire--although only one example, as part of the unsuccessful invasion of Japan, is remembered much if at all. Koreans of different factions did pretty well using the Mongols to advance their own interests. Some victim.

Best to let the Koreans sort themselves out while the outsiders stay out if at all possible.



The point from the previous post was really that whatever North Korean agenda "really" is, I suspect that it is part of the grander scheme to force involvement of various outsiders in a manner they prefer--a blackmail. Not necessarily just to force US out, but to force US and Japan to their bidding in a twisted sort of fashion.

I will agree with PA that internal South Korean politics is a mess that needs to be given attention to, but without sharing his naive notion that South Koreans care one bit about so-called Sunshine policy or the North Koreans much, except as a potential rival/ally, depending on which faction they belong to (and what the circumstances are.) There are two large and influential factions--misleading called "pro-reform" and "conservative" factions, but I think they are really just tribal factions like the Lebanese ones, even if not organized around "religion." No more than a Hizbullah triumph would "stabilize" Lebanon, the current state of affairs would settle things down in South Korea. If anything, the defeated faction, who were, in their own way, cheated out of their "rightful place," will seek revenge and they have plenty of supporters to pull off their own version of the "Cedar Revolution." (Pine Revolution?) I don't mean to morally approve one side or the other--they are all equally "democratic" and "anti-democratic" in that they enjoy large support among the population (the former) but are deeply hated by equally many (the latter). Not something that outsiders should take "seriously," I think, beyond being rightfuly suspicious.


Interesting debate.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

September 2020

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30      
Blog powered by Typepad