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Donald Trump, Kim Jong-un, and the End of the World – or Diplomacy?

by John Brian Shannon

Review: North Korea Invades South Korea in 1950

Let us never forget that it was North Korea, acting with the approval of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin that attacked a peaceful South Korea on June 25th, 1950 — an invasion that was opposed by all UN member nations except China, which later provided significant support to the North Korean side.

In all, more than 2.5 million civilians and over 1 million military personnel were killed (some 32,975 military personnel are still listed as ‘missing’) for a likely total of 3.5 million deaths attributable to the Korean War.

However, a since reclassified report said that 4.4 million deaths occurred as a result of the Korean War (and that number includes those who died from lack of food, water, medicine, or proper sanitation as a direct result of the war) and the responsibility for those deaths lay squarely on the people who initially approved the unprovoked invasion of South Korea: Kim Il-sung of North Korea, Joseph Stalin of the USSR, and while providing only minimal support at the beginning of the war it was China’s Mao Zedong who provided a dramatic increase in men and matériel to fight the UN force defending South Korea.


Armistice Signed in 1953

Since July 27, 1953 an armistice has remained in place between North Korea, China and Russia on one side of the conflict, and the countries of the United Nations on the other.

NOTE: An armistice is regarded as a state of ‘ceasefire’ and is also called a ‘cessation of hostilities’ but it isn’t an actual long-term peace agreement.


Not at War, But Not at Peace

From June 1954 when the official negotiating teams representing both sides wrapped up their work because they were unable to forge a long-term peace agreement due to the intransigence of North Korea’s political leaders (although North Korea’s military agreed on the need for a durable peace agreement during negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland “the Geneva Conference (1954)” and in fact, covertly floated the idea of UN powers helping them to stage a coup in North Korea) the Korean War hasn’t officially ended, although it’s important to remember that there has been no actual combat between the two sides in all those years, but there have been many instances of irritation between the former combatants.


A Country on a Permanent War Footing

In North Korea, the war never ended. At least the war mindset never ended. It’s a country that still prepares for war and it’s a country that expects to be attacked on any given day of the year. The economy is a ‘war economy’ which means that aside from growing food to feed its citizens and building homes to shelter them, everything is geared towards preparing for war.

“Women must serve in the army for about seven years, and men for 10 years.” — Newsweek 

‘No country in the world could successfully invade and occupy North Korea’ it has been said by many experts. Every adult in the country has served a minimum of seven years in the North Korean military, and some have served their whole lives. The standing army numbers 1.1 million with another 7.7 million army reservists that can be called-up instantly.

Every city, every village, every building, every street, every farm area has been designed to favour the defenders, including some bridges, buildings and roads prewired with explosives to destroy them and there are estimated to be as many as 20-million land mines installed in forested land and in (what appears to be) agricultural belts. When you add that to the fact that every adult has served in the army and knows where to access those controls and their associated explosives, it makes war in the north a virtual death trap for any invading army, no matter how large or powerful.

All of their serious military facilities are deep underground — so far down that only repeated direct hits with nuclear weapons will shake those underground buildings enough to kill everyone inside. And even then, some may still survive if they’re strapped in and not bouncing off the walls or ceilings hard enough to break their necks during the shaking. And if they’re alive, they can still push buttons. The kind of buttons we don’t like.

The North Korean air force is small and it has few 4th and 5th-generation aircraft, but it’s designed for, and their pilots are expert at, the close air support role, which is another important factor to consider for any country considering invasion of North Korea.

The North Korean Navy is tiny, but the ace up its sleeve is a large fleet of highly-modified Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines, some of which have been modified to accept ballistic missiles (although every attempted launch to date has failed) and the Kilo’s are generally noted for their stealth and are notorious for their ability to covertly deliver troops or supplies to any coast in the world. The USSR built hundreds of these small, but excellent submarines and conducted secret operations on every continent. Yes, every continent.

The Soviet Navy never installed ICBM missile tubes in Kilo-class subs, but the North Korean navy did. So, it’s just a matter of time before North Korea figures out the technical bits related to launching ballistic missiles from underwater.

NOTE: The Soviet Navy preferred to create a whole new class of submarine (the Akula-class) from which to launch ICBM’s and was an excellent decision from every conceivable safety standpoint.

The book on North Korea’s military is this: ARMY: The army is an extremely well-trained and capable army — one of the largest in the world — and it is well dug-in and the entire country has been set up to foil invasion. AIR FORCE: Small, but extremely well-trained for the close air support mission, and very capable in that role. NAVY: Small, almost non-existent surface fleet, but well trained for coastal reconnaissance — but their submarine fleet is large, with growing size and capability, and their capabilities are regularly underestimated by other countries.


Now North Korea has Nuclear Bombs and ICBM’s

Now that North Korea has admitted to having a small number of nuclear bombs and is testing advanced missiles, its leader has decided to use his nation’s war economy and military to get what he wants for his country.

That’s the basic psychology at work there, and we’ve seen this before. In fact, every war begins the same way.

Except, because negotiations between the UN nations and North Korea have been practically non-existent, nobody really knows what Kim Jong-un wants!

Obviously he wants something or he wouldn’t be firing nuclear-capable missiles across Japanese airspace or threatening the United States with nuclear missile attack.

And we don’t even know what the man wants…


At the Very Least, We Should Find Out What Kim Jong-un Wants

There’s no doubt that he will continue to improve the technology and capability of his submarine fleet. There’s no doubt his ICBM programme will continue to improve and there’s no chance of staging a coup in that country as the citizens and the military command are simply too loyal to the ‘Dear Leader’ as he’s known to his people.

So, as we’re stuck with him until he eventually passes away and North Korean politics becomes a lot more mainstream, we might as well engage in some high level diplomacy and find out what he wants. Perhaps he has some legitimate grievances and not-as-legitimate grievances, and some reasonable requests of the international community.

It costs nothing to talk. But not talking might result in nuclear war, especially if the present lack of communication continues past the time that Kim Jong-un’s ICBM’s become nuclear-capable and can travel thousands of miles.


Who Should Talk to North Korea?

In the war that was the Korean War, it was the UN member nations (with the exception of the USSR and China) that fought back against the North Korean invasion of South Korea — therefore, it was a war between the UN (minus two members) and North Korea — and therefore, any diplomatic initiatives which at this point are strongly advised, must be presented to North Korea by the United Nations.

At present, there’s nothing. Not even a weekly phone call.

Which is very distressing, if you’re a person who happens to know what the stakes are.


Time is On Our Side

In the long run, if the rhetoric is kept to a low level and if high level diplomatic engagement becomes a number one priority for the United Nations negotiating teams and communications staff, and if reasonable requests from Jong-un are approved, all of us, including those in North Korea, will get to live. Yes, nuclear war is like that.

Constant diplomacy works every time but only because diplomacy takes place between human beings on both sides of any issue or conflict — and not between opposing computers. The application of professional diplomacy to any problem can solve anything, given enough effort and time.

Here’s the equation: Conflict between human beings + Diplomacy/Human Psychology = Positive Outcome

It’s just that it takes a high level of commitment to stick to it, and each and every action (not words, but actions) taken by the Jong-un regime will need to be carefully weighed and North Korea ‘punished’ or ‘rewarded’ as appropriate, using ‘soft power’ only, and we need to realize it’s going to take some amount of time.

The best way that human beings learn anything is via ‘carrot and stick’. Reward a person (even foreign dictators) every time they do something right (within reason) and punish them every time they do something wrong (within reason) and you are training that person to be your ally. Yes, with the right diplomacy, time is on our side.