For those who were brought up with a consciousness of Japanese strategic build-up before the attack on Pearl Harbor, it is anathema that we are being counseled to treat North Korea with the same expectation that diplomacy will alter Pyongyang’s belligerency. The regime in North Korea already has a history of invasion and annihilation.
There is a lesson well confirmed by history, that aggression by dictatorships with expansionist aims are only temporarily deterred and certainly not stopped by diplomatic negotiations. This must certainly have been learned when the Imperial Government in Japan sent two ambassadors over to Washington for extended “talks” with the Roosevelt Administration that continued until December 7, 1941. Meanwhile, the Japanese navy was already steaming toward Hawaii. The two meetings between Britain’s PM Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler in September 1938 proclaimed “peace in our time.” This so-called accord was simply a cover for Germany’s demand for “lebensraum” and ultimately led to the beginning of the Second World War in Europe.
In the case of Kim Jong-un, his strategy to control the entire Korean peninsula is based on a build-up of nuclear, chemical, and biological offensive capability. Kim and his military advisors believe their ability to overwhelm South Korean defense hinges on keeping the United States out of the role of assisting Seoul — or at least delaying such participation.
This strategy is not that different from the aims of his grandfather in the earlier Korean War, in that they were nearly successful, except the Americans held on to the Pusan perimeter effectively enough to allow reinforcements to arrive and a counter enveloping blow to be launched with the Inchon landings. Today’s Kim believes his nuclear capability is an adequate deterrent to similar American counteraction.
To ensure its perceived nuclear deterrent, the North Koreans have augmented their strategy with the creation of a formidable collection of chemical and biological weapons. This is hardly a hidden system. On the contrary, the danger of the potential use of biological and chemical capabilities by North Korea is seen as a block against American first strike action.
The reality of this North Korean weapon system was carefully analyzed by Dr. Dany Shoham, a microbiologist specializing in chemical and biological warfare at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. Dr. Shoham is also a Reserve Lt. Colonel in the Israeli Defense Force. His recently published unclassified paper definitively exposes Pyongyang’s commitment to amass an overwhelming chemical and biological arsenal. According to Dr. Shoham, this highly destructive weapon system already exists and must be considered in tandem with North Korea’s known nuclear capability. The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency has indicated that the North is estimated to have about sixty nuclear warheads, though their potential long-range use is still limited to their ability to miniaturize the nuclear payload.
Short of a possible Beijing-led coup in Pyongyang with the aid of its already existing influence within the North Korean Army, all of this points to only one defensive solution, unless a miracle of diplomacy — not currently envisaged — can be pulled off. Contrary to some popular views, an attack on North Korea cannot be successfully accomplished selectively. Pyongyang will respond immediately by invading the South. The estimated several thousand artillery tubes — of which a quarter are judged to have the range to hit Seoul — on the North’s side of the DMZ could decimate the capital and shred the U.S./RoK defense along the DMZ. Sixty percent of the North’s army is located within striking distance of the border and will jump off immediately. The United States has no alternative other than to launch an overwhelming and totally devastating first strike!
The question is whether we have the physical assets in theater to accomplish this task — and whether we have the political/psychological will to carry it out without being attacked first? The latter is perhaps more of an issue than the former.
George H. Wittman is a veteran of forty-five years of international security operations and analysis.